Self Care

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”

– Audre Lorde

Vicarious Trauma can be managed by acknowledging it, recognizing its negative impact, and taking certain steps to address it. These steps often include self-care, or any activity that we do deliberately to take care of our whole being. A self-care regimen will look different for each person but generally involves incorporating in our routines the things that help us to feel grounded and connected. It is more than simply a to-do list of activities such as take a bath, go for a walk, get a massage, light candle etc. Although these can be helpful for some, what one person needs and responds to may be very different than another.

Value-Based Self Care

It is not uncommon for people who care for others to overlook their own needs. Stress, lack of time, lack of access to resources, juggling responsibilities, emotional/physical exhaustion and guilt can all get in the way. It is helpful to remind ourselves that self care doesn’t look the same for everyone and that it is most meaningful when it is connected to our own personal values.

What do we value?

  • What do we believe?
  • What feeds us? What grounds us? What connects us?
  • What does it mean to live authentically?

Research findings suggest that simply reflecting on personal values can keep neuroendocrine and psychological responses to stress at low levels and can act as a buffer for not only psychological but physiological stress[1].

Value based self-care therefore requires us to be self-aware and introspective.  This involves regularly pausing, tuning in toward oneself and readjusting based on whatever is uncovered. It is about asking ourselves what is important and meaningful?  For example, if gratitude is an important value, you might connect with someone in your life to let them know how important they are to you and what they bring to your life. If spiritual growth is significant, you might spend time in nature, connect back to the land, or carve out time in your day to smudge (burning sacred medicines; practiced by some Indigenous Peoples), pray or meditate. If you desire more creative self-expression in your life, you may set time aside to write, bead, paint, or dance.

The following are questions we can ask ourselves to ensure our actions align with our beliefs[2]

  • What are my values around health and what it means to be healthy?
  • What are my values around relationships and healthy connections?
  • What are my values around career and work?
  • What am I going to do to move myself in alignment with things I want in my life?
  • What is it that I need today/this coming week?

Holistic Self Care

It is important to acknowledge that we are whole beings with physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological, and relational needs and desires that require attention and care. The following are some examples of things to consider when attending to these aspects:

Physical- are we eating well, connecting to and moving our bodies, getting enough time off to rest, relax, sleep? 

Psychological- what are we doing to decrease stress in our life? Do we make time for self-reflection? Do we read material or engage in activities unrelated to our work? Do we have a space where we get to be “human” (to be careless, silly, impatient, unreasonable, playful etc.)

Emotional- Do we spend time with the people we enjoy? Do we stay in contact with the most important people in our lives? Do we allow ourselves to cry? Do we look for things that make us laugh? Do we engage in practices or ceremonies that help us heal from our own traumas and emotions?

Spiritual- Although the disruption of our own spirituality can look very different from person to person, it often involves some sort of disconnection which can include forgetting what brought us to the work in the first place? How can we reconnect to our practices and centre ourselves again? Are we open to “not knowing”? Do we make time for reflection? Are we spending time in nature and connecting with the earth?

Good self-care is key to improved health, well- being, effectiveness and productivity both personally and professionally. It is important that providers have a clear separation between work and personal life that allows them to nurture their mind, body and spirit.

There are several on line self-care assessment tools (such as the one created by Saakvitne & Pearlman) that can help assess which aspects of ourselves we care for well and what areas may require further attention and development.  These lists are certainly not exhaustive but may provide insight into our level of work/life balance and guide us toward incorporating a self-care routine that is more holistic.

The more connected we are to ourselves as service providers, the more effective we can be in connecting with those we are caring for. Clients require service providers who are well balanced and present, and this wellbeing of staff is the responsibility of both the service provider and the agency for which they work.

[1] J. David Creswell, William T. Welch, Shelley E. Taylor, David K. Sherman, Tara L. Gruenewald, Traci Mann (2005). Affirmation of Personal Values Buffers Neuroendocrine and Psychological Stress Responses. Sage Journal, 16 (11), 846-851.

[2]   Oivo, E. Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions Transform Your Life. Sounds True Inc. (2014)