The Importance of Self-Care in a Go-Go-Go World
By: Other | February 11, 2019
Written by Kimberly Nenemay, Psy.D.
My first experience with the word “self-care” came to me as a graduate student. The term was used to describe a measure for preventing professional burnout. We were being taught, as burgeoning “helpers” to others, that it was important to finds ways to help ourselves.
The graduate program that I attended aimed to train psychologists in the practice of clinical psychology. Practically speaking, this meant that I would start “helping” people in the very first semester of my studies. I chose to work with families and children in the foster care system. Needless to say, this was demanding. I soon learned that self-care was imperative for me to survive the demands of my chosen profession.
My plight, however, was not unique. Those in helping professions such as doctors, social workers, and nurses risk professional burnout by ignoring their own needs. It can also be argued that people who choose careers in the helping professions are more likely to have a sense of compassion, empathy, and sensitivity to others. Therefore, it might be particularly important for these “helpers” to monitor their needs to ensure achieving the ever elusive work-life balance.
Self-care is important for ALL of us. Having worked with clients for nearly twenty years, I see the lack of self-care as a common theme for people struggling with mental health. Personally, I learned a hard lesson when starting my full-time work as a clinical professional working within the high-turnover and high-burnout work environments of mental health agencies and hospitals. After years of feeling exhausted after another day at work, I finally said, “ENOUGH!” and took my mental, physical, and spiritual health into my own hands.
That is when I found yoga. My saving grace, yoga allows me to attend not only to my own needs, but also to the needs of my clients with even more presence. For those who have attended a yoga class where the teacher speaks to your needs, I won’t need to explain what yoga can do for you. For those who have not experienced the joy of yoga, it can elicit the peace you feel looking across a fantastic vista, the relaxation of a warm bath at the end of a day, the joy of seeing a loved one, or the release of a good cry.
With consistent yoga practice, one can sustain these feelings and shifts in energy between practices. By the way, yoga is not just physical exercise! It can incorporate meditation, deep relaxation, even sacred sounds. In fact, consistent meditative practice has been shown to reduce reactivity to emotional triggers by affecting change in neural pathways: You can change your brain!
Consistent yoga practice acts to train your brain to focus (i.e., meditate) in addition to moving your body, which inherently helps to manage stress (hello, self-care!). It is also argued that with consistent yoga practice, the benefits go beyond the yoga mat to your everyday life (for example, less reaction to the frustration of traffic jams or to conflict with a loved one). Not only is self-care good for incorporating within ourselves individually, it can also help us to be more present in other roles we have in our lives such as a dad, a mother, a daughter or son, as a partner, employee, or boss.