A man named Scott introduced me to the phrase “take good care” near the beginning of my (first) career. Since then, I’ve heard the same expression from others who have all been as warm and kind as Scott. I love this phrase. It’s like a request, obligation, and blessing all rolled into one. It suggests we should take care of each other, our surroundings – and ourselves.
And, wow, is care ever needed! I know so many people who are facing difficult situations, and that’s before we add in all the insane politics, looming pandemic, and any number of other horror stories. Fun fact: I learned this week that parts of eastern Africa are being eaten by locusts; swarms consume crops in one day that could have fed 35,000 people.
But I digress.
When it comes to hardship – at least as far as the things we control (cue the serenity prayer) – we can “take good care.”
I’ve been teaching a social work course the last couple of months, and yesterday we discussed the concept of self-care in class. The students are less than two months away from finishing their program, and as one of them said, “We’ve had self-care shoved down our throats through this whole degree.” I remember a similar feeling from when I did my degree. So we tried to look at the topic a little differently.
In doing so, the students noted that taking care of themselves in addition to all their other responsibilities in school, work, practicum, volunteerism, and life can feel like a burden. They also pointed out that self-care has become a trendy buzzword that’s sometimes misused – one that can even be used to rationalize toxic behaviours. They said self-care is sometimes about paying bills, not bubble baths.
At the same time, we also believe self-care is not selfish.
We talked about self-care as setting boundaries, as small things that can be inserted into everyday life, and as finding ways to be connected to nature or other people. An Indigenous student reminded us that the medicine wheel says we’re going to feel out of whack if we don’t balance physicality, mental development, emotional understanding, and spirituality (I’m very much paraphrasing).
We talked about self-care as doing things today that will affect society and the planet for your kids in years to come. And when that gets too overwhelming, we discussed the importance of noticing your breathing when things get stressful. And, in any given moment, just plain noticing what and who are around you.
In other words, self-care can be lots of things. Unfortunately, however, it’s not a solution. It doesn’t make problems go away. It doesn’t erase grief. It doesn’t heal sick family members. It doesn’t resolve difficult decisions.
Instead, we practice self-care to cope with all those things. We do self-care to better support others’ coping. We use self-care as preventative maintenance. We call on self-care to remind ourselves that dark situations eventually get brighter. And we should look at self-care, as one student had me consider, not as a way of numbing ourselves to the pain in life, but to constantly check whether the path we’re on is aligned with what we believe to be our purpose (yes, that also means we need to think about purpose).
With all that in mind…and as we wrap up one week and head into another…
take good care.