Over the weekend I read an article about how, over time, caregivers (social workers, nurses and other healthcare workers) slowly and painfully suffer from burnout. It got me to thinking that we all are, in one form or another, caregivers. We give to our kids, our spouses, take care of aging parents, or have ill friends that need our assistance. It can often feel overwhelming, especially in a world that's already crammed with too much stuff to do. Article author, Emma Seppala, says that self-care can reduce stress and the accompanying exhaustion...but only if we know how to practice it. Giving to others can be a great source of happiness for us but, at some point it, can turn into something else...fatigue (exhaustion), boredom, and even resentment. Self-care is the answer; "Give yourself a treat. You deserve it. Take some time for yourself. Just say no" are often what we think of when it comes to self-care. But there are even better ways to be self-kind.
Studies have proven that psychologists in training who practice more self-care feel less distressed and are more satisfied with their lives. But have you ever wondered what self-care really looks like? Or asked yourself how much self-care is enough? If you have, read on. Ms. Seppala offers us some answers and tips for giving ourselves the right care we need. As it turns out, the trick is to be "other-focused and kind" but to balance that out with taking care of yourself, too. Here's how:
1. Self-compassion. Self-care really begins with self-compassion. And that means treating yourself as you would a beloved friend...especially at times when you fail. Self-compassion is remembering that we all make mistakes. You wouldn't mentally or verbally "beat-up" your BFF would you? Then why is it OK to treat yourself that way? It's not. Self-compassion doesn't mean becoming self-indulgent or "letting yourself off the hook" but it does mean not allowing yourself to be overly critical and harsh with yourself. This can be tough for many of us. How to get better at self-compassion? Write yourself a compassion letter, take a self-compassion break, spend time doing something that makes you feel better (like reading an uplifting passage or listening to music that inspires you) or, perhaps, ask yourself, "How would I treat a friend who felt like this?"
2. Social connection. Caring for others also means seeking social connections. Who are the people and groups around you who can offer emotional support, advice, and comfort? Studies have shown that belonging to a support group can help reduce the chance of burn-out. Social connection is one of the greatest human (and amphibian) needs. Social connection helps to reduce stress, lower rates of anxiety and depression, strengthens the immune system and can, ultimately, lengthen your life. Meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, walks in nature, and curbing the caffeine can also help you feel better and more grounded.
3. Empathy. Empathy which comes into play when we help others with their struggles should also be extended to ourselves, especially at times when we're caring for others. Research as shown that having more empathy for ourselves can help prevent burnout. Compassion training can actually make us better at coping with other people's suffering. This means it helps you help others without paying the cost yourself. One explanation for this is that by developing feelings of empathy and compassion, we are protected from feeling distressed or overwhelmed in the face of suffering. Have you ever noticed that when a friend asks you for help in their hour of need, you find yourself capable of giving so much more that you ever thought possible? As it turns out, helping others is empowering. And we become energized which allows us to do more than we ever dreamed we could.
Giving to others offers us many health benefits; fighting obesity, lowering blood glucose and blood pressure while increasing our life expectancy. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose, can raise self-esteem, make us feel happier, and increase our sense of self-worth, too. Studies show that we are happier when we engage in acts of kindness for others, rather than just ourselves. If you suffer from shyness or are introverted, helping others can still increase your happiness. Giving to others is best done when there is actual contact with the beneficiaries, but new research is showing that even kindness offered over the internet can increase well-being. So go ahead and be kind to your friends on Twitter and Facebook. Just remember to be kind to yourself, as well.