No one gets into a profession working with animals to be self serving. If they do, they get out quick. The grueling hours, the mediocre pay, life or death decisions, injury, heartbreak, the list goes on and on.
There seems to be a significant amount of altruism among many in the fields surrounding animals. So much altruism that we seem to be choking on it. What we assume is a huge gray area between empathy and self-harm, quickly turns into a fine line. The transition comes when we forget to care for ourselves, or worse, feel wrong for taking care of ourselves.
It is easy to fall into the habit of taking yourself for granted and putting yourself last. This is especially the case when we feel like lives are on the line or our finances feel lean. One more client... But where does it end? We put off weekends and vacations. We push friendships to the edges of our schedules where they invariably fall off and we try to remember to pencil them in a few weeks... a month... later.
While the world is round our personal and professional lives are not. Neither is our capacity for being well. We can't keep moving forward expecting to come back around on the other side. Instead we fall off the edge, just like all the things pushed over by the current we have lost ourselves in. When we fall, we hurt ourselves. We are sick, injured, burned out, stressed, or in crisis.
Instead of a cycle of accelerate, spin-out and crash, we need a balance. Self is not a dirty word. Caring for that self needs to be a priority. By priority we don't mean something of simple importance either, because let's be honest, you hold most things at some level of priority. I mean this definition:
"the condition of being more important than something or someone else and therefore coming or being dealt with first" - Merriam-Webster
You have to come first. You have to wake up for yourself tomorrow and everyday after. You have to ask yourself what you need to be your best self that day. After that conversation with yourself, action must be taken to ensure those needs are met. Then comes the clients. Then comes the emails. Then come the animals. Because you can't give your best if you are not at your best to give.
A lack of self-care is self-harm. It steals your self away from those who love you, and those who need you. Most of all, it steals you away from yourself. Ask yourself, can you honestly sit and be present for just 10 minutes? (NO PHONES!) If so, then congratulations, you're in good shape. If not, you need to practice for 30 minutes. Daily. Until you can sit with yourself and just be. Then you're in a place to give the counsel and support that saves lives and families.
There are many ways to perform self care. Here are a few:
- Drinking water
- Eating a nourishing meal
- Buying or recycling clothing to express yourself
- Artistic expression - writing, drawing, crafting, etc
- Reading something fiction or fantasy
- Spending 15 minutes talking to someone about anything except your job or field
- Expressing gratitude
- 10 minutes of exercise
- Volunteer work outside your field or profession
- Cleaning up clutter in your house or car
- Washing windows (yes this really works!)
- Mantras and affirmations - spoken out loud
- Complimenting someone
- Smiling into the mirror