It’s the end of the semester. We’ve gotten through Thanksgiving and the December holidays are ahead of us. It should be an exciting time of year, right? Right, except for the pressure that comes from all of these things.
As I walk through the University Downtown Center and greet colleagues and students alike, there are a few common denominators, the look of exhaustion and the answers you get when you ask them how they are it’s “busy”, “stressed”, “overwhelmed”. Tis the season, right? In the MSW and HDEV classes that I am teaching this semester I have done my best to periodically check in with the students and ask what they are doing for their own self-care. Some of them are incorporating it nicely, others give me the understandable, “what self care, I am too busy”.
In the College of Community and Public Affairs we are training students to help others through Human Development, Social Work, Student Affairs, Public Administration and Doctoral Students who will one day teach. I fear that for many students though, helping themselves gets lost in the vision of helping others. I speak from experience as I suggest this.
As I have shared in my previous blog, I am a graduate of HDEV and the MSW programs at Binghamton University, I can speak to the rigor that I encountered as I went through both programs. They both took up a lot of time with classes, practicums and field placements. While I was a student I was not great at self care- I like some of the students I teach now would give the pat answer of “ I have no time!” That having no time and not making myself a priority translated into the field of social work for me.
Upon graduation I was hired as a Medical Social Worker where I worked with terminal illness, death, grief and bereavement. I worked ten years full time in this particular field. As I left that job this past summer and joined BU’s MSW department full time, I realized just how burnt out I had become and how I was not practicing what I was preaching.
Between working full time, being married, having two young children and a house to keep up with, my self care was on the bottom of my to do list. This made me irritable, exhausted and not the best version of myself, personally or professionally. I needed to make a change.
During the last year in the medical field I started to make a change. I went to a spiritual retreat sponsored by my workplace, during which we participated in making soul collages. What came out of my soul collage is how burnt out I was taking care of everyone else, personally and professionally, it was time for a change.
Over the last year I have started incorporating self-care into my life as a daily practice, it has been work. I have learned that self-care for me is time alone- meditating, running or practicing Baptiste Yoga. My journey into self care has been a challenging one, as everyone around me was used to me putting myself last, so making time for myself has not always been welcomed or even understood. I have been called selfish and even a bad mom because of it. Due to the self-care that I have incorporated into my life I feel that I am better both personally and professionally- I feel that I have more to give.
I am still just as busy, a husband, 2 young children, 2 dogs, teaching 2 MSW and 1 HDEV class, and facilitating bereavement groups part time. The difference though now is that I schedule my self-care in just like I do everything else. This may mean that I don’t have time to go out to lunch with friends, or catch up on TV shows, it means eating my lunch at my desk as I work, because I squeeze a run in during lunch or get up at 5 am to practice yoga at 6am.
While teaching my children and students about self-care, I also want to role model it for them. I love to see my students when I am out running, I love when my family comes to watch races, or when my daughter sees me dressed she will say have fun at yoga mom. I am now finally practicing what I preach.
As for those who have called me selfish and a bad mom, they need to do some self reflection and re-prioritize and make self care a priority for themselves. All it takes is 15 minutes a day- wake up 15 minutes earlier, stay up 15 minutes later. For me self-care is physical, but it does not have to be physical for you. How do you nurture your soul? What makes you feel at peace? Many people can not answer these questions, do a self inventory what do you need? Then try something new; journaling, meditating (try the Honest Guys guided meditations on Youtube, paint, walk the dog, take a bubble bath, read a book (not one that is assigned or that you will be assigning), make plans with a friend who you keep putting off, just pick something and try….
Through the holiday season and winter break, as you look for the perfect gift for everyone else, give yourself the gift of self care. In order to help others you need to start by helping yourself. My favorite line of thinking is what is told to us on the airplane- put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help someone else. Treat yourself how you treat others! Happy Holidays!
Sarah E. Hopkins, LMSW
Department of Social Work
College of Community and Public Affairs