JULIA ELLIFRITT LISW-S
Self-care is a necessity, not a privilege.
As I sit here, thinking about my 35-year career (so far) during this National Social Work Month, a lot comes to mind. “A hundred years ago”, when I first graduated from school, my dad who was a PhD university professor said, “So, they’re going to pay you to talk to people?”. It’s not talking to people, dad, there’s a skill to it… it’s counseling. He couldn’t even fathom what a social worker did – how they impact people’s lives and quite literally, change the world. Over the years I have been privileged to work in hospices, holding the hands of dying persons taking their last breath. I’ve sat with combat veterans and refugees; worked with orphans and kids in foster care. I have traveled the globe 17 times working in nursing homes in China, AIDS clinics in Africa, and orphanages in very remote places. I’ve journeyed with bereaved persons who have experienced more tragedy and trauma than seems fair. And through it all, I’ve experienced the grace and peace that comes from loving the people that Jesus did – the hurt and broken. So, to all of my colleagues out there – Happy Social Work Month! The world is a much better place because of you!
As we all know, stress, burn out, and compassion fatigue are all too familiar experiences for us social workers, as well as countless other professionals in the helping arena. It is all the more important for us to take care of ourselves first. Because here’s the deal…if you want to be around long-term to take care of your family, friends, clients, colleagues, etc. It starts with you. When you’re on an airplane and they tell you if the oxygen masks drop, to put yours on first. That’s intentional. Because if you’re not breathing, you’re not going to be able to help out that elderly person or child sitting next to you.
This is why we need to remember:
- Self-care is a necessity, not a privilege.
- It is not a sign of selfishness, but an act of survival.
- NO is a complete sentence and you are allowed to use it.
- It’s ok to take a mental-health day and go smell the candles at TJ Maxx.
We are all created with three tanks: physical, spiritual and emotional. You can own the most expensive car out there, with heated leather seats, a sun roof and every accessory imaginable. But if there’s no gas in the tank, the car won’t run. We were created the same way. We can have the best of intentions, but if our spiritual, physical and emotional tanks are not full, we won’t go. How do you fill your tanks? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend Time In Prayer or Meditation
- Practicing mindfulness and intentionality with your breathing can help reduce racing thoughts and create space for interior peace.
- Make a Gratitude List
- Making a list of your accomplishments and reasons to be thankful can remind you of the positive impact you make every day.
- Enjoy Your Favorite Things
- Whether it’s a hot cup of coffee or cocoa in your favorite spot, cooking your favorite meal while listening to your favorite song… on repeat, or dancing like no one’s watching, do the things that make you, you.
- Energize Yourself Through Physical Activity
- Walking outside on your lunch break, doing yoga, or taking an exercise class can help alleviate stress, improve concentration and mood, and reduce fatigue.
- Spend Time With Family and Friends
- Put down your phone, spend time being in the moment with those that mean the most. Studies show that spending quality time with friends and family leads to improved mental health and increased self esteem.
- Treat Yourself
- Buy yourself a present, just because. You deserve it!
- Show Some Love
- Spending time with a furry friend, volunteering, and paying it forward through an act of kindness are a few ways to promote empathy and compassion, which leads to interconnectedness. Don’t forget to love yourself.
- Relax By Playing the Piano, Reading, or Soaking in a Warm Bath
- Forget the dishes, laundry and the whole to-do list to enjoy whatever feels relaxing to you.
- Take a Break
- Enjoy a mental health day not feeling guilty for it. Some people raise us up while others bring us down. Pay attention to how you feel in the presence of others or in certain environments and distance yourself from anything and anyone that drains your emotional energy.
- Make Self-Care Part of Your Routine
- Don’t wait until you’re desperate for some R&R. It’s hard for us to find the time, but there are many ways to incorporate it into our lives every day.
No matter what recharges your batteries, know what they are and keep them in your back pocket for when you need them. Many of these self-care tips can be done from the comfort of your home. With the slowdown of our country this month, now is the time to take care of yourself more than ever.
Director of Education & Community Engagement
Has been with Cornerstone of Hope for 15 years. Her experiences include caring for the terminally ill and their families, bereavement care services, community education, traumatic death interventions, research, supervision of graduate students, coordination of volunteer programs and development of psychosocial components for hospice programs. Is a skilled practitioner in counseling and program development, with a Bachelor’s (Cleveland State University) and Master’s Degree (Case Western Reserve University) in Social Work. Has been published in The American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care and The Exceptional Parent. Is also a founding board member of the Northeast Ohio Bereavement Council and was active on their board for more than ten years.