Friday, January 29, 2010

Coming off the ledge

Here are a few thoughts that have been swimming around in my brain in preparation for a session I’m offering Saturday to upcoming graduates with degrees in counseling psychology, masters of divinity and Christian studies. The topic: Self-care.

It takes courage to slow down. To say, “I need a break.” Our world encourages burn out. Give. Give. Give. Nowhere do I see this more than with people in the helping professions. Pastors. Priests. Social workers. Counselors. Chaplains. Because, you see, there is a never ending supply of people who need help.

Parents are also notorious for running themselves ragged with the self-invalidating stance of “my kids need me.” You hear it from the exhausted mother who sews a button on the child’s performance costume minutes before the school program. Or from the dad who runs out at 9:30 p.m. after a full day’s work to get the book his teen just now said she needs for homework (even though she’s known it for weeks.) We can’t say no. We don’t say no even when we’re dead dog tired, and our insides are screaming, GRRRRRRR.

Then we get up the next morning, slosh down a cup of coffee, grab a bagel or maybe smoke a cigarette and head out the door before we’re even awake, because someone needs us. We encourage others to take care of themselves while we border on the unethical (or at least hypocritical), as we let the stress pile on. When does it stop? How do we break the cycle?

Scripture admonishes us to “Love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.” How warped have we made those beautiful words? We either forget ourselves all together and press through with a smile and a latte; or we love others just as we love ourselves – not very well. And God? Who has time?

Caring for one’s self is hard, hard work. Does any tiny bit of this resonate with you? How’s your pulse today? Relaxed? On the verge of burnout? Exhausted? Terrified? Excited? All of the above? If you’re one of the few who feels calm and practices self-care, tell us: Where do you find respite?

How do you respond when I say to you, “Take care of yourself. Your life depends on it”? Imagine this… in order to continue with the work you love, you have to stop now. You can’t see another client or respond to your child or answer an e-mail or text. You’ve got to throw away your computer and lock the doors to your office (or personal space). You have one hour to find solace. No, wait, that’s too much time. 10 minutes.

So could you do it? Could you implement a self-care strategy within that time frame? I offer you this challenge…. You have 10 minutes to pull yourself back in from the ledge, what do you do? Go ahead, make the list. Then pick one item and do it! ☺

Here’s the short list that popped into my mind:
  1. 10 minutes with my cat
  2. 3 pages of uncensored journaling
  3. Listen to two or three of my favorite songs
  4. 5 deep breathes, a couple of full stretches & the rest of the time in child’s pose
  5. A walk around the block – brisk or slow, as needed
Ahhhh. I feel better already. I look forward to hearing from you.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

WHERE DO I SIGN UP???? And can I get a flight to Seattle on this short notice?!!! Love, Pamela

lucy said...

pamela - not to worry, when i write my book on self-care, i will definitely add physicians to the list!! now, what would you do with 10 minutes to self-care?

Kel said...

how fortunate those graduates are to receive such life affirming wisdom

if i only have 10 mins:
- play with my dog
- take my shoes off and walk outside on the grass
- lie on the grass and look up at the sky through the branches of a tree

liz said...

Lucy, thanks for this timely post. With 10 mins, I would jump in the car, go to the beach(about 5 mins by car) and stand there and inhale for 5 mins. Would work in any weather! OOps! I've just awarded myself an extra five mins - to get back. Is that OK?

Macrina said...

This was A helpful/hopeful post for me though I must admit, although I am nodding my head and agreeing with it all (at first reading) I WAS ACTUALLY SLOSHING IT DOWN LIKE A CUP OF COFFEE .. Then I read it again and ask myself, SO WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS? I bundled up and took a leisurely walk in the fresh snow: even got a snow sunrise that I would never have experienced if hadn't checked in on this blog. THANK YOU.

Barbara said...

Add teachers to your list while you are at it, lucy. :)

Burnout is a highly destructive situation. Being a perfectionist exacerbates it. Even now, in retirement, the singed edges of my soul become apparent on a daily basis. You can turn ANYTHING into a jobthatmustbedone, if you have that mindset -- artwork, exercise at the gym, cooking.

I do spend lots of time with my kittehs (and can hear myself worrying who will take care of them when I am away?) and they, thank goodness, seek me out and thwart my plans at every turn. Other than that, I have far too many "shoulds" than suggestions. I need to incorporate some of the suggestions of other readers.

Maureen said...

I went over to Christine's (Abbey of the Arts) for the visual meditation. It worked wonders.

