For workers in human services, practicing self-care is vital to prevent burnout. Fostering and nurturing our relationships with friends, family, and coworkers helps us to maintain a healthy sense of well-being. This article offers information and tips on creating and maintaining supportive relationships.
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
- Chief Seattle
In our work, we often spend a great deal of time thinking about and engaging in relationships. We assess our clients’ relationship histories, as well as our working relationships with clients…our interactions with co-workers…and our connections with other agencies. Our work is primarily about what happens in these daily interactions with others. This serves to remind us of how fundamental relationships and social connections are in our lives.
From our earliest relationships with primary caregivers, we learn fundamental skills related to self-regulation, coping, trust, self-esteem, and competency. Our need to form attachments early in life is intense and biologically driven. This need for connection does not lessen as we move into adulthood. As we grow and mature, our definition of family and attachment broadens. Family may include people we depend on for moral support, people we see as mentors, old and new friends, spiritual or recreational communities, and even our pets. We are constantly in relationship, whether with immediate family members, co-workers, friends, or other social groups.
Maintaining relationships with others—whether co-workers, family members or friends—has a significant impact on quality of life. Research suggests a significant relationship between higher levels of social support and overall physical and emotional health. Studies have shown that our health is greatly enhanced by the presence of close, supportive relationships with friends and family. Strong social support networks offer us a sense of belonging, security and self-esteem. Feeling a sense of connection and belonging has been shown to be vital to our well-being, serving as a protection against more severe responses to stress, such as depression and anxiety.
For service providers, practicing self-care in the face of daily stressors begins with an awareness of stress level and what is needed to be healthy. While self-care begins with taking care of ourselves, it also involves others. Self-care is not practiced in isolation. When it comes to managing stress, maintaining positive relationships is not just a good idea – it is essential! The relationships we maintain help us to restore a sense of health and well-being.
As with most commitments in our lives, making self-care a daily part of our routine is the best way to sustain it. This means maintaining relationships that strengthen and support us when we need it. One way to include family and friends in our self-care routine is to create rituals that include them. For example, within your family, create rituals for how you begin and end every day. In friendships, rituals may include meeting regularly for coffee, going for morning walks together, or even gathering to watch sporting events. Whatever your rituals and routines, we all need to have specific times that we can reconnect with those who are important in our lives. It helps to bring us a sense of calm and comfort.
Here are some practical tips for creating and sustaining self-care routines and rituals in your relationships.
Join a community group with whom you share a common interest. Members of that group could be a source of friendship and support, and the meetings and activities would provide a routine way to take care of yourself.
Establish rituals with friends and co-workers outside of work. These could include meeting for regular meals, a lunchtime walk, watching a movie together, or other activities.
Look at photos. Photos can serve as visual reminders of things or people who energize you, even in times of stress. Hang family pictures at home, in your office, or anywhere that you may need an occasional lift!
Check in with family/friends on a regular basis to see how they are doing.
Establish family routines and rituals. These could include family dinners, regular eating/bedtime schedules, check-ins about how family members are doing, traditions, family reunions, celebrating holidays together.
Make time for fun. Fun is not just for kids. Playing board games, going bowling, renting a funny movie, or planning enjoyable activities are great ways to reduce stress and spend time with others.
Socialize with friends and other family members. Even if you are busy, making time to attend birthday parties, cookouts, or other celebrations you are invited to can be the best way to reduce stress and put things in perspective.
Meditate/pray together. If spirituality is important to you, find ways to connect with a spiritual community or find ways to bring spiritual rituals into your daily life.
Check out What About You? A Workbook for Those Who Work with Others for more self care tips.