Save Yourself First


United Way of Broward County frequently provides special trainings for professionals in the social service field and other members of the community on a variety of topics. This blog post describes a training designed to help social service professionals deal with their interactions with clients.

As the trainer walked to the front of the room, attendees watched in curiosity at a green carry-on luggage she rolled behind her and placed on the table facing everyone. In the style of a flight attendant, she removed a breathing apparatus and explained that during a typical airline flight, individuals are instructed about safety factors in the event of an emergency or crisis. She discussed how we are usually directed to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first before assisting those around us. The premise is that we have to save ourselves first in order to administer aid to anyone else. Her next question was met with a silent pause as she asked all the attendees why it was then that in the social services field we are taught to take care of everyone and everything else before giving thought to our own needs. Why are we expected to pour from empty cups? How can we be giving to others when we are depleting ourselves?

As we delved into the topic of self-care, the discussion focused on what was really considered work-life balance. Is it juggling a cup of coffee while trying to balance a laptop on your legs? Is it trying to remember to eat at least one meal a day? What do we have the capacity to hold and how do we make sure not to give away something that we may need for ourselves? So many of us get home from work broken down from the emotional drain of our work days. We repeatedly push our limits in our home, work and relationships because we believe this notion of self-care being a selfish act. Self-care is actually selfless and self-preserving. No matter how well-intentioned we may be, if we push ourselves to the point of becoming unwell, we will inevitably end up bleeding over onto others. Then no one can be properly served in a way that is beneficial.

In a field we entered because of our love for helping others, individuals often end up feeling unfulfilled. Rates of burnout and vicarious trauma are at an increase because we have trained ourselves to put our humanity on a back burner in order to do our jobs. Our mental health and physical wellbeing bear the brunt of this and we don’t begin to work healing ourselves until we have fallen into crisis. How can we retrain our minds to consider using the breathing masks on ourselves first? The first step is giving ourselves the permission to allow for healing and figure out what are we tapping into to make ourselves better as a whole. Developing healthy coping skills and setting boundaries against things that don’t benefit us are worthwhile steps to further our self-care. We have to strive to determine what sparks joy inside us and be comfortable with being present in each moment. The truth of the matter is, our fervent search for our own wellness is in fact an act of service to those we love and those we serve.

To learn about other upcoming training sessions, visit our Events Calendar.