Earlier this week there was a morning I woke up about a half hour before my alarm was set to go off. As much as I wanted to go back to sleep, my brain wouldn’t stop thinking about a specific student and family that I have been working with. I knew that there were some struggles going on for the family, and as much as I tried to make myself let it go in that moment (I mean… it’s not like I’m really going to solve this problem while lying in bed at 4 am!), I couldn’t stop my brain from thinking. I’m sure that each of you has a story much like this. Educators are a compassionate bunch, and we often feel stress based on our efforts to care for the kids in our school.
I can’t tell you how many times I have lost sleep or felt stress due to things that were happening that were well beyond my control. It’s affected my sleep, it’s affected my ability to focus, and it’s prevented me from being my best self. Compassion fatigue is a real thing – it’s a state experienced by those who are helping others in distress. In most extreme situations, it can create secondary traumatic stress for the helper.
I think there are times when we all focus so much on what is happening in the minds of our students that we forget to think about and assess where we are right now. Are you feeling stress? Do you feel like you are being pulled in too many directions? Do you feel “on edge” about something? Your answers to these questions can help you begin to assess if you might be feeling some secondary stress, or at a minimum help you identify times when you might need to take care of yourself.
In order to be our best selves, in order to help support our students, we need to make sure that we are in the best place possible. One of the ways that we can help make sure that we are ready to help others is by building our own self-care plan. As we begin to think about what a self-care plan might look like, there are 6 categories that you might want to think about:
- Physical Self-Care – These are the things we do to take care of our body. Examples might include: sleep; nutrition; exercise; and regular health care visits. What do you do to take care of yourself physically?
- Emotional Self-Care – These are the things that we do to take care of our own feelings. Examples might include: personal or professional support systems; journaling; talking about feelings with others; or counseling/therapy sessions. How well do you take care of yourself emotionally?
- Cognitive Self–Care – These are things we do to improve our mind and understand ourselves better. Examples might include: reading for pleasure or work; writing; and continued education. What do you do to take care of yourself psychologically?
- Social Self–Care – These are the things we do to relate to others and the world around us. Examples might include: spending time with family, friends, and colleagues you enjoy; having fun and playing; belonging to groups. Are there things you do to help take care of your social well-being?
- Financial Self–Care – These are the things we do to save or spend responsibly. Examples might include: balancing a checking account; planning for the future; spending money in thoughtful and productive ways. What are the things you do to take care of your personal finances?
- Spiritual Self–Care – These are the things we do to gain a perspective on our own life. Examples might include: meditation; contact with nature; prayer; or a connection with God or a Higher Power. How do you take care of yourself spiritually?
Your self-care plan is going to be unique to you. You may find that there are items on this list above that don’t fit your needs. Ultimately, to be able to do our best and be able to serve our kids in the best ways possible, we have to first take care of ourselves. Hopefully the ideas above will help you think about the ways that you can focus on your own individual wellness. Our success in self-care will help prevent the negative consequences of compassion fatigue.
What types of things are the most successful for you to be able to care for yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below!