The buzzwords “self-care” sometimes sound like real buzzing. We hear the buzz but we can’t really listen to what we are being told to do. The language doesn’t translate from: I need a break, some words of care, a moment of solitude, or a second of grounding. Instead we power through our days and at the end of the day (or on the weekend) we do something for the self, like go to the gym, martial arts, journaling, etc. There are ways of honoring that type of self-care and adding restful things to do. Cuddling with some being that you love; a child, friend, pet, partner or cuddling with your own self, wrapped in a blanket; held together by the warmth of your home, your cozy place,
I bet those of you who know me from work in non-profits are saying, “Yup, that’s what you have said before. We (social workers, caregivers) do that all the time.” While these practices are good and rejuvenating, it is my belief that the most important component of true self-care is what you do for self in the moment. The idea that you can care for self, exist inside the pain of another being as someone NOT hurting but a curiously detached witness to the pain of other; allows for you to be present and compassionate for self and the person in pain. Easier said than done.
What seems most interesting about the caregiver type person is we offer advice on how to care for self to those in need and yet have an incredibly hard time practicing it ourselves. Kristin Neff (http://self-compassion.org/the-three-elements-of-self-compassion-2/) defines self-compassion as needing three elements: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. Implementing these three components of compassion into your daily life increases the joy you feel when caring for yourself after work and on weekends, which is important to our well-being.
- Self-kindness is actually hearing your own self tell you in your own head and heart, “I did a good job today” or “I matter, I am important, I love big”. These mantras are said without judgment, something most of us are better at with others than ourselves.
- Common humanity should replace empathy. Empathy does not work because we can’t be empathetic and curiously detached at the same time. The nature of common humanity is saying something like, “You matter, what you say and feel matters” or “We are in this together. We will figure it out” or even “Ouch, that hurts”. Being there, listening, seeing and connecting are what matter.
- Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment with what you or another person is feeling. I often remember to notice the room I am in, the smells around me, the feel of the floor on my feet and my butt in the seat. I am me and you are you. I am okay and I am here in kindness and curiosity and I left judgment behind. Finding self in the midst of caring for others makes the times we are giving less depleting. Plus we then have energy for fun workshops, classes and new ways of having fun.
Topaz Weiss (who you will learn about below) is a colleague and a friend who has new ways of finding self, caring for self and being in the moment through art and movement. I am so proud to sponsor her trip here from Vermont for this Self-Care Workshop. I hope you will join us.
Have you ever struck up a conversation with a total stranger and felt an immediate comfort with them; as if you had known them your whole life? This was the case when I met Rosanne Marmor about 7 years ago in a tree-filled park in Lausanne, Switzerland. Rosanne left the country two days after we met but we’ve managed to keep in contact ever since through social media. We’ve watched each other’s practices grow and seen how aspects of our work overlap.
If you are a Social worker, Nurse, Caregiver, Teacher, Body worker, or other type of helping professional, this workshop is designed with you in mind. It will introduce you to multi-modal expressive arts and help you to facilitate healthy self-care practices through art. Expressive arts are often used for stress reduction, physical and emotional healing, and the understanding of self. Everyone needs to care for themselves, but those of us in the helping professions need to take special care to do this, as we are the resource that drives our work. No talent or previous art experiences are required to get a lot out of this workshop.
Researchers Coetzee and Klopper state in their paper; Compassion Fatigue in Nursing Practice: A Concept Analysis, ”Compassion fatigue is the final result of a progressive and cumulative process that is caused by prolonged, continuous and intensive contact with patients, the use of self, and exposure to stress.” You start out with the feelings of discomfort, which move into feelings of being totally stressed. Once fatigue sets in restorative processes, which may have worked earlier, are impaired and recovery becomes very difficult.
I’d like to share a little bit about myself with you. In 1994, when I moved to Eugene, OR, I left behind my private expressive arts therapy practice. I loved my work, but I was young and at times, overwhelmed by the stories of trauma that came into my office. Ultimately the intensity of holding space for healing work brought me to learning more about self-care. Though I theoretically understood how not to bring my work home and believed that I had clear boundaries, I hadn’t developed sufficient tools or strategies to deal with the stress that came with my job. I was experiencing burn-out for the first time and needed help!
Having been a student of astrology for many years, I decided that in Eugene I would build an astrological consulting practice. It seemed like the perfect marriage of my counseling skills, astrological knowledge and my great need to be of service and help people find meaning and healing in their lives.
At the peak of my astrological career I was doing sometimes six, 1.5 hour consultations a day most of which were conducted by phone. I was living alone, worked out of my home, and had it not been for my daily dog walks, I might not have seen a person in the flesh for days on end. I loved my work and felt as if I had found my true calling. After about five years all of that began to change. I was again beginning to burn out. But when your practice depends on people depending on you, what do you do?
It started out that I simply was not looking forward to working with clients. Then I began to think that I didn’t like my clients, (which was very unusual because I really loved my work, cared deeply for my clients, and felt so lucky and honored to be a witness to the stories of their lives.) Dislike turned to deep anxiety over each next session, but I would feel great during the sessions. I was confident in my abilities and with my creative juices flowing and sensing the deep awareness and healing that was happening for my clients, I would marvel at how I could have felt such dread before the session.
But the euphoria that fed the love-of-service part of me would wear off and the stress and anxiety would return. At the time I jokingly told friends that I was experiencing a compassion deficiency. I began to hate my work. I’d say that my clients were driving me crazy. (As if it were their fault!) Ultimately in 2000, I put all of my belongings into storage, and moved to Europe.
A lot has happened between then and now. I’ve lived in several countries, I’ve married, became a homeowner and a mother of children and dogs. At first it was love, love, no sleep but everywhere love. The choice to be “a helper” became a lifestyle. Feeding the kids and eating their left-overs, cleaning up everyone’s mess, being the social secretary for four people’s lives. Each day was a never-ending schedule of other people’s needs that I was trying like crazy to meet. Everyone said, “You need to chisel out time for yourself.” And I did, but not enough or not the right kind of time. This time when burn out knocked on my door, I thought it was my relationship that was souring the pot.
What I now know is that each time I thought I was experiencing burn out; I was in fact experiencing the classic symptoms of compassion fatigue.
I had to recover. My sanity and family depended on it and I couldn’t pick up and move. Instead I ran to myself, a younger self who was happy and very creative. I saw her dancing and singing and making fairy houses in the woods.
I can honestly say that the expressive arts saved my sanity and my marriage. As a gift to myself, I enrolled in an intensive 2 year expressive arts facilitator training and brought creativity back into my life. Not that I hadn’t been dancing and making art with my children. I was doing that. But this new work was just for me. I created a personal practice of giving myself a 20 minute art break everyday whether it was drawing or writing or putting on music and dancing around the room. It was my time, my self-care. Eventually those 20 minutes morphed into a new career. I found the path back to myself and also into, what I believe today, is my true calling.
It is possible for caring professionals and all people in the helping fields to prevent compassion fatigue. It is essential for our well-being and the well-being of the populations we serve that we develop strategies of stress management and commit to our own self-care.
To learn more about Topaz, visit her website: