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#339707 - 09/06/10 08:53 AM Self-Care
Ken Singer, LCSW Offline
Moderator Emeritus
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 08/24/00
Posts: 5778
Loc: Lambertville, NJ USA
The following was written by a member of the MaleSurvivor community who has observed that sometimes we get a little more concerned with the welfare of others at the expense of our own mental health. Professionals are generally aware of this condition, particularly among their colleagues. However, even professionals are sometimes blind to the problem and unaware of ways to see it coming and prevent it. - KS
This article isn't about anyone or a specific situation. It is about what happens in all professions, and what can happen to any professional. But the reason it is being written is because this issue has never before been addressed in this peer support environment at MS.

The issue is Burnout.

Burnout is a physical, emotional or attitudinal exhaustion characterized by fatigue, insomnia, and depression, as well as higher levels of resentment toward those that are being helped. It is a stress reaction to unrelenting emotional demands.

Burnout occurs because of the large emotional commitment put forth and the small visible gains from that commitment. The effects of the efforts to help another are uncertain and it is not always known whether or not the person helping is appreciated for their efforts.

It is admirable to want to help a fellow human being who is suffering in some way, whether it is from the myriad forms of abuse, medical issues, the day-to-day grind or with problems with their pets or children. Helping one another is not uniquely human, but it is humane. We give support and we receive support, and we pass on to others what we have learned. We let those who have a greater need lean on us and in turn we do our best to buttress them during the times of their despair.

But the problem of burnout starts to occur when an individual is giving too much of himself, without there being enough "down time" to regroup his energies and his sense of balance and perspective.

The amount of pain surrounding us, not only here at MS, but in society in general, is enormous. Those who try to help take on the role of helper and, at times, sole emotional supporter of another. Then they are presented with others who are hurting and they choose to add to the list of those they are helping, one more - and then another, and yet another.

Before the individual is aware, most waking hours are devoted to the helping of others. A few hours' sleep forgone here and there don't seem to be much of an issue when someone is in pain. After all, how many of us have stayed up with a sick or hurting friend just to get them through the night?

The problem comes when this cycle is unrelenting, when there aren't any breaks from the helping. The biggest problem is that the person helping doesn't take time out to address, or even acknowledge, his own needs - the need for sleep, the need to eat, the need to just take a break from helping and to do something enjoyable.

The balance in life is disturbed and the person who has been stretched beyond physical and emotional endurance is now in a place where he is not only feeling like he cannot and has not been helping anyone, but that he is not even able to help himself.

Feelings of self doubt, blame, guilt and anger combine with feelings of despair. The helper disparages himself for not having been able to do "enough" while possibly blaming the person he tried to help for just not "getting it." Communications are strained and the only protection of the self is to back away and shut down.

So how does one prevent and/or combat burnout?

Self care is the key to maintaining a healthy balance and perspective. Expand your social life. Engage in activities other than helping. Develop and maintain an interest in recreational activities. It is imperative to take care of your own needs. Doing so is not selfish, it is necessary. And by doing so, you will then be in a better place from which to be able to help others.

Part II -- Self-care

How many times have you heard "take care of yourself?

But what does that really mean?

Is it driving safely or wearing weather appropriate clothing? Or is it only said as a pleasant way of ending a conversation or visit?

Self-care is so much more. It is something everyone, regardless of profession or vocation needs to do. As foreign as the concept may be, self-care is something that should be at the top of the list of your daily activities. A minimum of fifteen minutes a day should be scheduled into your day for self-care. Of course, the more time you can devote to self-care, the better. Initially, it may feel strange and "selfish" to schedule and take time for yourself. But self-care is anything but selfish. It is necessary to your emotional and physical health and well being.

Part of self-care is the ability to be assertive. It takes assertiveness to tell others "no," especially when you are stressed and/or over-burdened. Since telling others "no" probably hasn't been a large part of your vocabulary, being assertive will require practice.

Other aspects of self-care include getting enough sleep. It is not possible to properly take care of yourself if you are not getting adequate sleep. Sleep is the body's time to repair itself physically and to recharge itself mentally.

Diet is another important factor in self-care. Good nutrition helps your brain and your body function at an optimum level. A lack of proper nutrition will make you tired and will impair your ability to concentrate. Poor nutrition will also affect your physical health and will make you less illness-resistant. A good diet also means that you are not skipping meals.

Exercise is vital to self-care as it provides a physical outlet for stress. Other benefits of exercise are increased stamina, both physically and mentally, and a strengthened immune system. Regular exercise helps to control body weight, which leads to other health benefits. Exercise often results in lower blood pressure, lower risk of diabetes, lower risk of obesity, lower risk of depression and it helps to reduce the frequency of episodes of insomnia.

One overlooked aspect of self-care is regularly scheduled medical care, such as physicals, dental and eye care appointments. Even more important is recognizing the need and taking the time to visit your health care providers when you are not feeling well. Waiting "to see" if you get better when you know you are ill enough to require medical intervention is not self-care. It is not a waste of time to enlist the services of your health care providers when you are feeling ill or if you are injured or you are having dental or vision problems. These issues will not "go away" on their own. Seeking therapy when you need it is another vital aspect of self-care.

Self-care also entails the lighter side of life.

