Are you getting tired of hearing about self-care?

You might not be alone.

The other day, while connecting with old friends, someone mentioned “self-care.” My friend, a middle-school teacher, indicated with a tone of exasperation that she was “so tired of hearing about self-care.” She went on to tell us that she is bombarded with emails from her school about how they should be practicing self-care as a response to the added stress of teaching in a pandemic.

I understood what she was saying.

It is true, self-care has become a popular mantra, especially among helping professionals. In fact, I have written a blog or two about it. But in my book, The Compassion Fatigued Organization: Restoring Compassion to Helping Professionals, I point out the pitfalls of relying on self-care alone to combat a compassion-fatigued culture.

I also encourage helping professionals to see themselves as recipients, not just dispensers of compassion. Practicing self-care and self-compassion is one way of doing that.

So, what could possibly go wrong with encouraging people to take care of themselves? Well, nothing, except that the message we send can feel less than genuine if it coincides with an environment that is otherwise not supportive. Even worse, sometimes the message implies something not so helpful. Here are a few of those implications that can feel not so compassionate.

  • Self-care is something you are not doing well or there would not be a problem. Most of us already know how to care for ourselves. So, the question is what is keeping us from thriving in our current environment. The barrier could be in our mindset, but there might also be external barriers involved.
  • Self-care is an extra thing you need to do in addition to all the other things you are responsible for getting done. Well, that sounds exhausting. This is especially problematic in jobs where the work is never really done. Self-care practices are most helpful when they are woven into our existing routines including our professional life.
  • Self-care is the best solution for resolving the problems of an overwhelming work culture. I hope we can all acknowledge that this is not the case. Though change can begin with us, organizational culture is the result of day-in and day-out interactions repeated over time. Positive solutions involve many people working together.
  • Self-care is something you need to do yourself. The word self suggests that we are on our own. A truly supportive environment asks, “how do we care for each other?”

In my conversation with my friends, everyone could relate to the frustrations with the self-care movement. Another friend asked a good question. What is another way to say “self-care” that conveys a better message? I suggested she try “compassionate connections.”

Why compassionate connections?

In my article, Numbing is Not Self-care, I write about what I called connective self-care. That is, activities that truly revitalize and restore us. Examples could be connecting with nature, our senses, our spirituality, or each other. Although connective self-care might be something we do by ourselves, we all need some time alone to regroup or reset, there is no denying the restorative power of relationships.         

I have also written before about the benefits of social connecting and refer to it as a super resiliency. Because, from a neurological standpoint, we are all wired to connect to both survive and thrive. Connecting has been shown to improve both our physical and psychological well being. It helps us to emotionally regulate and can help alleviate both depression and anxiety. Connecting to others can also help us to restore a sense of safety, purpose and belonging.

Compassionate connections, that is responding compassionately to each other, has a two-way benefit. Research has shown that responding with compassion to the suffering of others benefits the giver as well as the receiver.

The best part about “compassionate connections” is it implies it is something we do together.

So instead of just encouraging self-care, what if organizations encouraged compassionate connections? Or better yet, what if they modeled compassionate connections?

As always. I would love to hear your thoughts…

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