Self-care When Caring for Others
Fifteen years ago I founded Second Chance Employment Services the nation’s first and only employment agency dedicated to serving victims of domestic violence. With a small staff, we have helped place thousands of women in long-term and stable employment, affording them the economic freedom to escape their abusers permanently.
Since a large part of my job is being a constant, strong support system, I must remain strong and happy in the face of a lot of violence, darkness, and broken dreams. For many years, I couldn’t understand the emotional toll that the job took on me. I was carrying the burdens of others and absorbing their negative experiences, and I felt unable to release them. My long workdays, easily 12 to 15 hours, gave me little opportunity to stop and heal myself. Even when I was with my family at home, I carried this burden.
I soon realized that this lifestyle was not sustainable. To bring my full-self to work, I needed to restructure my life and provide myself with better outlets to relieve my stress. I couldn’t continue sacrificing all of myself to my work otherwise there wouldn’t be any part of me left to give! I started researching self-care techniques and made a conscious effort to identity how my feelings were impacting my life. This involved searching my own heart and thinking deeply about what I needed. I had to find activities and personal time for myself and bring back control in my life.
I adopted a number of life changing habits that had remarkable effect on my vitality. The primary activities that I have found helpful in relieving stress are exercise, relationship building activities and mentoring others. The type of exercise I do varies depending on the day, but I make sure to work out at least four to five times a week. Some of my favorite types of exercise include running, Soul Cycle, yoga or dancing. I find that it is very important and ultimately more stress relieving to work out with another person. I always exercise with a buddy to both hold myself accountable and to create stronger friendships. For example, I love going for Saturday morning jogs with my husband and to Soul Cycle with my friend Molly. Daily exercise increases my endorphins and lets me return to the office, refreshed, refocused, and ready to work.
Various relationship building activities have also helped me to channel my stress. The best type of relationship building activities are ones that create conditions for high quality connections and require trust or engagement, such as going for long walks or canoeing. Joining a book club or any type of intellectual group is a great way to build relationships quickly and deeply. I use the strong, positive relationships I have formed in my life, outside of work, as a buffer to the stressful aspects of my job.
Once I began to consciously incorporate these various stress reliving activities into my daily life, my work and personal life improved. I felt more effective and focused. My personal relationships, especially with my daughter and my husband, flourished as I could separate myself from the burdens of my work when spending time with them. I learned that working smart does not mean working all day long. I felt, and still feel, fulfilled and noticeably happier.
By incorporating positive activities into my daily routine, I bring more light and good energy into the office and work more efficiently to help others. My clients have often experienced unthinkable cruelty, and seeing someone else happy, bright, and shiny has inmediate impact them. My own active life inspired me to begin bringing our interns to outdoor activities, like kayaking and canoeing, which has in turn helped them cope with the exhausting nature of our office.
Since learning to care for myself in a methodical and disciplined way, I have continued to grow. I found the energy to start doing public speaking and I even wrote a book, “Ending domestic violence captivity: A guide to economic freedom,” Volcano Press 2015. However, the biggest impact has been my continued drive to serve my clients — wonderful and inspiring women who have been abused and disparaged by others for too long. When I arrive at my office well-rested, confident in myself, and feeling positive, I am ready to fight for these women’s rights. For me, that is the best possible result of my self-care routine.