Engage in social activities that have nothing to do with healing. Your social activities should be filled with pleasure and relaxation. The goal is to spend time with friends and to have a good time.

Individual leisure activities that have nothing to do with healing are equally important for well being and self-care. Whether you read, listen to music or engage in hobbies, the focus should be on relaxation and enjoyment.

Travel, whether short day-trips or longer trips may also be a part of your self-care program.

Your self-care may also incorporate spirituality.

Take time to play and have fun. However clichéd, take time to smell the roses.

Above all, add some humor to your day.


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#339716 - 09/06/10 12:37 PM Re: Self-Care [Re: Ken Singer, LCSW]
Ever-fixed Mark Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 01/02/10
Posts: 725
Loc: United States
It's great to see this issue addressed here. There is one thing that I think is absent and needs to be discussed here, it's the issue of appropriate boundaries. It's implied above, but never clearly stated.

It's important to have good boundaries especially when engaging in peer support of this type. It's possible to over identify/empathize with the person you're talking to and take on the emotional weight of their situation.

Know what is healthy for you and set sensible boundaries that help you stay balanced and making progress.

-efm

_________________________

Everybody here's got a story to tell
Everybody's been through their own hell
There's nothing too special about getting hurt
Getting over it, that takes the work

- "Duck and Cover" by Glen Phillips

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#339776 - 09/07/10 11:50 AM Re: Self-Care [Re: Ever-fixed Mark]
kidneythis Offline


Registered: 11/08/09
Posts: 1558
There is also the aspect of a person with bad boundaries misunderstanding when they run into someone with healthy boundaries. I have seen/dealt with this and it usually means the person w/o boundary assumes I am cruel, unkind, and all forms of other negative things when I don't jump into the emotions they are projecting upon me.
I know for many years I didn't understand when people were simply having boundaries with me when I couldn't get them to step into my drama as I thought they should to help me.

_________________________
As Mark Twain once quipped, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

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#340955 - 09/27/10 04:24 PM Re: Self-Care [Re: Ever-fixed Mark]
jls Offline


Registered: 03/06/09
Posts: 1142
Keeping proper boundaries is very important in the helping fields. I work in the field and have done so for most of my adult life, with the homeless in particular, and have seen so many colleagues go down the tubes as a result of not being able to maintain proper boundaries. For me it’s a double whammy since not only am I caring for the hardest to serve in my community (the addicted, the mentally ill, etc) but I am also president of my union where I work which means that I am responsible for forwarding the well being of my co-workers too, in an extremely tough environment to work in to boot. Anyways I took some very good training a while back which touched on boundaries. One thing that stuck in my mind from it is never employ 100% empathy when helping someone else in a professional context. This may sound nasty to say but the point behind it is that you can’t be a helper if you’re in the same helpless position that the person in need of the help is, if this makes any sense. I compare it to trying to save someone who has fallen in a pit. You can’t help if you are down in there with them. JS

_________________________
Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.


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#341004 - 09/28/10 11:04 AM Re: Self-Care [Re: jls]
SamV Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 12/13/09
Posts: 5941
Loc: Talladega, Alabama, USA
Thank you, Ken Singer,

I have experienced this and it is debilitating. Thank you for sharing this.

Sam

_________________________
MaleSurvivor Moderator Emeritus 2012 - 2014

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#341060 - 09/29/10 06:44 AM Re: Self-Care [Re: SamV]
fhorns Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 08/10/02
Posts: 613
This is a piece that should be periodically bumped up for us. It's VERY true, very unheard by some, like me. I need reminders

Alfred


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#344380 - 11/06/10 08:20 PM Re: Self-Care [Re: fhorns]
SamV Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 12/13/09
Posts: 5941
Loc: Talladega, Alabama, USA
.., bump.

_________________________
MaleSurvivor Moderator Emeritus 2012 - 2014

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#345440 - 11/16/10 03:33 PM Re: Self-Care [Re: SamV]
john38 Offline


Registered: 10/21/10
Posts: 90
Loc: Pasadena CA
Yup, this is an important topic, so thanks Ken for posting it.

At various points in my recovery process I've found myself engaged in care-giving to everyone but myself. I don't tend to do this anymore, especially since I started to do a lot of work on the co-dependency patterns I developed as a result of my abuse. Whew--life went through a lot of rearranging when I stopped trying to show up unconditionally for others (of course I had been showing up conditionally--it's just that I didn't recognize this at the time). Nowadays, I get to show up for me, first and foremost, and as I can lend a supporting hand to others. It took a long time to get to this place, and I still need to stay conscious that I have a tendency to try to fix others in order to fix myself. As long as I remain aware of this tendency, I do a pretty good job of taking care of myself!

John+

_________________________
Just for today I will treat myself with respect, compassion and acceptance.

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#371511 - 10/02/11 03:33 PM Re: Self-Care [Re: john38]
Tom Beaver Offline


Registered: 10/02/11
Posts: 1
Loc: Eastern Pennsylvania
Bumped.
Great topic to be read every once in a while.


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#373493 - 10/27/11 08:37 AM Re: Self-Care [Re: Tom Beaver]
mike13 Offline
Member
MaleSurvivor

Registered: 02/02/11
Posts: 419
Loc: California USA
Thanks for the wise words Ken Mike13


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