By: Regan Kelso
If you’re a CHW, at some point in life, you may have learned how to care for others’ needs before your own. Our lived experiences make us experts on being in service of other people. But, sometimes we become so focused on caring for our community that we neglect our own needs.
For a long time, anytime someone used the phrase “take care of yourself,” I had no idea what that meant. When a person has multiple systematic and interpersonal stressors, it is a high expectation for someone to know how to take care of themselves without guidance. When you’re downstream and do not know how to swim and can’t afford a life raft, the only thing you may know is how to survive.
I wanted to explore how CHWs can stay afloat while helping others (and ourselves) swim through deep waters, so I reached out to a fellow CHW wellness expert to ask how we CHWs can practice self-care.
Tasha Whitaker is a Certified Community Health Worker from Dallas, Texas, who uses her social media platform to promote self-care amongst healthcare workers. Her Instagram page, @iamtashawhitaker, is known to many CHWs who listened to Tasha’s show, “The CHW Crew,” a 50-episode podcast dedicated to uplifting CHW work.
Standing confident in her purpose, Tasha’s bright smile and self-care glow beams from her Instagram profile photo, spreading light with inspirational posts and wellness tips through the lens of professional development for her followers: CHWs, CHW students, and volunteers.
While Tasha knows a thing or two about self-care, she admitted that she hasn’t always taken the time to prioritize it. Tasha learned that the most vital part of serving others was being unapologetic in how she cared for herself. And now, she is on a mission to teach CHWs how to find daily balance through her social media and professional development courses. And it’s a win for Texas CHWs who can earn continuing education units while learning how to be the best versions of themselves.
“You know the famous quote? You can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s true!”
Tasha says burstfully.
For ten years, Tasha has served southern Dallas, Texas, as a Community Health Worker, instructor, and stakeholder. In the earlier days of her career, Tasha overlooked her emotional needs while working tirelessly to meet the safety needs of the families she served.
“People reach out to us for many needs in their life. Our nature is to serve and find solutions to problems. Over time that can cause CHWs to burnout, and not feel the enjoyment of their role as they once did.” Recognizing that “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” it became the motto Tasha used to intentionally schedule time to pour into herself after experiencing a difficult season in her own life. Tasha explained that “self-care became essential to my overall wellness…what we do is valuable, but not at the expense of our well-being.” Now, Tasha balances working weekdays with doing things she loves: being in nature, going for a hike or walk, getting her hair and nails done, and going solo thrift shopping.
In 2019, the World Health Organization updated its definition of burnout as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” This definition of burnout can provide the backing CHWs need to advocate the need for self-care at work. CHWs who constantly give of themselves without taking the time to replenish their energy are likely to experience burnout faster than other paraprofessionals and that can have an impact of job satisfaction creating low morale and high job turnover. Employers who want to retain CHWs must include self-care not as a reward, but as responsibility of the CHW job description.
I asked Tasha, “How can CHWs take care of themselves as well as they take care of others?” In her own words, Tasha shared three tips to help CHWs practice self-care:
It’s critical to set your boundaries with your clients and your job upfront so that the expectation is known. This will help with the foundation of self-care concerning time management, emotional stress, and growth. Set boundaries with your time. Take your work breaks!
#2-Create a self-care plan for yourself.
Having a list of how you plan to implement self-care allows you the space to choose things YOU enjoy and keep it top of mind so that your self-care tank is filled with personalized things that bring you calmness and joy. Make this plan known to your loved ones in your circle, so they can help support you.
As we are serving our communities as CHWs, our community members take notice of the things we do and say. When it comes to your wellness, it’s important to set an example through action. When you implement the practices of lower stress, exercise, and a healthy diet, your overall wellness improves and sets a good example for those you are serving. Your health benefits improve when you put yourself first and know that you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first.
Use motivational interviewing and ask the important question, “What barriers keep me from prioritizing my self-care needs?”
Create SMART goals centered around your self-care plan. Set a problem, goal, and intervention to help intentionally prioritize your self-care needs. For example,”my problem is that I don’t get enough sleep at night, but I want 6-8 hours of sleep at night. So, I will go to bed every night by 10 pm. I will set an alarm and remove barriers like my incoming texts or phone calls by putting on my do not disturb. Use SMART goals to schedule time to do something nice for yourself-something that fulfills your spirit.
If you are experiencing bouts of sadness for more than two weeks, talk to your doctor. Your mental health is important. Take care of your mind, body, and spirit with intentional actions that give you time to yourself to just be.
You got this!
Happy Holidays from CHW Central
You can find Tasha’s podcast on her website, (https://thechwcrew.com), or on Apple, Spotify, or Youtube. To learn more about self-care from a CHW perspective, please listen to podcast episodes 5, 13, and 41. You can also follow her on IG (@imatashawhitaker.)