Thursday, February 25, 2010

Take Care of Yourself

“In dealing with those who are undergoing great suffering, if you feel ‘burnout’ setting in, if you feel demoralized and exhausted, it is best, for the sake of everyone, to withdraw and restore yourself. The point is to have a long-term perspective.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Sometimes those who are in caring professions need to be reminded to take care of themselves. Fifteen years ago I made the decision to move from social services into nursing because I saw that it would broaden my training and provide more opportunities to do meaningful work. Social work and healthcare are both fields that have high incidences of “burnout.” I can see first hand the importance of what the Dalai Lama advises. I found this statement in The Path to Tranquility: Daily Wisdom compiled and edited by Renuka Singh. The book offers words from the Dalai Lama for each day of the year.

Tenured academics are typically granted sabbatical leave to give them opportunity to rejuvenate and gain new experiences in their fields of study. This is an excellent idea, but for most of us, we must plan our own “sabbatical time.” Consequently, that time often does not come. Both of my parents were public school teachers, my father was also a Baptist minister. Public school teachers are probably in greater need of sabbatical leave than college professors, but there again, in most cases they must make their own time for themselves if there is to be any rejuvenation.

For many of us in helping professions, finding that time is difficult because we tend to live from paycheck to paycheck. In addition, the needs are so great that we often feel that “If I don’t take care of these people, who will?” Still, it is important to be conscious of our own needs and limitations. As the Dalai Lama says, if we wish to provide help, “The point is to have a long-term perspective.” When we find ourselves in that “burnout” stage, it is harder to do effective work, and the consequences upon our own health are compounded. Sometimes we need a "mental health day."

Sabbaticals may be out of the question in your profession, and vacations sometimes become more work and expense than we counted on. It may be more helpful to set aside a weekend or an afternoon to do some calming, relaxing, or rejuvenating activity. For one it may be an afternoon at the museum, for another it could be time at the park or a drive in the country. For some it will be a regular time of meditation or yoga. Others will find moments of sustenance in gardening or bird-watching.

Today, I salute all who labor in helping professions. Take good care of yourselves – your care is needed and your value is immeasurable. To those who have benefited today from a nurse, a teacher, a social worker or a counselor, take some time to thank them for the work they do.


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