As a care worker, you’ve probably already heard the old advice: you can’t care for others properly unless you also care for yourself. And yet, so many of us find it easier to offer compassionate help to other people than to give it to ourselves. Proper self-care is not a luxury, however. It’s a necessity. Those who know how to maintain their own mental and physical wellbeing will face less burnout and on-the-job stress, and what’s more, they’ll be better carers. Here are 3 self-care skills to develop in your career as a support worker.
Skill 1: Get comfortable with boundaries
It’s perfectly alright to say, “I’ve given enough for today. I’m resting now.” There’s nothing wrong with taking a step back when you feel your energy flagging. Effective care workers know how to establish and enforce their own boundaries, because they understand that their own wellbeing will only benefit those they work with.
A great way to start thinking about boundaries is to literally draw lines in your schedule between being a care worker, and the rest of your life. Decide where one stops and the other begins – and respect that boundary. This may mean that when you come home each evening, you “switch off” and don’t allow yourself to stress about work; or it may mean consciously deciding that you won’t let those more difficult days encroach on your family time.
Practical tip: When you say no or enforce a boundary, simply do it once. You don’t have to apologize for setting limits, or over-explain. When you work with Carehires, professional boundaries are built-in, because you maintain your own work calendar and decide on the hours that work for you.
Skill 2: Ask for help
Nurses, support workers and those who are drawn to the caring professions are often people with immense talent for empathising with others. Their social conscience and natural people skills mean they might feel called to do good in the world, and to help where help is needed. Unfortunately, this can come with a downside. When we are working tirelessly to serve others, we can start taking on a little too much responsibility, and begin to feel like everything falls on our shoulders.
Carers who maintain their wellbeing and enthusiasm for their work know how important it is to put down the burden occasionally. Remind yourself that although you have good intentions and want to help, there are simply some things you are not responsible for. If you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed with how much you have to do, don’t suffer in silence. Instead, ask for help. Talk to your supervisor or employer, fellow carer, friend or family member. You may even find it helpful to work through your thoughts and feelings with a therapist or counsellor.
Give yourself permission to speak up if you’re having trouble with something; after all, you don’t serve anyone with your suffering. Some people can find it a challenge to ask for help, but consider this: you’ve likely felt flattered in the past when people have asked for your help or advice. Remind yourself of this when you ask others for help – most people are more than happy to do what they can for you.
Practical tip: Try not to minimize your true feelings or downplay your challenges. When people ask how you’re doing, share honestly. You don’t have to wait until you have a full-blown crisis; you can seek advice from Carehires employee support staff at any time.
Skill 3: Go easy on yourself
Have you ever felt a little guilty about not doing more for those in your care? Care workers can sometimes beat themselves up for not doing as good a job as they believe they should. However, we’re all human, and there’s nothing wrong with having the occasional “off day.”
Instead of striving for perfection, take the pressure off and allow for the fact that some days you’ll feel tired or find the work more challenging. You’ve probably shown plenty of tolerance and kindness towards your patients’ occasional bad days, so try do the same for yourself. Instead of dwelling on what you’re not doing right, focus on what is working. Remember to acknowledge your hard work – Carehires is all about celebrating the valuable care you give, and we know you’re probably doing a much better job than you realize!
Experienced care workers will tell you that the job is seldom easy, but that the rewards are worth it. Don’t forget that what you’re doing is innately challenging, and that you will find some days more difficult than others. This doesn’t mean that you’re a bad carer or that this work isn’t right for you. If you can stay with even your more challenging emotions and give yourself space to feel how you feel, you may even inspire and encourage your patients to do the same, building trust and rapport with them.
Practical tip: Take breaks. Pause for a few deep breaths on the job and scan your body for any tension. Take 10 minutes where possible for a breather, a cup of tea or a few simple stretches. Bring small windows of calm mindfulness into your day and you’ll find everything runs a little more smoothly.
Good support work begins with supporting yourself. With a growing awareness of the importance of self-care and mental health issues, we could all learn to have some self-compassion, carers in particular. Luckily, self-care is available to all of us. A few small tweaks to both your mindset and your daily routine will give you the opportunity to care for yourself as well as you care for others.