Here in the Northern Hemisphere, many people are planning their summer vacations. This group does not include people who are unable to take vacations or others, like me, who rarely bother to pull away from their regular work or routines. I’m not proud of this, and I shouldn’t be, according to an article by Siang Yan Tan and Melissa Castillo in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity (Spring 2014).
Writing to counselors, these authors argue that self-care (including vacations) is crucial for the well-being and effectiveness of care-givers and the people we try to help. We “must not be so self-sufficient, independent, and prideful to think that we can care for others and ourselves in our own strength.” It is self-delusion to conclude that self-care is never needed or is selfish pampering. Even Jesus took regular breaks.
Tan and Castillo list a number of strategies that are basic and well known to most leaders and therapists. They include getting rest and exercise, spending time with family and people who give support, and taking periodic breaks. But listing self-care strategies is not the same as practicing them or taking them seriously. There is evidence that leaders, counselors, and pastors often ignore, explain away, or find spiritual arguments to dismiss the need for self-care. Some corporate, academic, or church cultures foster the implicit attitude that people who are genuinely dedicated to their work have no time or need to get distracted with self-care. Of course this view is unhealthy and ultimately destructive for leaders and their followers or clients. Eventually, physical, emotional, spiritual or career collapse intervenes as a wake-up call to slow down.
How do we move ourselves or others to do something about their self-care? Pressure from others, new-year’s resolutions, or intellectual arguments rarely change behavior. But regular contact with strong support systems is effective. That includes setting boundaries and connecting with people who energize rather than drain us. Also effective are activities completely disconnected from work: music, involvement with nature, spiritual reflection, hobbies, sports, and vacations without cell phones or computers. Nobody can be forced into self-care but we either take time away voluntarily or face the physical and other consequences.
How do you take care of yourself or encourage others to do the same? Please comment.