Self-care can be defined as healthy lifestyle changes and
stress management behaviors. The term was coined by medical and mental health
professionals and became popular in the 1980’s. It involves choosing behaviors
to aid in moderating emotional and physical stressors (Mienecke, 2010). It also
means to self-soothe and calm our physical and emotional stress. The practice
of self-care can involve exercise, relaxation techniques, psychotherapy,
healthy food choices, yoga, meditation, and engaging in creative activities
(i.e. music, art, etc.). While many therapists endorse self-care, few of us
actually engage in the practice. Often times our schedules are too busy and we
may feel that we have far too much to do to take time to care for ourselves.
But the truth is, if we don’t properly nurture and care for ourselves, we will
eventually burnout and become unhelpful to those that we serve.
Burnout was first introduced in 1974 by Herbert Freudenburger,
defining it as the loss of motivation, a growing sense of emotional depletion
and cynicism (Michel, 2016). Freudenburger observed the phenomenon in formerly
idealist mental health workers at a free clinic in New York City. The once
optimistic workers became weary and depleted, resenting patients and the
clinic. Burnout doesn’t only occur in work environments but can also can arise
in relationships and other environments (school, home). Burnout emerges when
the demands of an environment outweighs the person’s ability to cope. Those in
careers that are focused on caregiving such as teachers, nurses, mental health
therapists, social workers and physicians are reported to experience the
highest rate of burnout (Michel, 2016). However, athletes, CEO’s and other
professions that demand too much of employees have been found to foster
hopelessness as people struggle to meet unrealistic expectations of their
employers. In fact, high job demands, low control and effort-reward imbalance are
high risk factors for mental and physical problems. Ultimately, burnout results
when the balance of demands, workhours and deadlines overshadows rewards,
relaxation and recognition (Michel, 2016). Further, research supports that burnout
can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death
(Bailey, 2006). It has been found to contribute to poor health problems, sleep
disturbances and the metabolic syndrome.
Self-Care vs. Self-Indulgence
There is a difference between self-care and self-indulgence;
though many use the terms interchangeably. Self-care requires hard work, perseverance
and consistency. Self-indulgence consists of avoiding the hard work and
substituting with quick fixes. So instead of walking a mile to release stress
after a long day at work we may choose to reward ourselves with a huge piece of
chocolate cake while vegging out on the couch; Or instead of seeking marital
counseling a successful business man copes with the stress of a failing
marriage by having an affair. Self-indulgence is generally a temporary fix and often
causes more mental and physical stress rather than provide relief.
What Hinders Self-Care?
So given the research, what hinders us caregivers from
engaging in self-care? In a Chicago Tribune article titled Attack of the Mom
Guilt (Weigel, 2011), the author argued that one of the reasons that caregivers
don’t practice self-care is because of the overwhelming feelings of guilt.
Acknowledging that you need time for yourself may be seen as a failure by some
people. In a driven, perfectionistic society taking time for yourself may be
seen as selfish. As mentioned previously, many people confuse self-care as self-indulgence.
Therefore, as caregivers, we may be less likely to engage in the practice of
nurturing ourselves if we perceive it as pampering. However, when we don’t take
time to nurture ourselves we can become short-tempered and impatient and
negatively impact those that we care for.
Develop A Plan
Watson (2013) argued that self-care is not an option for
caregivers and hospice angels. With that said, if you have fallen short on
taking care of yourself, a self-care plan is necessary. However, it can be
difficult to begin a new routine. Starting small with brief stress management activities
may be helpful. A 15-minute walk in the evenings or 20 minutes of yoga can be
the start to a self-care plan. Adding one healthy food choice a day such as
water in place of a soda or a piece of fruit in place of a snack may be a
healthy beginning. Lastly, getting enough sleep rejuvenates and prepares our
bodies for the next round of stress. The prerequisite of caring well for others
is caring first for oneself. As caregivers we must practice what we preach. So
get out there and take care of yourself!
Bailey, D (2006; June) Burnout harms physical health through
Mienecke, C (2010;June) Self-Care in a Toxic World.
Retrieved August 28, 2016
Michel, A (2016; Feb) Burnout and the Brain. Retrieved
August 28, 2016
Watson, R (2014; Dec) For Caregivers and Hospice Angels, Self-Care
is not optional. Retrieved August 28, 2016
Weigel, J (2011; June) Attack of the Mom guilt. Retrieved
August 28, 2016