Self-Care, Aftercare, and Professional Care: The Spectrum of Wellbeing Tools
In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, VETgirl’s Chief Happiness Officer, Jeannine Moga, MA, MSW, LCSW, clinical veterinary social worker, discusses a spectrum of well being tools and why they are important.
Helping professionals are well-known for putting their own needs last, despite the incredible demands of their work and the importance of maintaining wellbeing for peak performance. While we often default to self-care as the primary tool for wellbeing, other types of care are also needed for holistic health maintenance. Let’s take a deeper look:
What is self-care? Self-care is not about bubble baths and chocolate. It’s all the things we do – large and small — to maintain our equilibrium and energy. Self-care practices can be considered a form of preventive medicine: they can be activated in any area of wellness, and they are more likely to become routine when we schedule them. Examples of regular self-care practices may include:
Financial Wellness: Automating payments on core accounts and checking bank balances weekly to detect anomalies that may become headaches later. These are not very exciting practices, but they enhance a sense of control and reduce overall energy expenditure.
Environmental Wellness: Regularly tidying up the room in which you spend the most “recharge” time so that it feels calming and soothing instead of chaotic. For instance, reducing the clutter in a bedroom and making the bed (EVERY.SINGLE.DAY) can set the stage for a more relaxing end-of-day routine. (At least it does this for me.)
Physical: Committing to a few minutes of stretching first thing in the morning, a daily walk, or an online yoga class gets the body moving, which is both rejuvenating and restorative.
Emotional/Social: Scheduling a weekly download call with a close friend or family member cultivates supportive connections, and these connections insulate us from the effects of day-to-day stress.
What is Aftercare?
Aftercare practices are recovery activities that soothe and ground us when we are experiencing extraordinary stress. Sometimes we need aftercare after a particularly difficult day (or week) in the clinic; other times, we need aftercare once we complete a challenging project. We may also need focused aftercare if we are recovering from personal or familial crisis. Aftercare is amplified care that focuses on restoration of capacity, such as:
• Taking a “mental health day” during which time you digitally disconnect from devices and screens to engage in behaviors that soothe your system.
• Debriefing an emotionally draining situation with a “witness” (e.g., a trusted friend or colleague who can hear the most difficult details and truths without judging, interrupting, or fixing). Witnesses make time for us, and their only job is to hold space for what is hard while encouraging behaviors that heal.
• Making a healthy meal, and then taking the time to savor it. Nourishing ourselves through thoughtful eating helps us to slow down – and food can be incredibly soothing. If you hate to cook, consider taking yourself out for a meal that you will really enjoy.
• Cancelling unnecessary social activities and reducing commitments when your energy tank is empty.
What about professional care? Professional care is what we activate when our self-care and aftercare practices are no longer effective in helping us to feel healthy, balanced, and capable. Professional care – or the care we seek when focused expertise is required for our health and wellbeing — is sometimes particularly difficult to activate because it requires 1) self-awareness (What I’m doing isn’t working, and I cannot sustain myself without extra support), 2) intention (I am willing to make the time and effort to seek support), and 3) knowledge (I know where to go/who to call to receive support).
Professional care might include seeing a physician or medical professional to address chronic pain, sleep problems, or any other physical symptoms that accompany long-standing stress. Professional care can also include coaching, as certified coaches specialize in getting people ‘unstuck.’ Coaches specialize in many different areas (such as health, life, and career issues) and they can prove useful in helping folks develop clarity around goals and the behaviors necessary to achieve them. Last, mental health providers (licensed psychologists, clinical social workers, and counselors) specialize in helping humans manage – and heal from — the rigors of life.
Mental health professionals have deep and broad tool kits that can be applied to both acute stressors (the loss of loved ones, relationship troubles, family conflict) and more chronic issues (mood problems, anxiety that won’t go away). Full disclosure: I became a mental health professional, in large part, because I worked with an incredible therapist during a really difficult period in my own life. Through that work, I realized that it’s okay to not be okay – and staying in that ‘not okay’ space is not required.
Being our best, most balanced selves often necessitates a mix of self-care, aftercare, and professional care. As care providers, the biggest challenge may be remembering that we deserve the full spectrum of care ourselves.