Small steps have a big impact when prioritising self-care

Last updated on 30 October 2023

Self-care doesn’t require a full weekend away in a luxurious retreat. It can – if you want to – or it can be five minutes of rest each day. [Source: Shutterstock]

As Mental Health Month (October) continues, hello leaders is highlighting critical topics to help aged care employers better support their staff. We spoke to LiveBig Chief Executive Officer, Juliet Middleton, ahead of a webinar titled Put your own oxygen mask on first: Prioritising self-care to learn more about the simple processes she says all caregivers can benefit from.

The importance of self-care

In life, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by work, personal relationships, finances and all of the unexpected issues that pop up over time. That can often be exacerbated in the care industry where daily routines include supporting and caring for individuals who may require high levels of care in challenging situations. It’s easy for employees to lose sight of their own needs when prioritising others.

“Self-care is really important because if the carers aren’t looking after themselves they can’t care for the people they’re looking after. Nobody can go on forever,” Ms Middleton explained. 

“I use the analogy of a car. If you don’t fill up the tank it’s going to eventually stop. We have to make sure we’re putting fuel in the tank so we are able to give back to others. The tank doesn’t always have to be full but just remember it needs to be topped up occasionally.”

As Ms Middleton explained, self-care itself doesn’t always require too much time. But it is important, especially when stress levels are heightened due to influential work and personal life factors. Self-care also comes in different forms; the critical thing is that it is a person’s answer to the daily stressors they face.

LiveBig Chief Executive Officer, Juliet Middleton. [Source: LiveBig]

“You don’t have to say ‘I’m going to take the whole day off, I’m going to go away’ because these things are not realistic for most people. It’s about finding something small that works [when you need it] and is practical to build into your routine,” Ms Middleton added. 

“It doesn’t require you to join a gym or go somewhere. It’s putting in those five or ten minutes and making sure you’ve written them down and committed to them. Then you can say in these five or ten minutes ‘This is what I’m doing’. You’re building a habit and committing to it.”

Self-care should be flexible

  • Self-care should never become a monotonous routine, but it’s always helpful to build it into your routine to create good habits.
  • People with busy schedules should set aside some time each day for self-care. It can be in the morning, day or evening, and even ten minutes can help.
  • If you know a stressful situation or meeting is on the cards, coordinate your self-care time to follow it so you can de-stress and take a moment for yourself.
  • There will be busy weeks where it’s hard to fit in self-care moments. That’s okay. You can always plan ahead for the week after so you can form a plan and be prepared.

A flexible mindset towards self-care is beneficial as life is unpredictable and it’s always possible for something to happen that will alter the course of your day. This is especially true for staff who are often travelling between jobs, such as home and community care workers, but it still rings true for the wider aged care workforce.

“Not only do we have the unpredictability of a caregiving role, but many of us are also carers at home or even in the workplace to an extent with the people we’re leading. And when you’re out you don’t know what traffic you’re going to encounter, you don’t know what the weather is going to do, that’s a huge concern for people who are out in the community,” Ms Middleton said.

“Be prepared that there are a number of things you can’t control. You can say to yourself ‘It’s okay because this morning I got up and I had my five minutes, I read my book or I had my cup of tea’ and that sets you up for the day and helps you deal with those stressors.”

The role of employers

Employers and leaders play a critical role in facilitating and supporting self-care. Providing opportunities for staff to look after their health and well-being is paramount to their work enjoyment. 

Ms Middleton told hello leaders that one way LiveBig achieves this is by providing a quarterly leave day called ‘You Day’. It’s a chance for staff to recharge and spend it however they want to. The crucial part is they know they have the time they can set aside for self-care and well-being without feeling guilty.

Additionally, affording yourself time for self-care can have a genuine influence on employees. Leading by example and showing it’s okay to look after yourself is equally as important as setting high standards when working.

“You have to say ‘I’m going to make the time for self-care because that will make me a better leader. I will be more settled in my thinking because I’m doing things that help keep me safe in my mind from a mental health and well-being perspective’,” Ms Middleton added.

aged care
aged care workforce
mental health
work life balance
employee assistance program
mental health month
self care
mental health awareness
personal life
juliet middleton