As we grow as a team, we naturally welcome younger and less experienced members of staff and begin the process of training our new colleagues on all facets of our organisation – from strengthening communication skills, to their expanded command responsibilities. With growth and forming a more contemporary team, I would like to make a purposeful effort to discuss the increasingly important issue of self-care with our young instructors and encourage them to recognise the need to keep our cadets safe, but to also keep themselves safe.
In our roles it’s easy to recognise the importance of checking in with the young people we work with, but unfortunately not so easy to recognise the importance of taking care of our peers and ourselves. So upon the eve of R U OK Day on Thursday 13th September, I think it pertinent to encourage staff to refresh their youth mental health awareness skills with some simple but effective self-care tips.
If you haven’t thought about this topic yet then there is no better time than right now to start.
Tips for Self-Care and Resilience Techniques in our duties
1. Look around and figure out what is going on.
The first step towards taking better care of yourself is to check in – consider the things that are problem areas in comparison to those things that are positive. Identify specifically what it is that is adding to your stress levels. Ask yourself what you can change and what you would like to change the most. Perhaps share this with a peer and discuss strategies to minimise the stressors surrounding us.
2. Take some time for yourself to unwind
Find ways to take small short breaks when on an activity. This could be as simple as grabbing a coffee with another staff member or finding a quite spot for ten minutes to unwind. Small changes can make a big difference.
3. Ask for help
Sunshine is the best disinfectant! If you are feeling overwhelmed with your work load, are there things that others could help you with? Do you have difficultly letting go and letting others do it their own way? For things to change for the better you need to ask for support and consider new ways of doing things. In turn, recognise areas where you can help a colleague who may be struggling with their workload, and help out where possible.
4. Create a transition ritual
It can be difficult switching from cadet mode to home mode. Having a transition ritual is a useful way to help you to mindfully put your cadet work away when you arrive home. Some transition rituals include listening to your favourite music and singing your lungs out like nobody’s watching on your way home from an activity (my personal favourite, of course), changing into comfortable clothes or going for a walk. Being accessible 24/7 for cadets is one of the quickest ways to burnout. You need to create boundaries between your personal life, work and cadets. Recognise the need to be aware of where these are.
5. Learn to say no (or yes) more often
Youth Work attracts people who are naturally giving. Being the person that all of your friends and family depend on can be very draining to deal with on top of other commitments. Being able to say no or at least not saying yes straight away is an important skill that stops you from taking on too much.
Practice this and using statements like “I need to think about taking this on this project/task. Let me get back to you” if you do not want to say outright no first up. If you feel you are not good at setting limits perhaps this is something that you need to explore. Can you think of areas in your life where you could say no more often?
On the other hand, you may have stopped saying yes, because you have been feeling drained. This may mean that you are missing out on new opportunities. Take some time to consider if you would be better off saying yes or no more often.
6. Understand more about burnout and ways to recognise and prevent it
Some common signs of burnout include; withdrawing from work or personal relationships, constantly feeling exhausted or experiencing a loss of motivation. Consider broaching the topic with your commander or with those you lead, about an opportunity to talk about burnout and to identify burnout prevention strategies that can be implemented at your unit.
Prioritise debriefs. Whether it be formal or informal make the time to get together on a regular basis to debrief and offer each other support and guidance. Make sure you have a trusted person to check in with — and do check in with them! Too often we don’t want to bother someone by sharing our struggles, but when you do, it gives you a release and gives other people permission to do the same. Ask yourself, what advice would I give the young people I work with if they were feeling like this? It certainly wouldn’t be to hold their feelings in! Remember – a problem shared is a problem halved.
8. Commit to regular self-education
Increasing your awareness with risk factors of working with young people through online research, finding new resources and talking with your peers helps with building skills and makes you feel as though you are on top of your game. Take advantage of opportunities for professional development. The right training, presentation, or article can build competencies and bring refreshing new perspectives, making your work more effective and rewarding.
You have heard it 1000 times, physical activity is one of the best ways to reduce stress.
Find something you enjoy and that is easy to do as you are more likely to do it regularly. It doesn’t have to be high powered running or gym work. Brisk walking is a great start – you don’t need special gear and you can do it anywhere. This includes for example if you are staffing a camp, make half an hour for yourself to just go for a light walk in the training program. This time is not a waste but will rather make you more effective as an instructor.
Many people join this organisation because they are dedicated to and passionate about making the lives of young people better. Those same motivations make self-care an important topic.
Take some time to reflect upon how we look after ourselves and our teams and make the effort to check in regularly as a part of our regular AAFC duties and personal well-being – not only for one-time or reactionary events.
Be open with each other and know its ok start that conversation.
The primary professional support resource available to you is the Defence Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP is a free, confidential and professional counselling service which may be able to help you process and cope with change. The EAP is contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1300 687 327. Further information about the EAP can be found here (https://members.cadetnet.gov.au/aafc/WHS/SitePages/Employee%20Assistance.aspx) or through the AAFC WHS portal.
Special thanks to Flight Lieutenant (AAFC) Laurinda Soemijadi (No.3 Wing) for drafting this article