By Marc Laferriere, HBSW, MSW, RSW
Please, let’s relax.
Let’s all take a breath; a deep breath. Okay, now let it out. Try it again, and again and again. Get to the point where you are not really thinking about breathing, but it is more like you are being breathed. Did you feel that? Did you let go of your day just a little? Good. Remember that feeling, and do it again–once a day even. It won’t hurt.
We take very poor care of ourselves. Life is hectic and stressful and sometimes full of emotional, personal, professional, and in the day and age of media and social media, public conflict. We need to take better care of ourselves. I know this on a first hand basis having multiple work, business, community, and personal commitments. There are many others out there who can also feel overwhelmed and over-extended. In a way, this has become the new normal for too many of us.
As a social worker, I've see clients regularly, and spoken at many workshops to those of us in the helping fields about this issue. Far too often, self care is referred to and referenced as a way to prevent burnout. Although that is a good reason to take care of yourself, I do find another less talked about and more appealing reason.
It’s okay to just want to enjoy your life more. If your prime motivation for taking care of yourself is to avoid burnout, then in my experience, it still means burnout is going to come–just maybe a little later than it would have if you weren’t doing some self care. Too often, people engage in self care only because they feel as if they are this close to burning out already. We’ve got to change that mindset. Again, it’s okay to just want to enjoy your life more.
We tell ourselves it is about preventing burnout, because that is more socially acceptable. What kind of social space have we created when we have to have dire reasons to take care of ourselves, or make excuses to enjoy life? I don’t need an excuse to play with my cats, or read a comic book, or take a walk on the trail system, and neither do you.
That brings me to another point. We tend to over-complicate self care. It can be as simple as breathing, having a cup of tea, playing with your pets, taking a walk, reading a book, listening to a podcast while you do the dishes, stretching for five minutes in the morning. You have time for it. Yes, even you.
One of my favorite self care activities is to watch a movie; another is to read a comic book. Going to a movie means no cell phone, no distractions, and it’s a good way to just let go of the stress of the day. With comic books, I’ve enjoyed that graphic form of storytelling for years. I find them immersive and colorful. I enjoy they way they can tell a story in 10 to 15 minute chunks over a period of years, and sometimes decades.When you are busy, it’s nice to be able to check in with something you enjoy for that brief period of time.
When counseling, I often refer people to a web page called 70 Ways For Self Care. They have an abundant list of possible activities that you can do to take better care of yourself on any budget, and for any schedule. In the past few years, I have probably shared this web page with 200 to 300 people individually, and maybe another 500 to 700 who have attended workshops or presentations I have been asked to give. Take me up on this challenge. Read through the list, put a checkmark beside the ones you have done, and put a plus sign beside ones you are willing to try. Then try them. Put it on your fridge, or near your computer, and when you’re feeling bored or stressed, or just because it is okay to want to (remember that!), leaf through the list and try one. The ones you don’t like, just ignore. Not everything is the right fit. There are many that wouldn’t be a good fit for me, but I have seen them work wonders for others.
That’s it. No need to overthink it or feel guilty about it. It’s okay to take care of yourself. Enjoy.
Marc Laferriere is the BSW Practicum Coordinator for Wilfrid Laurier University Brantford Campus. He also teaches in the Police Foundations program at Mohawk College. He tweets often and you can find him and engage with him on twitter @MarcLaferriere.