Recently I was asked to deliver a webinar on entitled ‘Self-coaching for self-care’ to an audience of staff working in the health and social care sector in Scotland. To get my thinking in some sort of order I did some writing that helped me to bring to life my understanding of both self-coaching and self-care and whether the former might indeed support in being better at the latter. Even by my standards the length of my writing turned out to be rather long! It was like one of those times when you start work, look up two hours later, and find that you have several pages of tightly printed prose in front of you! Better than a blank page! Anyway, I have decided to break it into two parts which I will offer to you separately. The first is about self-care, the second about growing the reach of coaching and how self-coaching might contribute to this. This writing does not constitute a script but it certainly did help me put my thoughts in order so I was able to deliver something worthwhile to a wonderful community of health and social care professionals.
Part 1: Self-care
I confess that as I apply fingers to keyboard to write this I am feeling a little tense. It is a genuine challenge to get started, to focus on a subject that means something to me. Perhaps that is the very nature of my challenge? I have a lot of personal investment in the thoughts I am about to share and there is a nagging concern in my mind. What if people disagree? What if I am wrong? Time for a kind yet firm word to self, I think! What is the point of having an opinion or a view if you don’t share it? It’s not about right or wrong, and it’s not about disagreement. It is about encouraging feedback from others and using that to arrive at a better informed position. So, just get on with it!
You might be wondering about the value of me sharing the paragraph above with you. It’s there because it is relevant as an example of self-coaching and how it might contribute to better self-care. It captures the importance of noticing what is going on for you and then choosing to do something about it. Before going any further a look at what each of self-care and self-coaching mean to me, to give you a chance to see whether you either share my view or have a different one.
Self-care is about realising your capacity to look after yourself in body, mind and soul. It is about being consciously kind to yourself and well-tuned into the ebb and flow of your own energy. It’s about appreciating when your energy is unhelpfully high or low, and then choosing to do something about it.
Self-care of our body is a combination of diet, sleep, and physical activity. It is also about recognising changes in our physical well-being and making the right choices if those changes are having a negative impact on us. That might be through adjusting our habits and behaviours or by seeking guidance from medical experts.
All this is easy to say, yet not so easy to do. For instance, how many of us confuse some level of self-gratification with self-care. If self-care is about being kind to yourself then allowing yourself just one more drink is fine, right? There’s no problem with going into the bottom layer of the box of chocolates or binge watching the entirety of your favourite box set into the small hours of the morning – surely that’s just me being kind to myself! In some regards, yes it is. What is the distinction between self-gratification and self-care? Perhaps its about the former being an immediate ‘fix’ of kindness coming at a physical price while the latter is more a slow release kindness, with no hidden costs and with longer term benefits. The challenges in quick fix kindness is that we are creatures of habit. What starts as an act of kindness to self may well become a habit with completely the opposite impact, made worse as you become increasingly blind to the cause and effect of your chosen actions.
What about those of us who prefer to manage discomfort or pain rather that seeking medical advice? It might start out as a positively framed ‘grin and bear it’ approach but can rapidly turn into something far less helpful. I recall with some embarrassment how refusal to go to the dentist to have some chronic tooth pain dealt with left me exhausted, irritable, and less effective at work and play. What sort of self-care is that? As well as not helping myself I deny the people I work and play with my best self.
Then there is the self-care relating to your mind. The greater openness with which we talk about mental health is a step forward in public health although there is a way to go. After all, clinical depression is the biggest cause of disability across the globe. The fact that our mental wellbeing, or lack of it, is often invisible to others means that so much can be going on beneath the surface, until it reaches a level where it leaks into a behaviour that shows up to others. There are many approaches to self-care in this space. Growing emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Building resilience. Creating and using support networks from colleagues, friends and family. There is therapeutic support in the form of medication and talking interventions. And there is coaching. More on that later…
There is spiritual self-care. For me this is the care we offer ourselves to support those things, often unspoken, that are most important to us. If guided by a faith we may well find spiritual comfort in the teachings of that faith. If we are inclined to a more secular view of the world an alignment of our world with our core values is often the state that we seek to achieve. All well and good provided you have a sense of what your values are. Do you?
Self-care has also come into the language of the workplace. A couple of decades ago larger organisations may typically have had a range of in-house experts to provide various levels of care for staff. To a degree this is still the case but with the upsurge in mental health issues across the globe there has been a need to provide a caring resource that is both scalable and sustainable. What better resource can there be than having each individual take a bigger hand in the management of well-being? Scalable, sustainable, low cost to an organisation and a shift in responsibility from them to…..you and me.
Certainly, there are some of the more cynical mindset that believe that the shift to self-care in the workplace is a dereliction of corporate responsibility. When it’s done badly this view may well hold water. For me, being more resourceful in self-care is a life skill worth having. It has whole-of-life benefits with a value that is ubiquitous across the dimensions of diversity we have in our global population. A combination of employee assistance programmes, training, self-paced learning, and signposting to sources of expertise has, in general, been a positive step towards better self-care. Alongside there had been a normalisation of mental health in individual and population level discussions on the subject.
The transition towards a greater emphasis on self-care was well underway when COVID19 came along to complicate all our lives, at the most fundamental levels. Over a matter of weeks we went from having goals relating to bettering ourselves to ones that are more survival related. Self-care has become even more important and all the more challenging for having to be delivered in isolation. For the first time many of us have had to contemplate what self-care might look like for us as we prescribe it in our own homes and try and take our own medicine.
Then there is the health and social care community who are very used to issuing medicine. For them self-care has been something they have prescribed to their patients while in hospital and certainly when they are discharged. This sort of self-care is to encourage patient compliance with their treatment regimen in terms of medicines, rehabilitation and accessing their community support networks.
A considerable part of the burden borne by NHS and social care staff has been that they have been providing their care in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have not had the advocacy of family and friends in promoting this medical form of self-care, never mind having to cope with loss and grief where grievers and those grieved for cannot come together.
What happens to support the workers in our health and social care sector? Volunteer have been scrambling to offer help yet making the connections to ensure their help is relevant and accessible is a real challenge. There is another key word to add to definition of what is useful support, alongside scalable and sustainable. Accessible. Now and in the future. The only resource that is available to each of us, every minute of the day, is ourselves. So yep, perhaps self-care does have a part to play in a crisis situation.
Advice and support on self-care does have a place even, maybe particularly, for a community who are masterful at giving their care to the benefit of others. The newly announced National Digital Wellbeing Hub in Scotland is testament to a system wide appreciation of the value of self-care and the part it has to play in accessible, scalable and sustainable support. The potential beneficiaries in the case of this hub are health and social care works, volunteers, and all their family members who will experience the challenge faced by their loved ones, albeit by one remove. An amazing initiative that really seems to meet the need to be scalable, sustainable, and accessible (now!).
Watch out for part 2 (you will find it nearby on the blog pages on my website)
If you are interested in the webinar itself you can find it through the following this link
It was hosted by NHS Education for Scotland (www.nes.scot.nhs.uk/) and Project Lift (www.projectlift.scot/). I was representing Know You More (www.knowyoumore.com) who are digital coaching partners with Project Lift and how are also providing digital coaching services to health and social care practitioners through the National Wellbeing Hub Scotland (www.promis.scot).