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Victoria (at right) with her mother on a hike.

By Victoria Barrett (My Bestie!!)

For me, self-care is analogous with self-discovery. In the past few years, I’ve served abroad in an orphanage, completed grad school while working at a community mental health center, and now serve as a foster care counselor. While these experiences fulfill me at the core of who I am, it is easy to feel drained emotionally and physically, necessitating the need to care for myself.

Let’s first establish why self-care is important. For many of us, it seems as though we are drawn into our careers because it prods and pokes at a special place within us. In the mental health field, professional clinicians notoriously fail at self-care. Often compelled to a helping profession because of personal suffering or walking alongside another’s pain, clinicians may find it easier to care for someone else than to focus on their own problems.

It is beautiful and even necessary that our callings are sparked by personal passions and significant experiences that shaped us. This makes us good at what we do; but it becomes dangerous when the very thing that brought us into our careers is neglected. It results in ineffective results. When a baker loses sight of their joy to create, their baked goods may become mediocre. When the electrician’s concern for broken systems dwindles, his repairs may be insufficient. When my compassion and desire to help is not renewed by self-care, I lose desire or motivation to nurture my core passion to bring healing to others.

Self-care is important because it honors my unique gifts, it revives my sense of purpose and productivity and it provides me with fuel to make a difference. It seems that is may apply to any professional, as we all have unique gifts and an ability to produce positive change – but what does this actually look like?

Here are a few thoughts and tips I’ve learned along the way.

  • Know your worth. Give up control. Ask yourself if you really believe in the need to care for yourself and honor your personhood. Do you believe you are worthy of care? Are you willing to release control enough to rest and enjoy life? If not, it’s pointless to consider what self-care looks like for you.
  • Know yourself. Grow in your ability to know yourself and what you need. Feelings and emotions are wonderful gifts that notify us of our deficits and show us what is working and what makes us tick. Listen with curiosity to emotions and your body. When you feel exhausted, ponder what energizes you. When you feel unexpectedly emotional, what kind of space do you need? When you can’t focus on anything, what is your core saying you’re not giving enough attention to?
  • Know your friends. Relational connections care for our soul like nothing else because we are relational beings. Know who you can go to when you need someone who just gets you. What friend loves going out and will enjoy that tasty drink with you when you need to be rejuvenated by fun and exploration? What friend can you listen to and serve to experience the life-giving joy of being a helper?
  • Know the source of your hope. We need self-care because we cannot control what drags us down. Ultimately, we cannot let go, we cannot rest, and we cannot find ourselves valuable unless we know what or who we can hand control over to, who can give us rest and who defines our value that motivates us to care for ourselves in the first place.

Victoria Barrett lives in Nashville, Tennessee where she works as a foster care counselor. She graduated from Wheaton College with a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.