There is something to it when the flight attendant aboard an airplane gives you the safety instruction: “Put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others.” The idea of ensuring your own self-care to make you even more helpful for others, and healthier in your own life, is at the heart of the practice of “mindfulness.”
While we know that the more mindful a person is the safer the children around you will be, this article has a different twist – in that it’s all about your own wellbeing. Thanks to a workshop training The Raise Foundation hosted in early December, in its role as the Prevent Child Abuse Network (PCAN), more than 100 professionals from nearly 30 nonprofits, other agencies, and businesses learned from Certified Life Coach Ann Rankowitz, MSW, that being mindful is something that should be part of every professional’s own self-care. Given the kind of work those in social and human services do, it becomes all the more apparent that practicing – and making a habit of – mindfulness could be the greatest gift you give yourself this holiday season and for the New Year.
According to Rankowitz and the research she shared, mindfulness is a protective factor from something called Compassion Fatigue (CF) which occurs with the chronic use of empathy – and often goes undetected. It can increase a professional’s (or any caregiver’s) cynicism among other counterproductive traits in the workplace and beyond. This is when your self-care is imperative. Rankowitz quoted Cox & Steiner who in 2013 wrote about Self-Care for Social Workers.
“Learning to love, accept, and nurture oneself is a precursor to taking care of others.”
Along with all the usual types of self-care (healthy eating, ample exercise and sleep, positive relationships, etc.) Rankowitz says participation in mindfulness is all part of an important recipe. Here are some of her suggestions:
- Find the “opportunity” in the events you experience – as you have a choice in how you perceive and react to the stressful events you encounter.
- Consider other viewpoints, perspectives, and strategies. This allows you to avoid victim thinking and helps you build the resilience you need.
- Don’t limit yourself. For example if you are thinking, “I am weak.” Cognitively reframe that thought to, “I am human.”
- Don’t limit your client/co-worker, etc. For example, instead of thinking, “They are helpless” reframe to “They are now getting the help they need.”
- And probably the two most important — to focus away from things you don’t have control over and instead remain in the present; and to always see yourself as whole and complete – flaws, imperfections, and all!
Mindfulness activities are easy to do if you put your mind to it! She says they fall in three areas:
- Visual (e.g., watch water flowing, snow falling, breeze swaying a tree)
- Auditory (e.g., listen to ocean waves, rain, music; or just sit in silence)
- Tactile (e.g., focus on breathing, soaking up the sun or a warm bath, notice wind in your hair or sun in your face, touch and examine a seashell or a rock)
Rankowitz concluded the training with explaining that mindfulness gives one the ability to view current experiences with curiosity and without judgment. She added that it enhances one’s psychological well-being by blocking habitual reasons and patterns while promoting healthy responses to stressful events.
So as you plan your New Year’s resolutions, consider putting “Self-Care – The Practice of Mindfulness” on your list. You owe it to yourself!
In addition to being a certified life coach, Ann Rankowitz is an honorary Adjunct Faculty member at USC and currently the Director of Community Counseling at Mariposa Woman and Children Center in Orange. Past distinguished roles have included director of a regional adoption agency, former program coordinator at Brown Medical School, clinical social worker for the CalWORKs program, and a medical social worker.