Self-care is looking after yourself as a youth worker or school chaplain.

It’s about maintaining a balance between work, rest and play. And putting strategies in place to sort through the thoughts and feelings that come with your work.

Part of every day in youth work roles should be set aside for self-care, but most of us don’t do it that well. The important thing with self-care is to do some little things often. Have a method of looking back to see if you’re doing enough, and if what you are doing is helping.

When you develop burnout, it’s usually because you’re either not doing enough self-care, or you’re not doing the right things at the moment.

What are you doing to maintain your mental and physical wellbeing as a helping professional? Here's some tips if you're stuck.

How do you know when you’re in need of some self-care?

The nature of any job where you are investing in someone else is that you have to top up what you’re giving out, or you’ll end up being empty at some point.

Think of a sand timer.

Starting a new job is like turning a timer over. The sand runs through that little hole every time you talk to a young person or do some aspect of your job. At the end of each day, if you don’t do something to either turn the clock back over, or at least lay it on its side, you’re going to run out.

Sand timer self care

That emptiness is burnout. A book I’ve found helpful for thinking about burnout, is Pastor Pain. The author, Steve Bagi describes how burnout is a gradual process rather than a reaction to an individual event.

He explains it as “a stew of emotions and sensations. The pain stew. The stew that contains many emotions and recurring thoughts which surface and disappear almost randomly. Burnout is a condition in which the person is not just tired or disillusioned but rather is in a zone of pain.”

If you want to take your youth work to a higher level, get the free eBook, Thrive!

Dr David Ballard from the American Psychological Association told Forbes Magazine that there are ten signs of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion or feeling tired all the time
  2. A lack of motivation or enthusiasm for things you’ve found rewarding in the past
  3. Frustration, cynicism and feeling negative about a lot of things
  4. Difficulty with paying attention, concentrating or making decisions
  5. Not caring as much about your work and putting in less effort
  6. Problems in your relationships at either work or home
  7. Unhealthy coping strategies like drinking, smoking, poor eating habits…
  8. Not being able to turn off your thinking about work
  9. Feeling less satisfied about life in general
  10. Developing health problems that relate to chronic stress

Do you recognise some of these signs in your own life? Then lay the sand timer down and do something about it! Head over to my article on burnout for more information.

It’s never too late to address this. Just doing one or two little things can start to overcome that emptiness. If you’re so overwhelmed you’re not sure where to start, then get some help from either your boss or an expert. Feel free to contact me through my professional supervision page and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Keeping your practice fresh

Even if you’re going well there are six habits you can develop to keep your practice fresh:

  1. Reflect on how you’ve done things. Look back at your work and think about what tools you have used and the words you have said. Could you have done things a different way? Is anything getting stale? How to things fit with your role and purpose? If you want to know more about the value of having a clear purpose, read my article on clarifying your purpose and vision.
  2. Have a means of learning new skills and knowledge. Enrol in a course, attend professional development opportunities or read articles online. There are heaps of learning activities out there that you can fit into even the busiest schedule. If you’re doing a course as a condition of your employment, see it as a benefit, rather than a chore.
  3. Try something new every now and then. Keep your practice fresh by incorporating new knowledge and skills into what you are doing. Give yourself permission to try things, make mistakes and learn from them. Meet up with others, either face-to-face or in online groups and find out what they are doing that seems to be working.
  4. Keep your life in balance. Our days should have a balance of work, rest and play. Try and eat well and get enough exercise, not only for your physical health, but also for your mental health. And get a check up each year from your doctor to make sure you’re looking after your body.
  5. Unpack your practice on a regular basis. Professional supervision should be part of every youth worker’s self-care plan, but it shouldn’t be a counselling session. It should be a focused reflective process looking at your skills, knowledge and thoughts, then your feelings if needed. Get a professional supervisor you feel comfortable with, who focuses on your practice as well as you. Check out my article on the qualities to look for in a supervisor, and if you’re looking for a professional supervisor, then I’d invite you to consider my service.
  6. Take regular breaks. Switch off your emails on your phone on the weekends, and maybe even your phone. Take a holiday or two each year. We are so lucky here in Australia to have a mandated break for 4 weeks every year; take them. If you think your are developing the signs of burnout, negotiate for some special leave to get on top of it. It costs a lot of money to replace and train up staff, so most employers will look for ways to look after you rather than lose you altogether.

Self-care is the key to maintaining freshness in  youth work, but it’s not the only thing you can do. Having clear values and goals, planning and reflecting on your work is important too. That’s called purposeful practice and I’ve got another article worth reading on that topic.

What about you? What things work for you in caring for yourself? I’d love you to share your thoughts below.

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