by Charles Curtis
While you’re busily taking care of the needs of your clients, don’t forget to take care of your own needs as well.
This is known as self-care, and if you neglect your self-care, bad things will happen.
The most frequent result of neglecting self-care is “burnout”, where you spend so much time and energy to meeting the needs of your clients that you begin to be pulled down. This manifests first as a sense of depression, that the mountain is too big to climb, that no matter what you do, it won’t ever be enough.
If you continue without paying attention to your self-care, this will deepen until you have noticeably less resilience, and you find yourself becoming more susceptible to opportunistic infections like the colds and flu that continually pass through the population like waves.
And if you still don’t pay attention to the signs, you’ll hit the wall. Many caregivers leave the field because they’ve burned out. Many more stay in the field, but it isn’t fun anymore, and their bodies are giving them continual trouble because of the unresolved stress, so they can’t enjoy being in their bodies anymore.
Continue to not pay attention and you’ll hit the wall bigtime, in some nasty way. These are the caregivers who wind up in the hospital, or addicted to a medication, or in some other way find that life has given them a swift kick in the pants in a way that they did not like when it happened, as a reminder that they’re not paying attention.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOU NEED SELF-CARE
The first rule of self-care is “You can’t draw water from an empty well.” If you’re not in a good place, you’re no good to your clients. Better to take the time to stay healthy and help a smaller list of clients to regain their footing, than to take on too many clients, because when you’ve lost your own footing, you are no longer a source of stability to anybody else.
The first thing that happens when you neglect self-care is that things start to put you into fight-or-flight. You find yourself over-reacting to things that would not normally bother you.
Once you’re in fight or flight, you’re of no use to anyone, because you can’t see straight, you can’t think straight, and so your decisions are not good.
And if you stay in fight or flight more than 20 minutes, you start to get tissue damage. Keep that up, and you’ll be sick before you know it.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET DIFFERENT ILLNESSES?
Everybody reacts to the stress of chronic fight or flight differently. We all break at our genetic weak links, so it appears as if everybody gets a different disease, but the cause is always the same, unresolved stress.
How do we know that? Because when we take away a person’s stress, their chronic health conditions, whatever they may be, tend to improve, and if enough stress is removed and the body has not been too heavily damaged, may even go into remission.
This is good news indeed, and why the stress reduction services we offer our clients are so life-saving. However, we have to remember that our bodies are as mortal as our clients’. If we over-stress, we’ll pay the same price, and the price of ill health just isn’t worth taking that extra client or working that extra hour.
THE KEY IS BALANCE
To keep from getting into this burnout cycle, you need balance. You need a daily spiritual practice to keep yourself grounded in a sense of life as good. You need a daily relaxation practice to keep your body in a healthy state, stress free. And you need a daily emotional release/resolution practice to keep your emotions from clogging up.
Some form of meditation is absolutely necessary. Whatever you call it, whether it’s self-hypnosis, mindfulness, or just taking a daily walk or giving yourself that luxurious hot bath, you have to take time to “fill the well”. Because if you don’t get out of fight or flight, you die, it’s that simple.
And that’s not an oversimplification. Because every moment you’re in fight or flight, your body is literally dying, because the stress response is a survival response that turns up your body’s processes too high, to help you survive to live another day. So you’re overstressing your body’s mechanisms, and this results in tissue damage if continued for a long period of time. Do it long enough, and you experience the “slow death” of a chronic condition”. Do it intensely enough, and you experience the “quick death” of an acute condition.
In other words, the stress response was designed to get you out of a truly life or death situation, it was not designed to be a chronic way of life. And if you stay in it in a chronic way, your body will wear out prematurely and you will lose that sense of wellbeing that comes with a life that is in balance.
LEARN TO MEDITATE
If you’re not meditating now, take the time to learn how and begin to practice on a daily basis. It will change your life, it will save your life, it will invigorate your life, it will bring joy into your life.
That’s because meditation drops us into “beginner’s mind”, an ancient phrase that means we are seeing life as it really is, not through a filter of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.
Only when you can tap into the power of “beginner’s mind” does life seem good. Once you’re in touch with that wonderful state of mind, the world stops seeming tilted, and things move back into perspective, and all is well.
Because now you’re back in touch with your own resources, with your own sense of wellbeing, with your own natural flow.
AND THEN YOU REMEMBER
When you relax, you remember why you chose to become a caregiver, because it feels so good to be in this awesome place of beginner’s mind, and to take your clients on this awesome journey back to peace.
And you can’t guide your clients to a place where you’ve never been, or a place that you used to go to, but can’t remember how to get back to anymore.
So take care of your self-care, and you’ll have infinite care to give your clients, and they will appreciate you so much more because you are now making them feel awesomely good, because you are guiding them to that awesome place of wellbeing inside yourself, that you visit daily.