Let’s face the facts: working in the caring professions—such as health care, education, emergency services, criminal justice, and social work—is often stressful. On top of attending to the people they serve, care providers must also make time to manage their own health and wellness.
In previous entries in our “Wellness for Care Providers” series, we’ve discussed:
- Why burnout happens and how it can be detected,
- The cycle of caring and the concept of the Self-Care Action Plan, and
- How we can sustain our professional selves through our work
We’re now ready to discuss the concept of the personal self and personal self-care. Whereas the professional self is the part of a person that identifies with and is nourished by their work, the personal self is the part of a person that’s concerned with everything outside of work. It is who we are on a day-to-day basis when we’re left to do as we please.
There are actually many different dimensions to the personal self, such as the emotional self, the playful self, and the solitary self, to name just a few. Good personal self-care is about properly nurturing each dimension of the personal self; if any one dimension receives insufficient care, we may begin to feel unhappy, stressed, aimless, or otherwise unwell.
In this post, we’ll break down the various dimensions of the personal self and provide some instruction for nurturing each one. We’ll once again be guided by insights and advice from Ciera Jackson, our Professional Development Specialist here at Cummins.
10 Dimensions of the Personal Self
Here at Cummins, we use a model of the personal self inspired by the book The Resilient Practitioner: Burnout Prevention and Self-Care Strategies for Counselors, Therapists, Teachers, and Health Professionals by
1. The Emotional Self
Humans are emotional beings at our core. The emotional self is the part of us that needs to feel and express our emotions in order to be at peace. If we keep emotions bottled up for too long, our emotional self will suffer.
The emotional self can be nurtured in a variety of ways. “Some people might journal. Some people might have a good cry everyday,” Ciera suggests. Others might use art as a way of expressing their emotions. One of the easiest things you can do is simply speak with friends or family members about emotions that may be troubling you.
Attending therapy is also a great way to nurture the emotional self—even for people who are therapists themselves. In fact, studies show that 86% of psychologists who prescribed therapy to their clients found therapy to be helpful for themselves, as well.
“How many people who are in the field ‘take their own medicine’?” Ciera asks. “A lot of people wonder, ‘If I admit I’m a clinician who goes to therapy, does that make me lesser? Does that mean something negative for me?’ And no, it doesn’t. I tell people that I go to therapy. I do it because I need check-ins, I need accountability, I need perspective.”
2. The Financial Self
Whether we like it or not, we have to admit that money is an important part of life. If you have poor money skills, are financially unassertive, and tend to have a consuming nature, then you will eventually experience financial stress. For practitioners, this will make it harder to form empathetic connections with clients and remain focused on meeting their needs.
“My grandma always used to say, ‘Have some money for a rainy day,’ “ Ciera says. “Rainy days come. It’s bound to happen, whether it’s unexpected car expenses, house expenses, health concerns, or whatever it is. And if you don’t have anything in savings, that tends to be stressful.”
For these reasons, it’s crucial to develop your financial literacy, and preferably to live a little below your means. “It’s important to have that financial self-care, even if it’s just, ‘For each paycheck, I’m going to send a certain amount to a savings account, so that if I don’t see it, I don’t touch it,’ “ Ciera adds.
3. The Humorous Self
Just about everyone likes to laugh. In fact, laughter has been proven to carry surprising health benefits, such as improving immune system functioning and helping to prevent heart disease. In a study of psychologists regarding coping strategies, maintaining a sense of humor was also the #3 career-sustaining behavior. It’s important to laugh, have fun, and be playful regularly in your life and even in your work.
Ciera shares an example from her own life: “When I first started in the field, I was working with families involved in DCS. I don’t know if I really knew what I was getting myself into. But I would go home every day for six months straight and watch The Nutty Professor and laugh like I had never seen the movie in my life. That was my thing.”
If possible, it can be helpful to use humor at your place of work, as well. Joking around with your co-workers (in appropriate moments) can be a great way to bond, form friendships, and relieve stress in a communal way.
4. The Loving Self
Affection is a powerful source of professional vitality. The loving self is the part of us that needs to express affection and receive affection from other people.
“If all you have is work, then that’s not a flourishing reality for you,” Ciera explains. “That’s not something that is going to be long-lasting, because eventually you’ll burn out. I know some people tend to be ‘workaholics’, but you have to look forward to something other than work.”
We all need to have people or things that we care about outside of our work. These might be family, friends, pets, a mentor or mentee, and so on. These relationships can nourish the loving self by providing it with the affection it needs.
Of course, maintaining relationships outside of work also requires us to make them a priority whenever possible. “How good are you at spending time with the people outside of work? Do you make them a priority?” Ciera asks. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Do the people who are closest to me always deserve my leftovers?’ And work on getting better at not giving them your leftovers, but giving them some of the best parts of you.”
5. The Nutritious Self
It has been said that “Happiness is a steady rhythm of blood glucose.” While this might not be an absolute truth, it is nevertheless true that our bodies and minds need fuel to be healthy. This is where the nutritious self comes in.
