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Self-Care is Not Self-Indulgence

January 28, 2021

When I was asked to write to my OCA colleagues for #BellLetsTalk Day last year, I focused on our collective responsibility as camp professionals to be on the lookout for the mental health of others. Little did I know that our mental health and the mental health of others would become such an important part of our daily lives. While I still believe that we are lucky to be in a position to take care of the mental health of those close to us, I left out a very important aspect of caring for the mental health of others… taking care of your own mental health.

While we don’t need any reminders of how challenging the last year has been for everyone,I do want to acknowledge that the uncertainty, fear and forced closure faced by the camp community was certainly unprecedented. And while you have likely been caring for your families and your community, it would be irresponsible of me, as a mental health professional, to not spend some time talking to you about how to take care of yourselves. 

Self-care is often described as doing things like going to the gym or going for a manicure. Not only are these things impossible during a lockdown, but I’ve had clients tell me that they feel these things are self-indulgent and can make them feel guilty for taking that time for themselves. I believe that’s where we miss the point on self-care; it’s not about the activity, it’s about the feeling that it leaves us with. If your self-care is sitting and playing Candy Crush for 2 hours, that’s great! You have found a way to zone out and enjoy yourself, but if you feel guilty about wasted time after, that is not self-care. When talking about self-care with my clients, I focus on the concepts of permission and forgiveness. Permission to do the things that make you feel good. Forgiveness for the times that you’re not as productive as you think you should be. By focusing on forgiveness and permission you’ll be relieving yourself of the guilt that is often associated with self-care.   

We need self-care. We need it to rest, refresh and recharge. Please forgive this overplayed therapeutic analogy: When you are on an airplane (remember airplanes?) and they are going through the safety procedures, the flight attendant says “put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping anyone else,” the reason being, if you don’t have oxygen, you won’t be able to help anyone around you. The same goes for self-care, if you’re not taking time to rest, refresh and recharge, you won’t have the capacity to help those around you. 

I have created a list of 7½ things you can do to look out for your own self-care. (5 isn’t enough, 8 is too many).

  1. Know Yourself – Be aware of the things that indicate that you need to take care of yourself. This may come in the form of physical pain, feeling more tired than usual or having a lower tolerance for frustration.
  2. Create a Toolkit – Take some time to think about the things that offer you the ability to rest, refresh and recharge. Maybe it’s reading a few pages of a book, rewatching a favourite episode of an old tv show or calling a friend. Have those things easily accessible.
  3. Be Prepared – Sometimes a moment for self-care may come unexpectedly… A cancelled meeting or finishing a project earlier than expected can be the perfect time to rest, refresh and recharge. Have your toolkit ready. 
  4. Tell People What You Need – Maybe you need a few minutes alone, or you want someone to just listen so you can vent. Tell them that you’re just looking for someone to listen, you’re not looking for advice or feedback. 
  5. Use “Unhealthy” Self-Care Sparingly – Sometimes we feel a need to indulge in things that may not be the best for us. Maybe it’s a drink, a mind-altering substance or food. These are not off-limits, but use them sparingly and keep an eye out for using them too much. 
  6. Self-Care Is Not Self-Indulgent – Remember this. If you’re feeling guilty, you’re not doing it right. 
  7. Get Outside – Even if it’s just for a few minutes. A little fresh air and some sunlight can go a long way. 

     7½. Remember… Forgiveness and Permission.


Grieving The Loss Of Camp

May 20, 2020

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one of the major themes I have seen with my clients are the feelings of grief and loss. For those that are able, I have encouraged them to count their blessings and be thankful for their health and the health of their loved ones. At the same time I have also encouraged them to really feel their losses and grieve the things that they are missing out on. They talk about the expected things, friends, graduation, prom and sports. They also talk about the little things, even some that used to annoy them but they now appreciate, like the bus ride to school and the walk home, waking up on a Saturday morning and knowing they could do what they want with their day, coming home after school and shutting the door so they could have some alone time. A common theme has been the loss of a sense of independence.

Like so many, I was devastated by the news that overnight camp in Ontario would be cancelled due to COVID-19. I understand the reasoning; we need to be mindful of and care for our physical health and the health of those around us. This doesn’t change the fact that the decision is upsetting and feels unfair. I haven’t worked full time at camp in 5 years and I don’t have kids that I send to camp, but like so many, I know the camp experience, I know the feeling, the rituals, the smells, the friendships, the laughter and the smiles. As a camp professional and a mental health professional I understand the importance of camp.

This loss is more than just the loss of a summer at overnight camp, this loss is about so much more. This is a loss for the kids for whom camp is the only stable environment they know. And the kids who live far away and only get to see their friends at camp. And the kids with quirky personalities that thrive at a place like overnight camp. And the quiet kids who appreciate the moments of tranquility that you can’t get in the city. And I’m sad for the kids who aren’t going to learn about independence and problem solving and strength and resilience and first kisses and heartbreaks and friendships. 

For those who know overnight camp, the loss is real. And so, to all the parents out there struggling with how to manage the grief and loss for your kids, here are 7 ½ ways to deal with the loss of camp (5 isn’t enough, 8 is too many).

  1. Allow them to feel. Your kids are going to be sad and angry. Let them. They will need to need to express their feelings in the best way they know how, and this will be different depending on their age. For some this will be the first major loss they are dealing and they will need your help to navigate their feelings.

  2. Validate their feelings. I always tell my clients that all feelings are real. Let them know that their feelings of loss are real. It will help them understand their feelings of grief and loss.

  3. Listen. Allow them to talk and tell you why they are so upset. Letting them express themselves will help them navigate their feelings. Remember that good listening requires staying silent.

  4. Encourage (socially distant) get-togethers. The only ones that know exactly what they’re going though are those that are experiencing the same loss. Encourage them to speak with their camp friends through whatever online platforms they use. They will be going through this together and being close to others dealing with the same things will make it easier for them.

  5. Watch out for warning signs. While being patient and giving them space, I also encourage you to watch out for concerning behaviour. Ask how they’re doing, give them space to grieve and let them know that you’re there for them. It’s never too early to reach out for support if you’re concerned. Some good places might be Kids Help Phone, your family doctor or Psychology Today.

  6. It will come in waves. The grief will be strong over the next few days, and then it will ease up. Be aware that it will likely come back on the first day of Pre-Camp, the first day of camp and the days of special programs.

  7. Give it time. Camp is something they have been looking forward to for a long time, for most, since the moment they came home last summer. It will take time for them to get over the loss.

      7 ½. Provide comfort. Grab their coziest, most comfortable camp sweatshirt and let them cuddle up.