“Oh, you work with cancer patients…how do you do that everyday?”
This is a typical statement I hear when I tell folks what I do. My elevator speech response is, “I can’t imagine doing anything else.” And while this is 100% true, it also has taken an enormous amount of work to care for myself in order to sustain my empathy and desire to help those with cancer.
Self care isn’t a new concept, but certainly one that is gaining more press as the study of workplace related burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and secondary traumatic stress has risen. All of these areas of study needed a process or method for actually sustaining oneself in light of stressful, sad, trying jobs, and that, is self care.
Self care is a unique process. What works for one may have no impact on another. It also takes trial and error to figure out what are the best mechanisms for YOU. When I was working in the hospital, I used to like to walk home after work. I used that walk home as a buffer zone, where I let go of the stresses of the day before I got home. Early in my career, I also discovered knitting. I love to create scarves, mittens, shawls and hats with my hands. I love the feel of the fiber between my fingers and the meditative quality of making stitch after stitch. This has been a stand by mechanism of self care for me for many years. In recent years, I’ve discovered the influence of physical activity and exercise. I go to Zumba 2-3 times per week and have found this to be one of the most useful strategies to let go of stress and release endorphins. I’ve also made some great friends through this activity, and we look forward to dancing away our stress together. This has also had a great positive impact on my physical health.
I also found that while at work, it was important to do things like take my lunch break and leave the floor or the clinic, or laugh with a colleague during the day. It was equally important for us to reflect on the sad and challenging parts of our days as well. All of these things have helped me maintain myself as a helping professional for nearly 20 years. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and I know that my devotion to caring for and sustaining myself has greatly contributed to my desire to keep on fighting the fight.
I challenge YOU to take care of yourself! Identify your self care plan! Interested in learning more about these concepts? Listen in to our Self Care Webucation Series for Oncology Professionals.
What do you do for self care? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced when trying to care for yourself? Join the discussion in the comments below.