How Social Work Students Define and Practice Self Care (1/2)

Self Care collageNOTE: Since Hurricane Sandy hit the U.S. East Coast, self-care seems a luxury compared to the kind of care required by the tens of thousands of people who continue to be displaced by the storm. But for first responders and volunteers, self-care is important. On that grounds, we are launching a two-part post on CUSSW's Self-Care Day that was scheduled pre-Sandy. (Part 2 will appear the week after next.)

Until I attended some of the events at this year's Self Care Day at the Social Work School, held on Monday October 22, I assumed that "self care" meant going to a spa for a day of pampering.

It is a tribute to the School's Self Care Day organizers that I came away with a more accurate definition of self care. I now know that it can come in many different guises, and that individuals should tailor their self-care methods to meet their particular needs at any given moment.

Something else I learned is that CUSSW is the only graduate school at Columbia University that puts aside a day for students to practice self care. "Self-care is essential when you're a social worker," one student informed me,"because the work in which we engage is so emotionally draining. We focus on the clients' needs and wants and forget to take time to take care of ourselves."

That said, several social work students also told me they think that the CUSSW model can, and should be, exported to other graduate schools. (No doubt, many overworked grad students would agree!)

I very much enjoyed all the events I attended—from the Intake performance about the psychological fear of speaking out on controversial topics, to the time management session held by Natasha Dachos of the Advising office. I also liked the message I was receiving at several of these gatherings, which was that I should allow myself a few moments each day to do something I actually enjoy, whether it's creating art, singing at the top of my lungs behind closed doors, reading a juicy novel, hanging out with people I don't ordinarily see, or joining in some zumba fun (I didn't try that one—was afraid I might injure myself). That's in addition to trying yoga, martial arts, meditation, or other well-known restoratives for body, mind and spirit.

In the course of educating myself on self-care, I picked up a number of sayings, many of them from Natasha Dachos's class:

  • Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. ~ Harriet Braiker, psychologist and stress management guru
  • I've had thousands of problems in my life, most of which never actually happened. ~ Mark Twain
  • What you resist persists; what you embrace, dissolves. ~ a variation on something said by Carl Jung
  • Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life? ~ Mary Oliver, poet
  • The name of the game is taking care of yourself, because you're going to live long enough to wish you had. ~ Grace Mirabella, fashion editor

Also in the course of the day, I watched a YouTube video on things social workers say (screened at the Introduction to Self-care led by members of SUEB), and heard a lot about the 1994 film The Color of Fear, about the state of race relations in America.

But as I am a newbie to self-care practice, I thought it would be best to showcase what students had to say about self-care generally—the best and worst tips they've received—and about what they enjoyed the most at this year's Self Care Day. The students' opinions will be featured in Part 2 of this post—stay tuned!

—ML Awanohara