Self Care as a Vitamin, not a Band Aid

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Developing and implementing your own personal habits of good self care can and does make a big difference to your own health at work. It is well documented that we healthcare staff can be poor at caring for ourselves in general. We would much rather focus on the needs of others before ourselves. But forming good habits of self care is one of the kindest and most productive things we can do for ourselves. Some simple planning can make habits easier to form by taking daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly time frames to start with. For example, a daily meditation practice, weekly yoga sessions, monthly deep tissue massages.
For me, it’s akin to the difference between taking vitamins for our health and using a band aid to put on a cut or bruise when something hurts us. If we are continually and routinely practicing self care then this can be pre-programmed into our timetable and we just row along with it. Day by day we grow stronger and more able to draw on a feeling of resilience and are less likely to be knocked over when stresses come. There are times of course when something really challenges us at work for example a patient dies, or some of our clients are in crisis at the same time, or around the holidays. It is at those crunch times of stress that your daily habits really start to pay dividends. Being able to draw on the work that you’ve done for yourself is a real buzz.

I have to admit to spending time ‘under the bonnet’ every 3 or 4 months when things would seem to creep up on me. By that, I mean I found I might get stressed out by work or commitments or something unexpected that I wasn’t prepared for. I found I would need an extra bit of time off on Fridays or a free weekend to break away and spend time alone. However, when I started to be more disciplined about being kind and compassionate to myself on a daily basis, I spend a lot less time under the bonnet. I treat my self care ‘medicine’ like I would a morning vitamin with the same routine and consistency.

So what would this look like in your life? Could you get to work early and park up for a few minutes in a quiet spot and listen to a short meditation. Can you fit in a short prayer session? Some journaling? A walk? A visit to the gym? An extra few minutes each your breakfast mindfully? Can you go out for a ‘just me’ treat lunch once a week. No newspapers, no phone, no distractions – just YOU time? Could you schedule in a massage once a month and pre book for a few months ahead so that you keep to it? I truly recommend this level of scheduled self care. If you’re not doing enough for yourself then start by thinking about what you need first, and go from there.

Time in the morning before work is ideal. When your work day starts you have the comfort of knowing that as well as your clients and patients being cared for, you are cared for too.
Karen Brennan


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Wild Geese

Wild Geese








You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver



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Useful Organisations

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Useful organisations

Ireland’s national voluntary organisation for and of family carers in the home.

International organisation with Irish branches providing popular education approach to wellness and energy training.

Web based information on issues relating to Irish health.

Nursing Homes Ireland is the representative organisation for the private and voluntary nursing homes sector. This sector, and the care our members provide, are key parts of the Irish health service. Find support and information for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, their families and carers.

Official website for nurses and midwives to access current up to date information in the field.

Website by leading researcher Kristin Neff on developing self compassion.

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What Do You Need Right Now?

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Paying attention and attending to our own needs in the present is a powerful way to offset stressors and the general feeling of tension which can sneek up on us during our working day. Here’s a great new habit to start to develop at work. At regular intervals during the day pause for a moment, take a couple of deep breaths and ask yourself:

  • How is my day is going?
  • How am I feeling right now on a scale of 1 to 10?  1 being not at all stressed 10 being very stressed
  • Then ask yourself – is there something I need right now?

For example, a glass of water, a snack, a quick walk, a chat with someone, some deep breathing, a loo break, or to stand up and stretch? Whatever it is take a moment to attend to your needs before getting on with your working day. Paying attention to ourselves in the now, helps us to develop the self awareness that is a cornerstone of good self care.

Automated reminders are great for helping to get new habits in place. Setting the phone to go off each day to remind us to do some self-care is a great way of keeping on track. Commit to one week and see how that works out for you.

Good Luck! and feel free to get touch –

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6 Top Tips to Take Back the Joy of Caregiving

Published July 2013 Irish IndependentTake Back The Joy of Caregiving

Feeling shattered, isolated, apathetic, sleepless, irritable, or anxious are all symptoms of what is known as ‘compassion fatigue’ which can affect healthcare staff. Back in 1992 the term ‘Compassion Fatigue’ by was coined Joinson and adapted by Charles Figley (1995), a leading researcher in the field. It has been described as feeling that you’re still digging into the bottom of your bucket after supplies have run dry.

In Ireland today, increasing demands on the healthcare system, cuts in wages, higher levels of client stress all contribute to an increase in the level of ‘compassion fatigue’ being experienced by healthcare workers. Being present with clients, residents, or patients can be emotionally demanding as we struggle to stay in touch with what they are feeling. Even people with good strategies for self-care and preferred work / life balance can and do experience fatigue. This can happen when some elements of their work changes i.e., they take on some traumatised clients, workload becomes heavier, resources become scarcer etc.

