Last week I was at a Risk Management meeting where the main topic of conversation was the H1N1 virus and how to keep practicum students as safe as possible, particularly those in hospital settings. At the end of this meeting I went back to my office and sent all my students a message about self-care and I queried them in terms of how they were taking precautions and trying to protect themselves from catching this flu. The responses were varied.
Now, of course, there is only so much hand-washing that one can do to try and keep those nasty viruses away, but I was a bit concerned at how some students were a bit cavalier about the pandemic, while others seemed to be quite anxious. My curiosity was peaked in terms of how this group manages their overall stress and resilience, since I know that most of them are working, doing a full-time practicum, parenting small children and taking other courses. It’s a heavy load to say the least!
The topic of self-care comes up a lot in each of our practice courses, but I usually find these discussions to be quite superficial. So, I had to find a way to take my students to another level of examination – one that hopefully could promote some productive strategies for staying physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually healthy.
One resource that I found particularly helpful in facilitating this discussion is a book by Gabor Maté called “When the Body Says No, The Cost of Hidden Stress.” Maté has a strong belief in the mind-body connection and that if we are not good at taking care of ourselves when the stress is piling up, then our bodies will start shutting down, basically forcing us to take a break. This is not a new idea. However, he emphasizes that if we let this become a well-entrenched pattern then the consequences can be quite severe in terms of compromised health.
I know that Maté has been criticized for blaming people for their own illnesses, but I do think his message is a good one. How many times have you continued to stretch yourself beyond a reasonable limit, only to end up sick and homebound for at least a few days?
The premise is that “nothing happens to us on the emotional level – consciously or unconsciously – that does not have a physiological counterpart.” Maté identifies the following characteristics of the stress-prone personality:
I think there are probably many Child and Youth Care Workers and other caregivers that would have all or some of these characteristics. It could be that these are the traits that are consistently rewarded in a social service system that is constantly trying to do more with less. But with the rewards come also the consequences – illness and/or burnout.
Maté, G. (2003). When the Body Says No, the Cost of Hidden Stress. Toronto: Knopf Publications
Koroll, M. (2009). Self Care – What is it really? Relational Child & Youth Care Practice, 22 (4). pp.49-50