The money advice workforce is filled with dedicated, compassionate and committed individuals striving to improve the financial wellbeing of people in Scotland. Staff and volunteers often work tirelessly and selflessly, going above and beyond to improve the financial circumstances of people across the country. But at what cost?

Participants of our wellbeing workshops often disclose that they forgo seeing to their basic needs – such as quenching thirst, satiating hunger, ensuring physical comfort – to hold concentration or finish a task. This is understandable when time-sensitive or critical situations arise which command that everything be dropped to crisis-manage, however, even when there are no crises to avert, many continue to employ a ‘work before all’ mindset which is unsustainable and unhealthy.

How often do you power through your workload, stopping not for man nor beast until you finish a task? Sure, it feels good to get something crossed off your to-do list but to the detriment of what? Most likely your health and wellbeing.

Going through long periods of time without physical and mental respite can seriously affect your health even if the negative effects aren’t obvious at first. Further down the line, our bodies will exhibit signs of fatigue and exhaustion in the form of poor mental and physical health. It’s therefore crucial that acts of self-care, no matter how small or simple, are embedded in our everyday working lives.

What is self-care?

Self-care can look different for everyone, but to count as self-care, the behaviour should promote health and happiness for you. It doesn’t have to be extravagant – hot chocolate in a bubble bath is hardly feasible at work, and holidays every other week are a tad unrealistic – it can simply be seeing to your basic needs like keeping hydrated, eating when hungry, making sure you’re comfortable in your workspace, and engaging in social interactions with others to avoid feeling isolated.

Why does self-care find itself at the bottom of our to-do lists?

The most common reasons participants of our wellbeing workshops say they don’t show self-care (or show it enough), include:

Not having enough time

When time and capacity are stretched like too little butter across too much bread, we often put the needs of others and the service above our own. Whilst this could be interpreted as an act of dedication, ignoring your own needs will inevitably lead to bigger problems. If you push yourself too hard or too long, you may become unwell and need time off work to recover which defeats the purpose not to mention the impact on your health. Instead, set aside time for yourself regularly throughout the day to help you recharge. Use your diary, calendar, or phone to schedule in break times and give you a prompt – remember you’re entitled to take breaks – and ensure you’ve always got easy access to drinks as well as something to eat to fuel your brain.

Not knowing what to do to show self-care

If your idea of self-care is bubble baths and holidays, it’s worthwhile reframing what you consider to be self-care. Self-care can be as simple as making sure you get your cup of tea, grabbing a snack, doing mindful breathing, or squeezing some chit chat in with a colleague. If these are things you’re already doing, keep it up.

Feeling guilty for taking time out for themselves

It can be hard to take time for ourselves at work because we feel like we owe our employer and our service users 100% of ourselves during working hours. Think of the commonly used analogy about oxygen masks on an airplane – you need to put your own mask on first before you help another. Pausing work to take care of yourself means that you can better offer help to others; it’s better to take 5 minutes for a cup of tea and a biscuit than be grumpy and vague in an interview or meeting because you’re hungry or thirsty. 

It falls by the wayside under stress

One of the pitfalls of low wellbeing is that it can get harder and harder to perform self-care. We can start to think we don’t have the time or energy, or we don’t deserve it. This then creates a vicious cycle; the less we care for ourselves, the less able we are to cope with other things in our lives and so we spiral downwards. That’s why it’s so important to have a self-care routine. Routine form habits which is what we need so that when things shake us, we have (healthy) habits to pull us through.

 

If you’re feeling the effects of fatigue, exhaustion or overwhelm, consider your daily work routine and whether you’re giving yourself enough time to recharge intra-day. It takes approximately four weeks for new routines to become habit so start small and simple with your self-care acts. If you’re consistently showing acts of self-care, stay consistent and encourage others to follow suit. Sharing your self-care tips with colleagues – and supporting each other to stay consistent with them – will benefit your team, organisation, and service users. 

Staff and volunteers in the free money advice sector are welcome to join any of our free wellbeing workshops. Click here for more information and to book a place on an upcoming session.