(Theguardian) – Dedicating time to improving workers’ wellbeing, through meditative and mindful practices, could vastly benefit patient care
Because of the resilience and selflessness that their job requires, many social care professionals – including Molly Rose Zametkin, a 29-year-old primary therapist based in Washington DC – rely on yoga, meditation and mindfulness to cope. These activities give Zametkin the chance to take time for herself, which, she says, helps her better care for others.
This view is shared widely across the industry, including by London-based yoga teacher Kat Achtelik, who participated in several NGO-led projects in Asia before moving to the UK. For her, practicing yoga and meditation comes down to self-love: “You cannot pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself first, before catering for others.”
Likewise, Anke Lenz, a 29-year-old social care professional who works with teenage refugees in Berlin and has completed yoga teacher training, insists that yoga has made her enjoy her job more. She says it has taught her to have a positive mindset and helped her get through emotionally-draining situations by allowing her to distance herself from her emotions. “Through doing yoga and being mindful, I’ve been able to see my limits and learn how to care for myself,” she adds.
“Social workers are often over-scheduled, underpaid, exposed to traumatic stories and are therefore at risk of burnout and secondary trauma,” says Kristen Esposito Brendel. Working as an assistant professor of social work at Aurora University, Illinois, and being a licensed clinical social worker, she’s also the founder of Per La Vita Wellness, an organisation providing mindfulness-based counselling to clients with mental and physical health issues.
Secondary traumatic stress (STS) is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder that has also been linked to burnouts. For Brendel, mindfulness is a way to simultaneously “mediate the risks and heal the healer”. Dedicating time to meditative practices is crucial for those working in organisations where the cumulative effects of stress can lead to physical and psychological issues.
An advantage of meditation and mindfulness is that these practices aren’t time-consuming or expensive and don’t require specific equipment. Achtelik says: “It’s a tool you always have with you, it’s always available and doesn’t cost anything to use. And it’s holistic. It will help you in your private life, too. You’ll learn not to bring issues from home to work, and the other way around.”
Zametkin agrees: for her, meditative practices are essential for wellbeing if you work in social care. The prevalence of yoga and meditation studios as well as the existence of free mindfulness podcasts, videos and apps, make meditative practices more accessible than ever before. Brendel recommends Insight Timer, a popular free meditation app, as a precious tool for social care professionals needing to be guided through the process.
Considering that emotions can either prevent or support our ability to work, Brynne Caleda, the CEO of Yoga Ed, a US-based organisation that focuses on integrating yoga into education, believes that the way professionals come to work affects their relationship with their patients: yoga and meditation give them the ability to “be fully present to their client”.
Meanwhile, Claire Knigge, a 32-year-old social worker based in Belgium, says that meditation helps her cope with the daily crises that come up at work. These events are now less likely to harm her state of mind – and she is able to distance herself from what is happening and react appropriately. Knigge says the teenage girls she looks after are stunned at how happy she always seems. “What they see is actually me being very balanced. And being balanced is one of the biggest benefits of meditation,” she says.
Every social care professional I spoke to said they thought yoga and meditation should become part of the course for aspiring social care workers. As the importance of mental health in the workplace is being increasingly acknowledged, the social care sector hopes to be leading the way.