Staff in caring roles such as doctors, nurses, social workers, psychotherapists, care staff, etc. can find themselves near the point of exhaustion which can have long reaching effects into their personal, as well as professional lives.  Indeed, this can even change the way they look at life, and they can start to make uncharacteristic mistakes, become pessimistic, etc. which can have a direct effect on their work with clients. The important thing to remember is that ‘compassion fatigue’ is a set of symptoms and not a disorder and help for ‘compassion fatigue’ is at hand.

Although the term ‘compassion fatigue’ may be new to many people, even those working in the healthcare field, it is a very well researched area. According to Karen Brennan who runs Self Care for Carers, there is a range of excellent interventions which help stressed-out and fatigued staff find their way back to healthy caregiving. She is a compassion fatigue educator and lived in Asia for a number of years, committing some of her there time in Buddhist monastic practice.

“Many people working in front line services are suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’ or some of its symptoms and aren’t even aware of it, “she says”. Recognising there may be an issue developing for you is the first place to start. It can be a revelation when people realise that there is a name for this, and more importantly that help is out there”.

According to Brennan there are some simple yet powerful steps which can make an impact on the quality of your life. Here are 6 helpful starters:

 1. Take Stock of Stresses

The first thing to do is to take stock of the various areas of your life that may be contributing to stress.  Where are areas that you can make changes, reprioritise and delegate to others? Where possible start here.

2. Self-Care Planning

Start to think about what your ideal self-care plan. What are the ways that you personally receive? Perhaps a round of golf, painting, time with friends, meditation or prayer? Noticing what energises you and what drains you is key. Then commit to getting the balance right and maintaining it – ‘refill your bucket’.

3. Start to Develop greater Self-Compassion

As well as giving it out, we need to get it too! Giving kindness to yourself is very important. Self compassion isn’t a concept we are very familiar with in the West. According to Kristen Neff (2005), it is replacing vying with the concept of self esteem with many psychologists, particularly in the US. According to Neff, empirical evidence has shown that being kinder to yourself, seeing yourself just like others and giving yourself a break, helps you feel better. Many people who become professional caregivers actually grew up in a ‘carer role’ in their family, and don’t feel that they also deserve care. Of course they do!

4. Regular Switch Offs

During your working day, taking short regular switch-off breaks can really help. Is there time during your day for example during lunch, that you can close the office door, or sit in your car listening to lunchtime classics on Lyric FM? Even just taking a moment to notice something in nature, becoming mindful of your environment can just be enough to distress you during your busy day.

5. Create a Ritual to Finish Your Working Day

Some people have a ritual for when they leave work. Whether it’s filing documents away and clearing the desk, or consciously saying goodbye to your colleagues as you leave work, or taking a few moments of deep breathing. These techniques can bring about a shift from work mode to home mode. Developing ways to ‘leave work’ can really help.

6. Developing Boundaries – The Magic Words of ‘No’ and ‘Yes’

According to Eric Gentry founder of Compassion Unlimited, many people who work in caring fields are ‘compassion fatigued’ by the time they start their first job.  Although they like giving to others, over time this can develop into expectations by others. Learning to say ‘no’ to others and ‘yes’ to yourself can be extremely difficult for many people.  According to Brennan, taking quiet ‘alone time’ perhaps during a walk, allows you to hear that inner voice that is calling out for your attention. Set limits on what you can do and learn to say ‘no’.

Education about ‘compassion fatigue’ is an important first step, and can be a revelation to health care staff who need help with their own self-care. Compassion Fatigue can have serious consequences for staff burn-out, absenteeism, sick leave, client service levels etc. On an individual level, effects can include feeling isolated, relationship trouble, career path problems, health issues, decreased quality of life etc. Learning how to help yourself by developing healthier caregiving skills can bring about profound shifts in the way you work and live. Self Care for Carers runs courses in this area. See

Upcoming Training Programmes

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Committing to Self Care – Easy First Steps

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If it were easy to do we might all be chilled out, meditating, vegans at our perfect body weight. But the unexpected twists and turns of our daily lives means the best laid plans don’t always run smoothly. Sunday nights are the holy hot bed of good intentions. “This week I’m going to go for a 3 runs, and go to bed on time, every night”. Yet before you know it, it’s Wednesday and your trainers are exactly where they were on Sunday evening.

This week why not commit to take the easiest route  in some area of your life that you think might help to reduce your stress. For example, if you think you need to take a walk to relax and you’re not currently fitting that in. Commit to do just one walk this week. And then take next week’s plan next Sunday night.

If you’re already succeeding at some commitment but want to move forward, why not take just take 1 step more and see how that goes this week.

Another great way to self-care is to develop more awareness of your stressors while at work. If you have a smart phone, set a reminder to go off once a day and take a moment to check in with yourself. If you don’t have a such a phone set a time that you’ll most easily remember, for example some natural break at work, like after a specific task or meeting.

Just taking easy steps and getting used to the changes is the best and easiest way to start taking your Self Care forward.

Good Luck! and feel free to get touch –

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