Care for Yourself First

by Pam Thorne

The Cost of Caring
Do you feel you are losing your sense of self to the people you serve? The time to practice stress management is before you experience burnout. Selfish as this may seem, it's the only way you will be available for your clients, your organization, and your family. Ask yourself if you are experiencing any of these symptoms of compassion fatigue:

  • cynicism towards clients and other staff
  • loss of energy and enthusiasm
  • loss of joy in the simple things of life
  • diminished job satisfaction
  • loss of concentration
  • difficulty in getting to sleep
  • loss in self-confidence
  • diminished sense of humor.

If you think you are heading towards burnout, here are some simple things you can do to care for yourself first.

Recognize Your Choices
You can choose anger, cynicism and isolation. You can choose not to care any more. Or you can choose kindness and compassion — within limits. Recognize that you don't have to give up part of yourself to be able to help others. You can look after yourself AND others. It's a matter of emphasis and priorities.

Treasure Time
Find "treasure time" — little nuggets of time when you can nurture yourself. Just a few minutes a day devoted to self-care can make all the difference. If your schedule doesn't permit a morning at a day-spa, you can condense your self-nurturing time and still get the benefits. Like those little soup cubes used to make stock, concentrated "treasure time" has a lot of potential packed into a small space. A few minutes reading an uplifting book, some yoga stretches, or a walk in the fresh air at lunchtime can do wonders for your inner self.

Examine the Consequences
Rationally think through the long-term consequences of NOT looking after yourself. Not only will it affect your health, your relationships and your career prospects, it will affect your ability to help the very people you seek to serve.

Laugh a Little
Go on. It won't hurt. Humor is one of the best stress relievers around. Learn to see the humor in situations. Use a joke or humorous remark to get through a tricky situation.

Ban Superman and Superwoman

The myth of Superman or Superwoman keeps many feeling obliged to provide perfect service to all people at all times, despite limitations in personnel and resources. Give up the idea that you need to do everything. Accept what you can do and what you can't do. Every profession, after all, has its limits. Accept the sad fact that there will be people who, despite your best efforts, will fall by the wayside.


Have a picture in your mind of an ideal place or situation — a secret place where you can take time out to recharge your batteries. There is nothing wrong with a little harmless daydreaming to get you through the day.

"These moments of escape are not to be despised. They come too seldom. Tahiti becomes possible."
--Virginia Woolf's The Waves.

Invest in Yourself
Learn to put yourself first. Go to personal development courses, and consider them a gift to yourself AND those around you.

Pam Thorne, M.A., is a training consultant and writer, specializing in stress and time management, conflict resolution and leadership. Her company's web site is www.peopleskillsconsulting.com
She can be contacted at (410) 923-2891 or by email at

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