The Issue of Self-Care

9 Apr

The best piece of advice I received when I began my career in college chaplaincy twelve years ago was:  “If you can afford to, try to get a massage each month.”  This was my first introduction to the idea of self-care.

As chaplains, there is always something to do.  After all, we are doers.  It’s in our DNA.  The more that we do, the more productive our ministries will be.  The more effective we are, the better we feel.  Or so we think. However, there is a downside to being a doer, and that is called burnout.  Many of us know the signs—irritability, anxiousness, sleep deprivation, a sense of disconnect with friends, loved ones, and God.

This brings me to the topic of self-care.   We are great at telling others to take time off.  Yet, how many of us follow our own advice? How many of us take a bona fide vacation?  How many of us make time during the week to gather our thoughts.  How many of eat well?  Exercise?

One of the first things I did when I began as a chaplain was to be protective of my day off.
I literally had to train my co-workers and students that unless it was an emergency, I would not be available.  Finally after the third year, people began to understand.  In fact, I remember one time I had to go in for an important meeting on my day off.  Every person I encountered during day asked: “Why are you here?”

I take mental health days.  I plan for 2-3 per semester.  I take these days when life is going too fast, and I feel as if I am spiraling out of control.  I ask for a day off.  Sometimes it is planned.  Other times, it is “spontaneous” depending on the semester.   On these particular days I sleep, watch mindless TV, read a juicy novel, spend time in prayer/meditation, or I just get out of town.  Sometimes I treat myself to a nice breakfast, lunch, take a hike, sit on a bench, put my feet in the sand, people watch, walk a labyrinth, or go to a museum.  My goal is to re-energize my life.

I often say to my students that Jesus knew how to take care of himself.  He knew when to eat, sleep, minister, and so on.  For all he had to do, Jesus seemed exceptionally calm.  He didn’t have the advantages of living in a world full of conveniences.  I believe that God speaks to us during our rest periods-not in the midst of chaotic ones.  Think about it!

By the way, I do try to get a massage every month. I have found it to be helpful to ease the tension in my mind, body, and soul!

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