Ask SAFE: Mental health and self-careWritten by Antwon R. Martin
We’re talking about self-care as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month. The below responses are based on general questions related to mental health, however, self-care alone is not a substitute for treatment of mental health symptoms. Taking care of yourself means doing what’s right for you, whatever your situation.
I work two jobs and have two young children. Between work, taking care of my kids, and everything else, I just don’t feel like I have time to myself. I get that self-care is important, but honestly how am I supposed to find time for it?
Wow! Hopefully you hear this a lot: You are amazing! Parenting is hard work – rewarding work, but hard – and balancing that with two other jobs must feel like a monumental task.
A big part of our work at SAFE involves strengthening the connection parents have with their children. Giving yourself a little self-care can only help as you navigate the stresses of parenting.
So let’s see if we can find time for you to give yourself the love you deserve. And keep in mind, self-care doesn’t have to be a day at the spa or a week-long vacation. It can be as simple as reading a few pages of a good book before bed or enjoying some coffee in the morning. It might even mean you say “no” to something that’s going take up more time than you’re comfortable giving.
You may find it helpful to plot out your routine and decide where you can sneak in a little time for yourself. It sounds like your kids are school-age, so maybe you have a few minutes to yourself after you drop them off or after the bus picks them up? Or maybe you can really concentrate on something that makes you happy during your break at work.
Depending on your jobs, it might feel like you need to work through your lunch break. I’ve been there. But you’re entitled to that time, so try to make the most of it whenever you can.
Once you carve out some time for yourself, I recommend making it part of your routine. And whatever you do during that time, make sure it’s something you enjoy!
I work as a counselor at an organization similar to SAFE. I mostly support people who have experienced domestic violence as they heal. Sometimes after a really challenging session, I find it hard to “turn off” and I keep replaying what they told me. Do you have any advice for taking care of myself in this line of work?
Caregivers need care, too. What you may be experiencing is a form of secondary trauma. Without getting too technical, it’s what happens when we absorb trauma from others. Social workers, nurses, doctors, shelter staff, teachers, counselors, journalists, receptionists, and all sorts of professionals are experience secondary trauma.
It can help a lot to talk about your what you’re experiencing with your coworkers and supervisors. If counseling is available to you, consider that as an option. You’ve no doubt seen how therapy has helped others; it can help you, too.
Take time to do things that lift you up and help you replenish joy, perspective, and resilience. And do your best to avoid activities that trigger your reactions to trauma.
It may help to remind yourself that the stories you hear are not your own. A former coworker of mine said: “In my work I have heard many difficult and traumatic stories, but they are not my stories. They are shared with me. I can borrow them in the moment I’m with someone, but it is not fair for me to keep a story that is not mine. That’s stealing. So I give it back when our moment together has ended.”
I can’t stand the way people talk about self-care like it’s going to solve all the world’s problems. More often than not, it’s just an excuse for selfish behavior. In a time when people don’t spend nearly enough time caring for others, how can we possibly advocate for more self-care?
Fair point. There’s no question that we should care for others (if you or anyone you know is looking to volunteer, check us out!) And yeah, people can overindulge in the name of self-care. I’ve told myself I’m going to go for a run only to spend the whole night in front of the TV – and you bet I justified it as something akin to self-care.
It’s only a problem when we make a habit of overindulging. I love to eat. I don’t even have an image of a specific food in mind right now and I can feel myself salivating. So once a week or so, I treat myself to a delicious, greasy burger or a ludicrous number of tacos because it makes me happy and I think I deserve it. If I did that every day, I frankly don’t think my heart could handle the horrifying volume of cholesterol I’d consume.
As with most things in life, we must find a balance. It’s possible to practice healthy self-care while caring for others. When we take proper care of ourselves, we tend to have more patience, a clearer mind, and less stress. We can channel the energy that comes with those perks into our work, our relationships, our community, and anything else we deem worthy.
And in more clinical terms, self-care tends to produce “better self-monitoring and disease control, reduced symptoms, improved psychosocial outcomes (including patient satisfaction, health-related quality of life, and self-efficacy), and reduced healthcare use.”
If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything (I’m quoting a villain here, but sometimes wisdom comes from unexpected places.)
Self-care is good, but you’re right, it’s not the only thing that matters.
I’m so on board with the self-care trend! I do yoga three times a week, journal every day, and volunteer in my free time. I just want to know some of your self-care tips!
That’s great to hear!
Personally, I love journaling. It helps me figure out the thoughts I didn’t even know I had. It has also helped me process some pretty intense trauma. In my opinion, everyone should take some time to journal!
A few other tips:
- Choosing not to do something can help us take care of ourselves. For example, someone I used to work with said she would avoid watching news or documentaries that were too similar to her line of work. She didn’t want to carry the stresses of work with her all the time.
- Make sure your self-care actually makes you happy. Some people love to run. Some people feel like they’re going to die after jogging for five minutes. If it isn’t making you happy, find something that does.
- Caring for yourself includes basic needs. Do what you can to make sure you have enough food and water, clothing, a place to rest your head, and access to healthcare. Depending on your situation, not all of those are easy to come by. Do your best to make sure your needs are met and don’t be afraid to seek out local resources like Texas 211. And certainly don’t let your self-care habits interfere with your basic needs.
Keep in mind, self-care is meant to recharge your batteries and help you feel grounded. Do what’s right for you!
If you need additional support
If you’re seeking help with sexual or domestic violence, child abuse, human trafficking, or parenting support, please reach out to our 24/7 SAFEline. Whether you call, text, or chat, contacting the SAFEline is completely free, and you can provide as much, or as little, information about yourself as you like — you can even call anonymously.
You can reach the SAFEline by phone at 512.267.SAFE (7233), by text at 737.888.7233, or online at safeaustin.org/chat. Learn more about SAFEline at safeaustin.org/get-help/.