Whānau supporters can often work in challenging situations. It is especially important that we care for our wellbeing to balance out the hard parts of our mahi.
Research shows that learning how to practise self-care for whānau supporters is not only critical, but has many positive benefits. Nurturing wellbeing will help to lessen the impacts of workplace stress. It also supports our compassion for whānau we work with, and overall job satisfaction (Berkowitz, 2022).
It’s just a matter of how to also care for ourselves in the midst of all the demands from our mahi and our own whānau responsibilities!
In all of the support we provide and things that we do, it can help to remember that we’re important too!
What are the risks as whānau supporters
As kaimahi, we hold an incredible skill-set that includes empathy, patience, advocacy, communication skills, and remaining non-judgmental. These are skills that mean we hold whānau and their needs at the centre of our mahi. It is complex and demanding because it takes a lot of skill, energy and selflessness to remain compassionate.
This means there can be downsides to caring so much. Whānau supporters are particularly vulnerable to what is sometimes termed ‘the negative cost of caring’ – burnout and compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma.
This is when a person becomes physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Burnout occurs over time with prolonged exposure to challenging mahi where it feels overwhelming. There may be a real or perceived lack of support.
Vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue
Just because you don't experience trauma first-hand doesn't mean you won't be affected by it. For people who hear, see and support others who are experiencing trauma, they can develop something that we call secondary post-trauma stress.
Self-care and wellbeing care is the remedy
Often when our lives and mahi are busy and exhausting, we don’t always make time to care for ourselves and our wellbeing, or we may not know what things we can do. But just like every flight attendant says, and for good reason...
We need to put on our own oxygen masks first, before helping others.
Caring for our own wellbeing as supporters
The way we know we’re caring for our wellbeing is that we’re doing something that gives us some level of enjoyment. This means wellbeing doesn’t have to be difficult, complex, take huge amounts of time or be expensive!
Here are some ways we might be caring for our wellbeing already, or could possibly try:
Spending time outside – gardening, playing sport, walking, biking, taking the dog out, playing with tamariki.
Engaging in a hobby – cooking, gardening, making things, being creative or artistic, playing music, reading a book.
Learning something new – this might be taking a class to begin learning something new, or perfecting a new stage in something we already know like dancing, sport, playing an instrument.
Connecting with people we enjoy – this might be sharing kai, heading out for a walk with our friends or having coffee at a favourite spot.
Giving our time – helping out in our community, taking action for a cause, supporting our local school, marae or church connects us to our values and others who share these.
Actively slowing down – following a meditation, doing yoga, mindfulness or breathing exercises supports our whole system to relax. We can follow a meditation or practice puku breathing in bed to help us sleep, or on the way home in the car to support us moving from our mahi back to our whānau.
Cultural activities – learning language, pūrākau, attending performances, galleries, museums, researching history or whakapapa, taking part in kapa haka or cultural performance, weaving or making things that connect us to our culture.
There’s a lot we can do that we enjoy, and it's all considered self-care.
Is it working?
Here's how we know these wellbeing nurturing activities are good for us:
- We might lose track of time – this means we’ve entered a state of flow where our concentration is held on something interesting for a longer period of time.
- They take our mind completely off our work, or almost everything except the present moment.
- We enjoy the time we spend doing the activity or how we feel afterwards.
- They connect us to the things and people who are important to us and support our cultural identity.
- They have positive emotions associated with them – they might be feelings of awe or wonder, or pride, joy or serenity.
Beyond this, enjoying healthy kai and getting enough rest and sleep supports our wellbeing too.
It’s exciting that caring for our wellbeing isn’t hard work – a little and often will support us and help us to do our best work too.
Professional care is important too
It’s important as well that we feel we’re supported at work with:
- colleagues we can talk to about challenges, and laugh with about the funny things that happen
- a manager who listens and advocates for us when needed
- access to professional, peer and cultural supervision or support as needed
- an environment that supports us to care for our wellbeing.
Find ways to connect with all the workplace supports available and foster healthy, positive relationships with colleagues and wider teams.
Berkowitz, A. (2022). We need to talk about self-care (but not in the way you think). Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 34(3), 130–135. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol34iss3id929