Poetry reading and writing are what I always find helpful.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

With 10 minutes -

1. Turn on the Kindle and read
2. Stretch out on the bed for 10 minutes of IPhone Scrabble
3. Play with Riley and Andy
4. Look at my calendar and enjoy the actual times away coming up - a luxury!
5. Scan through my favorite bloggers, I generally find solace, encouragement, hope and spirituality there - I seldom find my blogfriends discouraging

Howard said...

A very good idea, but after we take ten minutes, wont we just return to where we were?
Wouldn't it be better to be able to find a different perspective on life?
For me it was learning to look at why I was living the life I was and what could I do to live my life, my inner life, differently.
My job hasn't changed, and I'm busier now than ever, but I am now enjoying a much more fulfilling and loving life.
And still taking 10 minutes to devote to my cat.
Great work, btw, Lucy.

lucy said...

kel - you'll be happy to know i used your two examples of going barefoot in the grass and lying down and watching the clouds drift by (ok... i slightly edited your words), but thank you for the inspiration and thanks for reading!!!

liz - take all the time in the world. you deserve it!! i hope you made/make it to the beach today. welcome to my blog. i hope you'll come back soon!

macrina - lovely words from a lovely woman. you were a beautiful inspiration to me as i headed out the door this morning to do my presentation. i, too, was starting to slosh my coffee, but took a few minutes to pause, breathe deeply and inhale the words of others who were inspired by my own words. it's a wonderful circle. blessings to you and i hope you'll come back soon... and oh, a "snow sunrise", i'm deeply envious since we never saw the sun today through the rain and gray.

lucy said...

barbara - there was a teacher in one of my sessions today. she was exhausted!! yes, those demons of perfectionism. i'm slowly redefining my "should's", and as you can probably tell, listening to the wisdom of aslan is very near the top of my list :-)

maureen - yes, it only takes a moment to soak in the visual, if we just remind ourselves that's what we're doing. for some reason, this made me think of the scene in chevy chase's vacation where they finally get to the grand canyon, stand their for 5 seconds and hop back in the car. we miss so much when we rush!

SS - a great list from someone who knows how to practice what she pens!!! xoxoxo

howard - welcome! the words "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" ring in my ears. i somehow imagine those little 10 minute respites as steps toward "a different perspective." i was amazed as i put together my presentation how many steps are incorporated into my way of living. they have become essential like breathing and help me be present to the life i choose to live.

some of us may "return to where we were" after the 10 minutes, but often it's like hitting the reset or reboot button and we can start with a fresh perspective.


thank you for these wonderful, inspiring comments!!!

Tess said...

Sometimes my self-care has to include withdrawing from the bloggy world for a little while. Otherwise I find, like Macrina, that I'm gulping down words like morning coffee and not really taking them in or reflecting on them. Which is OK if it's a post reviewing the iPad, but not the group of blogs focusing on the sacred which form the core of my list.
When I come back I press the dreaded "delete unread" button on my blog reader and am immediately swept up in worry that I've missed a gem that will change my life for ever, or a piece of news for which I would want to offer comfort.
I think there's something in what Howard says too about a change of perspective while doing the same things. I'd love to hear more.

Karen said...

**Walk down to the river.
**Stare out the window and think of nothing at all.
**Lay down on the couch and close my eyes.
**Listen to New Age music.

This is something I'm constantly struggling with. However, I'm not an uncomplaining martyr--which actually helps. Eventually I explode and then boy howdy do I get plenty of "me" time ("Back away from the snarling Mommy...back away!") So my challenge is to remember this BEFORE I get to the snarling stage.

Luckily, we're works in progress. We can learn and change and forgive. (Forgiveness...a whole other blog entry.)

Thanks for (as always) making me think--I always know that deep contemplation will be expected when I come to your blog. I appreciate that.

Marisa said...

It seems to me that we are constantly being pushed to do more. I remember a sermon years ago when the Pastor was stressing that it's not enough to say "I had a good day" but what we should be saying is "I had a productive day". To this day, when ever Hubby says he had a good day, I will respond with "Ah...but did you have a productive day?"

lucy said...

tess - no doubt this topic of self care will be explored more here. i have just been invited to offer a program on "care for the caregiver" at st. placid priory next spring.

and, yikes, i, too dread the "delete unread" button, alas...sometimes it's the best thing we can do for ourselves!!

karen - thank you for sharing your lovely list. indeed we are works in progress... learning perhaps a tiny bit more each day while also learning to let go of ingrained habits that no longer serve us well.

marissa - oh, i must say your comment made me very sad. then i considered how i might define 'productive'... i think it would include a HUGE dose of self care & perhaps a selection off of each person's list :-) thanks for stopping by!!!