Good nutrition can be complicated and may look different from person to person. However, there are many rules of thumb that can be helpful for most people. For starters, it’s generally a good idea to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit your consumption of fats, sugars, and processed foods. Drinking plenty of water is also essential, so you should drink whenever you feel thirsty, and limit dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea, soda, and alcohol. Breakfast is also an important meal not to skip, as it jumpstarts your metabolism and provides fuel for your body to begin the day.
Above all else, it’s important to develop a long-term perspective with regard to eating habits. “Do what is sustainable for you,” Ciera suggests. “If you’re going to change eating habits, make sure they’re sustainable eating habits for you. That way you’re doing something that is not just going to get you quick results, but long-lasting results.”
6. The Playful Self
Even the most serious people—and those who perform the most serious work—need to have fun from time to time. After all, the world of play helps make the world of work possible. The playful self is the part of us that needs to be silly and light-hearted sometimes.
“I think sometimes when we get to be adults, and especially in this field, we can become so serious, or so focused on what it is that we’re doing, or drained, that we’re just like, ‘I don’t have time for anything else except my work,’ “ Ciera says. Playfulness, like humor, is an important counterbalance to stress and anxiety.
Once again, there are many different ways someone can nurture their playful self, and the best methods for you will be those that align with your interests. Many people enjoy games of various types, whether they are card games, board games, video games, or games based in physical activity. Another common example is attending festivals or partaking in amusement park rides.
“You don’t have to spend money to have fun,” Ciera adds. “You can just get creative. Channel your inner child.”
7. The Priority-Setting Self
Most of us feel like we always have too many things on our “to do” list. When we don’t have enough time to finish everything, we are liable to feel overwhelmed and over-extended.
Ciera says, “Sometimes we start so many things at once that, for some people, they don’t get anything done, and for other people, they feel like they have to get everything done. That stresses them out, and then if they’re stressed, they can become snappy, and that can stress out other people around them, or make other people around them uncomfortable. And it just makes the whole atmosphere unpleasant.”
To satisfy the priority-setting self, we need to learn to do the most important things first and leave the rest for later. Ask yourself: What has deadlines? What’s more time sensitive? What’s more urgent? Put a star or asterisk next to those tasks, and put aside the rest until you have time for them.
8. The Relaxation/Stress-Reduction Self
As care providers, our work can be stressful and hectic. This is to be somewhat expected, but it can’t be sustained forever. Our relaxation and stress-reduction self demands that we also make time for peace and serenity.
“You have to practice de-stressing, period,” Ciera says. “You can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Everything is not within your control. You can do what you can do, and after that, it’s up to your client, it’s up to your family, it’s up to your boss, or whoever. Do what you can do, and then let it go.”
Everyone has their own methods of relaxing and de-stressing, but activities like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and relaxation training work for many people and have been proven to reduce instances of high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, cancer, arthritis, and gastrointestinal disorders.
It’s worth mentioning that stress-reduction activities are not always easy to maintain. “Sometimes it takes practice, and I’m not saying it will be a day of practice. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years to get to that point of giving yourself permission to just be,” Ciera says.
9. The Solitary Self
People are social animals. We all enjoy talking to and spending time with other people (especially if we like those people). But we each also have a solitary self that needs to be alone every once in a while.
Solitude means removing yourself from the known channels of life. It means unplugging from the electronics and being at one with yourself. It means getting away from the noise in order to refill yourself.
Although we all require solitude sometimes, it comes easier for some than for others. “A lot of people struggle with this because it means being alone,” Ciera explains. “Some people really enjoy being by themselves and have no problem with this at all. For other people, it’s like the worst thing ever.”
If you’re someone who hates to be alone, know that it’s alright to embrace solitude in baby steps. Ciera says, “It’s OK to start small if you do struggle with this. It can be 5 minutes of just saying, ‘I’m going to unplug for 5 minutes and just do nothing.’ “
10. The Spiritual or Religious Self
The spiritual or religious self is the part of us that seeks connection to something larger than ourselves. An active spiritual or religious life is important for many people because it gives meaning to the “big questions” of life. Are people basically good or evil? Is there an afterlife? What moral rules should govern your life?
Nurturing the spiritual or religious self can also help practitioners find meaning and purpose in their work. When the things we do every day are in service of a greater purpose—whatever that purpose may be for us—then we are more likely to find our work personally relevant and important. We’re also more likely to believe that we’re living a fulfilling life.
In essence, spirituality and religion provide codes for us to live by and give greater context to our actions. “For a lot of people, spirituality or religion is important to them because it just helps govern their day-to-day,” Ciera says.
Self-Care Action Plan Step #4: Assessing Your Personal Self-Care
Now that we’ve reviewed the various dimensions of the self, let’s discuss how to assess your personal self-care for your Self-Care Action Plan.
You can begin by considering: How well am I nurturing each part of myself? What am I specifically doing to nurture each part of myself?
Next, make a list of the 10 dimensions of the self we discussed above. Next to each dimension, write down specific activities you are currently doing to nurture that part of yourself. If you can’t think of any, leave that space blank. Then, give yourself a rating from 0–6 for how well you are currently nurturing each dimension of the self, with 0 being not at all and 6 being very well.
Once you’ve done this for all 10 dimensions, write down your three strongest and three weakest areas of personal self-care. This will give you a better understanding about which parts of yourself are most nurtured and which parts you most need to focus on in the future.