I’ve spoken about stories quite a bit over my last few blog posts. I like stories. I like telling stories and I like listening to other people’s stories. In my work, listen to a lot of stories. Sometimes, I wonder where I keep them all. A more accurate description for what I do would be “story keeper” because that’s essentially what I do. I listen to and keep people’s stories. I also sometimes (hopefully) help them to change their stories and write better endings. It’s a great job, and it’s very rewarding, but sometimes I feel like I have listened to, kept or changed so many stories that I might just burst or pop at the seams! The good news is that if I take good care of the vessel holding the stories (myself) then it’s less likely that those seams will pop. It also means that I can do a better job of holding all of the stories. It also helps that I love what I do.
In my line of work, when your seams pop it’s called “burnout”, “compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma”. It’s not a fun place to be when you are all burned out. However, did you know that it’s not just people like me who are at risk of burnout? Yep, it’s true. Anyone and everyone can be at risk of burning themselves out by doing anything and everything.
Sometimes I tell people that life is a lot like juggling a series of buckets or baskets. You have a basket for your work or school, you have a basket for your family and loved ones, you have a basket for your physical health, you have a basket for your mental health, you have a basket for your home duties, you have a basket for your friends and social life, and finally, you have a basket for yourself. Phew! That’s a lot of baskets!
The problem is, you only have a limited amount of energy in your “self” basket, and, if you pour all of that into only one or two of your other baskets, it’s a lot harder to juggle them all! If your self-basket is empty, then you’re going to have an even harder time juggling all the other baskets. It sure is tricky, this basket juggling business!
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) we talk about life domains instead of baskets or buckets. We help people to clarify what their core values are (basically, which buckets are important to you), and then this helps direct the energy into your life’s buckets. We also help people figure out what buckets they actually have. After all, if you don’t even know what buckets you have, how can you even begin to fill them? Finally, we help to repair any damaged buckets, too. If your buckets have holes in them and they are leaking, no matter how much you try and fill them up, they’re just going to leak out again and be all sad and empty. I like the baskets analogy, because it’s an easier way of understanding values, life domains and all this fancy-schmancy psychology terminology.
Now that you understand the buckets/baskets analogy, I’m sure you can also appreciate the value of taking care of your self-bucket, because this is the most important bucket of all! In psychology, we call this process of taking care of the self-bucket, “self-care”. Self-care is really important. Not only for people in the helping profession, but for everyone else too! Sometimes people think it’s self-indulgent to pour into their own vessel; particularly people who always tend to take care of others (e.g. children, spouses, parents etc.). However, to these people I say: you definitely can’t pour into someone else’s bucket if your own bucket is empty! You’ll do a much better job of taking care of everyone when you are taking care of yourself. You’ll be calmer, more energised, more alert, focused, present and clear. It’s true! Some people argue with me and say “but I don’t have time!”. Ahh… this is the best bit! You will find that when you take a tiny bit of time out to take care of yourself, suddenly (and almost magically) you will discover that you have more time. This isn’t some magic trick or illusion, I promise. The reason why you will have more time is because you will be more efficient with the time you do have. Tired, grumpy and sad people are not efficient with their time; happy, energised and motivated people are!
So, now that you know about the importance of self-care, you might be wondering what you can do to improve your own self-care practice. Well, this is the fun part. You can do anything you like! That’s right, anything. That’s the beauty of self-care; it’s all about you. So you can choose whatever you want to do in your self-care time. If you are new to this self-care business, this might seem a bit daunting. So, I thought I might help you with some ideas to get you started and share some of my own self-care practices with you.
Usually the best place to start when you’re trying to find your groove with self-care is to ask yourself a few important questions:
What do you like to do? Are you someone who enjoys going for walks in nature or are you someone who likes cuddling up on the couch to watch Netflix or a movie? Are you someone who gets their energy from spending a lot of time with others, or just by yourself? Are you someone who is creative, or someone who is automated? Do you like structure and routine, or variety and change? What makes you smile? What makes you feel energised? Do you like to move your body by being active, or do you prefer to relax it instead?
If you answered all of these questions, I’m guessing you’d be getting a lot closer to figuring out what your self-care groove is. Me, personally, I’m a bit of a changeling when it comes to my self-care practice. It really just depends on my mood and what I am in need of.
Sometimes I need a walk in nature.
Sometimes I need exercise.
Sometimes I need to indulge in some aromatherapy.
Sometimes I need a pretty manicure.
Sometimes I need to read a book.
Sometimes I need to write.
Sometimes I need to connect with others and have deep and meaningful conversations.
Sometimes I need to create something.
Sometimes I need chocolate.
Whatever it is that I do, I always make sure that it’s something that I enjoy in the moment, it recharges me, and it makes me happy. It’s easy to forget to prioritise self-care in your life when you’re juggling so many baskets, but remember self-care practice makes self-care perfect!
So, tell me, what do you do for self-care? What fills your bucket? Leave a comment here or chat to me on Facebook.