In their rewarding but sometimes intense role as spiritual caregivers, chaplains and pastors to seniors sometimes neglect caring for themselves. If the chaplain is not attentive to self-care, they will be hampered in the care of others, or even unable to continue. Because of the often fast paced environment and the many needs presented, the chaplain needs to juggle the priorities and create balance in their work and personal life.
Self-care involves the attention to the emotional, physical, social and moral needs of the chaplain. A valuable question to ask yourself—“what fills my cup?” What refreshes me?
What are the signs of emotional distress or burn out? Some include: physical weariness that has no real explanation; cynicism; lack of enthusiasm for the role; resentment or anger; increased heart rate and high blood pressure; inability to sleep and panic attacks. While not all these will evidence in every person, the signs of weariness and burnout remain subtle and can even become debilitating. Your family and friends will be the first to know.
Attention to “vocational resilience” has become central to many “people related” work settings. Chaplains who excel at resiliency will:
Our background/baggage, assumptions and experiences will impact how we perceive and relate to others. Our past experiences will either equip or handcuff our present work. With the help of others such as a clinical supervisor, spiritual director or experienced fellow chaplain, we can assess to what extent our own life experiences impact our work today. These mentors and friends enable the chaplain to “assess the impact of one’s own spirituality, beliefs, values, assumptions and power dynamics in relationships with clients”
(Canadian Association for Spiritual Care [CASC], Competencies, 2011). Find a small and supportive group of people who will give you feedback and insights. Talk about the events of your day; especially when they impact you.
Manage your work schedule to ensure you diligently balance overtime hours with time taken off. The potential work for chaplains never ends. Watch your overtime hours.
Leave the needs of residents at work.
When you leave work, find healthy ways to unwind. Walking, pursuing a hobby, regular exercise and other such activities will help to keep your life in balance. Work-life balance demands that you create a strategic separation--boundaries. The trip home may be a good time to emotionally let goof your “day at the office and prepare your own mind and emotions for home.
Pursue spiritual disciplines such as reading, prayer, worship, meditation; and especially journaling. Allow yourself the flexibility to adjust and modify these as needed.
Keep your family at the centre of life. When work becomes stormy, keep focused upon your family, marriage and relationships outside of work. Have a real and engaging life outside of work.
Know your emotions and what triggers them. We each have trigger points based upon our fears, expectations and hopes.
Professional intelligence. Read about your discipline, but also read other subjects as well to keep your mind in balance and informed.
Live with “Less than perfect”; life and ministry are decidedly less than perfect.
Written by Rev. David Van Essen