Self-Care Tips for Family Services Professionals and Home Visitors

If you are a family services professional or home visitor, think about self-care as a way to charge your own batteries so you have the energy and capacity to care for others. Self-care promotes and restores psychological and physical health and helps create a sense of well-being. Finding simple but effective ways to support your own wellness benefits you, your program, and families.

Remember, you are not alone. Your program leaders and supervisors can support you by promoting self-care and wellness in the workplace. Below you will find descriptions and examples of evidence-informed ways to practice self-care.

Take Time for Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment without judgment. Mindfulness has been shown to reduce stress and burnout, improve focus, and increase compassion for yourself and others. Using mindfulness techniques can enhance family engagement by helping you regulate your own emotions. In addition, these techniques help you increase your awareness and acceptance of the emotions, experiences, beliefs, and values of the family members you serve. By practicing mindfulness, you can strengthen your ability to offer helpful supports to families that are culturally and linguistically responsive.

Try the mindfulness exercises below. Remember that the strategies you like best are the ones you are most likely to keep practicing.

  • Take a mindful moment during the day. Consider taking this moment before starting a home visit or meeting with a family. Pay attention to your breath using strategies such as:
    • Counting your breaths (Inhale for four counts and exhale for four counts.)
    • Finger breathing (Hold up one hand and use the pointer finger of the other hand to trace up and down each finger, inhaling as you trace up and exhaling as you trace down.)
  • Catch yourself when you are having negative thoughts or feelings about yourself or someone else in the moment and during an interaction with a family. Pause to refocus yourself using strategies such as:
    • The Mindful STOP (Stop, Take a deep breath, Observe, Proceed positively)
    • SOFT (Soften your face, Open your chest, Float down your shoulders, Take a deep breath)
    • Focus on your breath or your body, such as the feeling of your feet on the ground
  • Write down three to five things you are grateful for. Do this when you wake up or before you go to sleep, w This can be anything, from a hot cup of coffee to good health. A regular gratitude practice can increase happiness and decrease feelings of depression.
  • Practice your mindfulness skills. Focus fully, with all your senses, during at least one routine activity every day. The activity could be brushing your teeth, eating, or driving to work. Notice the way your body feels, the smell, the colors, and the sounds of the activity. When your mind wanders beyond the present moment (which it will), gently bring your attention back to the activity without judging yourself. It takes practice! Mindfulness supports wellness by helping with self-regulation, reducing blood pressure, and increasing the ability to respond rather than react.

Build Relaxation into Your Day

  • Listen to music, inspirational podcasts, audiobooks, and guided relaxation instructions. Experiment with different types of relaxation before and after work, or while traveling between visits with families. Try relaxation exercises specifically designed for Head Start and Early Head Start families and staff to help reduce stress. Listening to music in particular can directly and positively affect the brain's stress response. Research also shows that music can lower anxiety, boost mood, and reduce fatigue.

Practice Self-compassion

Pay attention to how you treat yourself. Self-compassion means giving yourself the same kindness, patience, and acceptance you would give a good friend or anyone else you care about deeply. Practicing self-compassion can reduce stress and burnout and increase compassion for others, including the families you work with. Practice self-compassion using the following strategies:

  • Notice any negative self-talk (negative things you are saying to yourself in your mind or aloud) after a stressful home visit or other type of interaction with a family.
  • Replace negative self-talk with something more useful and positive. For example, find a quiet moment, place your hand on your heart, and say something positive and true about yourself, such as, "I am a kind person who cares a lot about families."
  • Take a "self-compassion break." This means stopping to acknowledge to yourself that the stress you are feeling is natural — everyone feels stress at some point in their lives. Give yourself the same grace and compassion you give to other who are experiencing stress. Remind yourself to practice self-care that supports your wellness in the face of such stress.

Take Care of Your Physical Self

  • Practice healthy eating. Plan for days when you have multiple home visits, telephone appointments, or meetings by packing mini-meals or healthy snacks that you can eat on the go. And when possible, pause when you eat. Sit down and eat slowly, without multitasking. This practice, referred to as "mindful eating," can reduce stress, improve your relationship with food, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Move your body. Gently stretch your body or take a walk when you have been seated for a long period of time or when you need a mental break. To reduce the physical effects of stress, move your body regularly (e.g., walk, dance, run, stretch, attend a yoga or exercise class). Participating in group exercise can be especially motivating. Group exercise has the added benefit of encouraging social connections, which help to reduce feelings of social isolation and loneliness.
  • Set yourself up for a good night of sleep. The quality and amount of sleep you get has a direct impact on your overall wellness. Sleep also affects your ability to focus on job tasks and feel satisfied in your work. Family or personal circumstances can make it challenging to get a good night's sleep. But try to follow these tips for good sleep habits:
    • Whenever possible, go to bed and wake up around the same time each day, even on the weekends.
    • Develop a consistent bedtime routine that relaxes you, such as taking a warm shower/bath or reading.
    • Avoid electronics and television in bed.
    • Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol for a few hours before bedtime.
    • Keep your bedroom dark by using light-blocking curtains or cloth over the windows.
    • When possible, keep your bedroom quiet, or block out sound with a white noise machine or free white noise apps on your phone.

Connect with Others

  • Socialize at work. Connecting with colleagues virtually or in the physical workplace can increase laughter, distract you from stressors, and provide mutual support during difficult times. Research shows that social support can help prevent feelings of isolation, sadness, and depression. Try to take a few minutes each day to talk or share a snack or meal with a co-worker. If it's difficult to find ways to connect with others at work, talk to your supervisor about organizing dedicated time for you and your co-workers to socialize with one another.
  • Identify and connect with your support network outside of work. Think of the different people in your life who support your wellness. Be sure to connect with them regularly. Consider which family members, friends, spiritual leaders, service providers, or other people can listen to you in a nonjudgmental, supportive way. Remember that seeking professional support (e.g., individual, couples, family therapy) during difficult times is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Partner with Leadership

  • Work with program leaders to develop and maintain policies and practices that provide the specific supports you need. Your voice matters. You are an expert on your program role. Request a time to speak with your supervisor, program leader, or human resources representative about creating opportunities (e.g., time, space, self-care activities led by the program) to practice self-care in ways that are realistic for your workday. Discuss strategies for maintaining work-life balance, such as setting limits on overworking, so that you can avoid burnout and be well enough to provide responsive supports for families. For example, avoid sending emails outside of your regular work hours or working on weekends, during vacation, or during other free time. Also, be sure to provide input when your program creates a staff wellness action plan. Your input is essential.

Additional Resources