Radical Self-Care

I had a crash course in self-care after a personal loss I had in my life. Radical self-care, I now call it, looking back on those insular years after Cam’s death. At the time, taking care of myself was instinctual and vital; it felt as though my life depended on it. Slowly but surely I took care of myself, often determining what that meant in each moment – my needs dictating my next steps.

Since then, I have become more consciously attuned to my self-care needs because I know how directly related to my well being it is. Working as an Occupational Therapist in Palliative Care and Grief Support, a dedicated self-care practice is part of my personal and professional responsibility.  I owe it to myself, and I owe it to my clients. I deserve to lead a whole and joyful life, and I want to come to every relationship I have in a peaceful and centered way.

Below are 5 practical aspect of caring for yourself that will make your “you” time more effective.

1.     Be intentional – Unfortunately self-care doesn’t just happen. In fact, studies have shown that as burnout and compassion fatigue increases, the number of self-care activities one engages in decreases1. This means, when you need it the most, you do less of it!

Purposefully carve out time for self-care, commit to it, and follow through. Once you do it, you will recognize how good it feels and how helpful it is, and you will do it again. It will become a positive feedback loop.

2.     Care for yourself in the moment – So often people think of self-care as being something that has to happen after an already long workday, or on the weekends. Don’t compartmentalize self-care. Think of caring for yourself in each moment. For example, practice deep breathing in the middle of an intense situation, or pay attention to if an emotion or stress belongs to you, or to someone else – don’t take on other peoples ‘stuff.’ There is a great video by Frank Ostaseski who speaks about deep listening in each moment, which has tremendous self-care implications. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OChqAX7hnTc


You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OChqAX7hnTc


3.     Be reflective – Spend some time thinking about what ‘empties your cup,’ and also what fills it. Are there boundaries you need to set? By saying yes to someone else, are you saying no to yourself? What self-care strategies have worked for you in the past? How can you re-engage in them? If you are in a care-giving field reflect on the losses and stressors you are personally carrying, and how it impacts your ability to care for others. “Do you own work,” is a mantra that I often say to myself…meaning do my own personal and inner work to make myself a better person.

4.     Be Holistic – Engage in activities that address your social, emotional, spiritual, physical, cognitive, and vocational needs2.  My radical self-care included: Reading books about grief to meet my cognitive needs, expressing my emotional turmoil by putting my pen to paper, succumbing to my introverted preference by hollowing up in safe, solitary places. When my hunger returned, I tried to eat well – one nutritious meal per day. I practiced gentle yoga to breathe and stretch my body. Spiritually, I pondered and searched for the answer to the biggest mystery – what happens after someone dies? Self-care has to be multi-dimensional, because we experience stress and burden in every aspect of our lives and being.

5.     Reach out for support – Create a network of support with many people supporting you in many ways. At work, I use my team to help me cope with the demands and stress of Palliative Care. I have friends I can go mountain biking with and hiking with. I have other friends who have similar spiritual beliefs and we rely on each other for spiritual support. I have a psychologist who I can connect with when I need to for cognitive and emotional support. Be like a honeybee, sucking the nectar from all the beautiful flowers you encounter.

6.     Expand your definition – Self-care is: self-supportive, self-interested, self-respect, self-preservation, self-knowledge, self-love, self-esteem, self-compassion, essential, survival, priority, necessity, unapologetic…what other words would you add?


1.      Alkema, K., Linton, J. M., & Davies, R. (2008). A study of the relationship between self-care, compassion satisfaction, compassion fatigue, and burnout among hospice professionals. Journal of Social Work in End-Of-Life & Palliative Care, 4(2), 101-119

2.      Jones, S. (2005). A self-care plan for hospice workers. American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Care, 22(2), 125-128.

O’Halloran, T. & Linton, J. (2000). Stress on the job: Self care resources for counselors. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 22(4), 354-364.

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