Self Care and the teeny wrench

The concept of Self care is a funny thing, particularly for people such as us Westerners who live in such an achievement-oriented society. I don’t believe that you can take a diploma in self care, post the certificate on your wall and voila, you’re done, onward and forward…

You see, in my opinion, we are never “done” with self care, it’s not like painting our living room or some other chore on our to-do list, in fact, I would say it’s more akin to making sure you eat more vegetables every day. Gobbling down three pounds of broccoli on Monday does not mean you have met your needs for folacin and all the other lovely nutritional requirements for the week does it now? (Alas)

No, self care, in my mind, is something that we continually have to check in with, have conversations with and tweak. Hence, the lovely image I carry with me about self care is a teeny tiny wrench. I tinker with self care as lovingly as the guy who works on his 1983 Fiat Spider (that’s a car for those of you who aren’t fans) and who never really wants it to be fixed. In fact, that’s not really his goal at all. He just loves the process.

The Ideal Schedule

I think of my work schedule that way. Every week on Sundays, I sit at my laptop with a nice big latte and take a look at the upcoming week. My first question is: where can I fit in physical exercise? (I’ll write more on this later), and so I take my daytimer and write in exercise time everywhere that I possibly can (the goal is to get out for a run/fitness class at least three times during the work week). The second thing that I do is look at scheduling something fun and restorative. Something to look forward to. This can be a small as “rent such and such movie on Thursday night” or “plan dinner party” or going to book club, scrapbooking club or curling. It has to be something restorative that you self-define as fun. For some of us, working as helpers mean that we need to be “off” duty to unwind and the most appealing fun and restorative activity is to watch a seinfeld rerun in our pjs with the phone off the hook. That’s ok.

The second process with my work schedule is to look at the coming few weeks or even the next couple of months and pre-book some down time, plan ahead that if I’m going to be travelling or presenting a workshop on a Thursday, I need to have blocked off the Wednesday to prepare the workshop, get photocopies made, review my material, pre-cook a few meals for the kids, etc. This may seem totally obvious to some of you, but I know some people who are continually surprised and overwhelmed by the weeks they face. I have a friend who often says “I have a week to week planner, so I often say yes to something without looking at the following week and then when I do peek at the coming week, I realise I’ve booked myself to go out of town three times in 7 days and then I feel unbelievably stressed and overwhelmed.”

Collect Ideas from others
A friend just emailed me to say that she has finally figured out how to fit in a run in her schedule every other day. My immediate reply back to her was “good for you! How did you manage to fit that in? What is your best time or what strategy did you use to make that happen?” When I was young, I dreamed of becoming a journalist, (or so I thought until I found out what it’s really about). What I really loved was researching and collecting information (hence my first Degree in history). When my first born was about to begin school, you would have found me in the playground, interviewing friends with older children about their best strategies for making lunches, homework, best times for swimming lessons etc. This was not driven by anxiety or apprehension on my part, but rather a total curiosity about what others do to make things run more efficiently (the quest being, let’s remember, optimal self care, which is never truly attainable).

Now that I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of helping professionals in my consulting and counselling work, I have a veritable treasure trove of ideas for the ideal schedule.

2 Responses to Self Care and the teeny wrench

  1. Suzanne says:

    Hi Francoise
    Thank you for your newsletter addressing compassion fatigue. I thought I’d pass along the following self-care tips:
    1) I do simple stretching movements between sessions. It only takes a few
    seconds and it helps me to be more aware of how my body is doing through the
    day. My body is the best indicator of how I’m doing generally. I store a
    foldable foam mat (the kind that can be used on long deck chairs) in my
    office, and I use it at noon or whenever I can find an extra bit of time to
    do a brief stretching routine. I noticed years ago that my muscles tend to
    tighten as the day goes on, and I find stretching is really great to work
    out any tension that gets stored in the body. When I’m stretching it is a
    very mindful activity because I’m focused on how the muscles are feeling and
    getting the right amount of stretch, so everything else tends to float away
    while I’m doing it. The mat I bought folds in thirds and I keep it in a big
    nylon bag on the back of my door when its not in use so it is fairly

    2) Sound has a big impact on me, and I especially like water sounds. I
    bought a small fountain for my office and I keep it running throughout the
    work day. The tinkling sound promotes relaxation and the added benefit is
    that it humidifies my otherwise very dry workspace.

    Counsellor, Kingston

  2. Prof Figley says:

    Yeah Françoise!
    So glad you started this blog focusing on SOLUTIONS to compassioin fatigue. My very, very best wishes to you and everyone who visits this Blog — I hope they spend the time to read AND to respond.
    Warmest regards from Northern Florida,

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