Self-Care for Youth Development Professionals
Youth work is a profession of the heart. Most people come into the field because they are dedicated to and passionate about making the lives of young people better. Those same motivations make self-care an important topic.
What is Self-Care?
The term self-care refers to activities and practices that we can engage in on a regular basis to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being.
— University at Buffalo School of Social Work: Introduction to Self-Care
Most professionals in this line of work easily recognize the importance of taking care of young people in our communities, but unfortunately do not recognize the importance of taking care of ourselves until we are simply overwhelmed. This is why self-care should not be seen as a one-time or reactionary event, but rather part of our everyday maintenance and well-being.
Tired all the time, but somehow can't sleep well either?
Unexplained head or neck pain?
Many of us just chalk these up as side effects of getting older or parenting — and that is possible. It is also possible that this is your body's way of telling you that it is stressed.
Do you know what causes you stress? Knowing your triggers will help you identify when to pay more attention to taking care of yourself.
Realistically, many people do not have the time or resources to go to the spa and get a massage at the end of a stressful week. But there are things you can do that cost little or nothing and do not take much time.
- Remember the basics: nutrition, exercise, and sleep.* Are you working too many hours, skipping lunch and working through breaks, relieving stress with alcohol? In the long run, these are habits that won't serve you or your goals.
- Make your personal space pleasant.* Is your work workspace calming? Take time to decorate it with pictures and sayings that make you smile. And while many of us feel comfortable with our clutter, having a clear and organized space can make a busy day feel less overwhelming. Take a couple of minutes to clean up and get organized.
- Make sure you have a trusted person to check in with — and do check in with them!* Too often we don't want to bother someone by sharing our struggles, but when you do, it gives you a release and gives other people permission to do the same. Ask yourself, what advice would I give the young people I work with if they were feeling like this? It certainly wouldn't be to hold their feelings in!
- Do things that make you smile.* Did you know that when you smile, the brain actually releases endorphins? So even if you are not feeling particularly happy, the physical act of smiling can at least get the ball rolling! Sing your favorite song out loud. Find a joke that makes you laugh.
- Take advantage of opportunities for professional development.* The right training, presentation, or article can build competencies and bring refreshing new perspectives, making your work more effective and rewarding. If you're in New York State, Pathfinder can help you build your career in youth work.
- Connect with youth development professionals locally and beyond.* Youth work is notoriously under-valued in our society — which may reflect attitudes toward young people themselves — but there are many passionate people who share a vision of an educated, effective, respected, and appropriately compensated workforce. Keep in touch with the wider field by reading the articles in Youth Today, responding to calls to action in SparkAction, or linking with professional organizations such as:
- Enlist allies in advocating for your position. Has there been high turnover in your job? That's a problem for your supervisor and your agency too. You may be able to identify ways the position can be better supported.