Working on recovery is no easy task. For peer support specialists, the journey of sobriety can be especially difficult. They are inspirations to the clients they serve by being successful in their own recovery. To add to the challenge, the need for support is great – there are never enough specialists or providers to handle the demand in the treatment industry. Yet more, the emotional toll of helping clients through challenges can be punishing. Sure, it’s not physical labor... but let me tell you, it can be draining to do emotional and behavioral work. One of the most important things that those in the helping professions can do – especially peer support specialists – is practice good self-care. Without it, the risk for burnout and chronic stress increases.
Stress is a common experience for those in the helping professions and is no stranger to peer specialists. To continue to do the good work they do, minimizing the effects of stress is vital. The physical toll of chronic stress includes a range of medical problems – from back pain to heart attacks, the outlook is pretty bleak. Emotionally, burnout is the result of poor self-care and working hard. Burnout can lead to high employee turnover, decreased quality of client care, and a negative impact on the specialist’s own mental health.
Thankfully, the topic of self-care has become popular lately; this is for very good reason! It is one of the easiest ways to lift mood, reduce stress, and recharge for the challenges ahead. Self-care is also easy to do, regardless of where you are or what you can afford to pay; despite what many Instagram accounts might try to suggest is proper self-care, it’s not limited to getting pampered at the salon or taking a month’s vacation to Fiji.
I conceptualize self-care as anything you consider as a positive, healthy, and rejuvenating activity to you. This will likely differ between people. I challenge you to ride with me on this, because it might stretch your viewpoint: my favorite way of practicing self-care is playing video games. I have a friend whose favorite self-care activity is to go get an ice cream cone. Another friend loves to spend a Friday night watching several episodes of the latest hot series on digital streaming services.
Now I know what you’re thinking... video games, ice cream, and TV are not healthy. Here’s my challenge – in moderation, these activities are rewarding and positive to those who enjoy them. Other activities could include exercise, meditation, resting, taking a bath, and more (Of course, be sure that these activities are approved by a medical professional and within the legal limitations of the law). For the parents out there, self-care might mean two minutes to yourself in the bathroom. There is no standard length of time or cost for self-care, it is purely what you make it.
My greatest suggestion is this – self-care, above and beyond all else, is about feeling better in a healthy way. If you feel overwhelmed by the idea of beginning the process of self-care, try getting back to the basics; how much water did you drink today? Have you eaten enough? Did you eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and protein? When was the last time you stretched? Even adjusting sitting position is important – are you tense, hunching your shoulders, and craning your neck? When was the last time you chatted with a friend, even if it was just to say hi? Working these types of activities in, even when time is too limited for you to fit other things, will make a big difference in your quality of life.