Summer Brooks MS, RVT
A few months ago, a member of the Companion Animal Euthanasia Discussion Group on Facebook asked what others do to honor the memory of their patients and how to process a stressful or emotional day. There were many great ideas, both for honoring rituals and for self-care. I covered honoring and grief rituals in a previous blog post and now let’s delve into self-care.
Self-care can sometimes have a negative reputation. Recommendations often seem simplistic, and people complain, “Sure, all my job stress will just melt away if I light a candle and drink some tea…” Also, many professionals know that self-care is important but taking time for oneself gets easily pushed aside by the pressing demands of the day. In doing research about self-care, I found there is a lot more to it than just trying to relax after a difficult day.
Sally Hill Jones, PhD, LCSW, is a social worker in human hospice. Along with devising care plans for hospice patients, she also creates self-care plans for hospice professionals. She states (2005) that there are four aspects to self-care: Physical, Emotional/Cognitive, Relational, and Spiritual. Here is a quick summary:
– Pay attention to where stress tends to settle in your body. Try to take a few moments to stretch or relax those areas throughout the day.
– Get adequate rest.
– Exercise! It could be swimming, walking, aerobics, dancing… anything that gets you moving and reduces stress.
– Consider adding yoga or meditation to your daily routine.
– Know that it is ok to cry or grieve. End-of-life care can be emotional. It can also bring up memories of your own previous losses. Give yourself permission to feel and process your emotions.
– It is important to take time to do things you enjoy (gardening, dancing, playing music, travel, interacting with your pet, etc…).
– Find people you can talk to about your work, whether a colleague, friend or family member, or a counseling professional.
– Seek out other ways you can express your emotions, such as journaling or writing poetry.
– Consider creating a daily “release ritual” that helps you finish the day. Dr. Jones mentions imagining all your worries washing down the drain as you shower, or changing clothes with the intention of leaving the day’s stresses behind.
– Discover ways you can comfort yourself if you’ve had a hard day. Spend quality time with your pet, take a bath, listen to music, or cuddle with a loved one.
– Make sure you keep strong boundaries. Be careful about overextending yourself, oversharing personal information, working outside of your normal hours, or falling into the trap of thinking you are the only one that can help a particular patient.
– Find a support system. Not everyone is comfortable with discussing end-of-life situations and challenges. Find supportive people who can offer empathy and understanding.
– Learn to recognize what you need, and start asking for it.
– Consider having debriefing sessions with colleagues.
– Learn to resolve conflict.
– Engage in religious or spiritual prayers, meditations, services, readings or rituals that speak to your beliefs and help you find meaning in your life
– Find creative outlets that help you connect with your spirituality
– Take time in nature
To learn about physical and emotional warning signs that show you may need to work on an aspect of self-care, and for more recommendations, check out Dr. Jones’ article A Delicate Balance: Self-Care For the Hospice Professional.
Here are some ideas from CAETA’s Facebook group members and from my own research:
– Get in your pajamas and watch a good tv show (Ted Lasso is a big hit on the Facebook group!)
– Listen to music or a podcast on the drive home at the end of the day
– Take up a new hobby, learn something new
– Check out the Calm app
– Try body scan meditation or guided Imagery meditation
– Join the Companion Animal Euthanasia Discussion Facebook group to see what others have in common with your own work
Coleen Ellis (2020) from Two Hearts Pet Loss Center states, “Self-care is about self-awareness. It is a discipline of taking time for yourself. It is not about finding fun things to do, it’s finding things you find fulfilling.”
She shared this self-care ideas list. It offers some great outside-the-box ideas to help inspire you to create your own self-care rituals.
Ellis, C. (2020, February). Pet Loss and Grief Companioning. [online CE course]. https://twoheartspetlosscenter.thinkific.com/courses/pet-loss-grief-companoining-certification-course
Jones, S.H. (2008). A Delicate Balance: Self-Care for the Hospice Professional. Aging Well, 1(2), 38.
Jones, S.H. (2005). A self-care plan for hospice workers. American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, 22(2), 125-128. doi:10.1177/104990910502200208