Ken Kraybill is a Training Specialist with the Homelessness Resource Center, and a recognized national expert on self-care. He writes, trains, and lectures on self-care, outreach, Motivational Interviewing, health and homelessness, and facilitates staff retreats.
Q: Many people are talking these days about the importance of “self-care” for homeless service providers. What does self-care mean to you?
For me, it’s about being grounded in your own being, having a sense of inner calm and strength that allows you to respond to the demands, challenges, and concerns that come your way each day. Self-care is about finding ways to be your best possible self in your work. That applies to what you do both inside and outside of the work setting.
Q: How does that translate into practical action?
Outside of work it translates into being mindful about what you eat, how much exercise and sleep you get, and how you nourish your mind and spirit. It’s also about maintaining healthy relationships and finding things that bring you joy in life, while also having the capacity to enter into the sorrow that is part of living. In some ways self-care is about learning to live life as fully as possible. It can be compared to maintaining a vehicle so it runs at its best. You make sure the gears are working, that there’s fuel in the tank, that the tire pressure’s right, and that when you drive it, you drive it with caution and care.
Q: How about at work?
Working within reasonable hours, having a workspace that is comfortable and functional, and developing collegial relationships with coworkers are all important. I think it’s valuable to develop communication methods that work for you. Seek consultation from others. Use time wisely. Learn how to keep phone calls and meetings
concise and on point. Celebrate successes and milestones. Remember to inject levity into your workdays and not take yourself too seriously.
Q: What is at the core of how you think of self-care?
Thomas Merton says that our busyness – trying to do too much, being pulled in too many directions – can be a form of innate violence in our lives because it robs us of the root wisdom that needs to inform our actions. I have experienced this firsthand in my own work life where my busyness has caused me to react in negative ways rather than respond in a more positive manner. Self-care is about finding ways to slow down and
quiet ourselves physically and mentally, so we can respond to people from a place of understanding and care.
Q: And how do you do that?
It might mean taking a few deep breaths before making a phone call, or creating a little break for yourself between meetings or activities, or listening carefully and reflectively to co-workers and clients. It might also require examining your own thoughts and attitudes, and letting go of those that get in the way of promoting healthy relationships. It basically means calming yourself so you can focus on one thing at a time, which is really hard if you have constant distractions.
Q: What advice would you give to people struggling with burnout?
When we are struggling with burnout, it is difficult to hold hope. Without hope, we lose much of our effectiveness as providers of care. Name the burnout and give expression to what you’re experiencing. Explore it by talking out loud with a trusted friend, counselor, or supervisor. Write about it. Meet it head-on and acknowledge it for what it is, rather than struggling onward in a “heroic” kind of way. Then, make whatever
changes need to be made to be renewed.
Q: Any last thoughts?
Yes. It is important to acknowledge to ourselves that this work takes us through a broad range of feelings and experiences, ups and downs. It is natural that when we bear witness to other people’s suffering, it affects us. We must remain aware of this and thus pay particular attention to our own well-being.