When Does Self-Care Turn into Self Indulgence?
I am a huge fan of self-care!
I lead a weekly group keeping first responders accountable for their self-care. I also lead a workshop on self-care to prevent depression, isolation, addiction, and burnout which is so common in careers continually exposed to secondary trauma. Police, nurses, therapists, and caregivers of all kinds are at the highest risk. I regularly receive secondary trauma from helping victims of violent crimes with conflict resolution and communication.
In the name of self-care, I don't work after I get home at night. I also get a weekly massage and debrief with other first responders. I intentionally try to have at least one day off a week to rest, and my personnel favorite is my boxing class. It relieves stress when I kick and punch while virtually replacing the punching bag with the latest criminal.
Lately, I have wondered if I have crossed the line from self-care to self-indulgence and avoidance. Saturday, I needed some hard-earned rest. I started watching a new series on Netflix. By Sunday, I had viewed four seasons nonstop! On Sunday night, I started getting sick with a sore throat and then a horrible case of hives. I had to cancel my appointments on Monday and Tuesday. On Tuesday night, I was feeling better but had two seasons left to watch in the series, and I wished I was still sick so that I could finish.
Had my self-care without warning turned into a new addiction?
I am trying to keep this in perspective, so I have not yet joined Netflix anonymous. I have become mindful that we need a wellness plan. We need accountability for self-care with someone who can relate. We need a way to reduce the symptoms of secondary trauma before disrupting our lives. I am now aware that self-care can be a slippery slope of denial that could lead to the behaviors I am trying to treat with self-care.
Was I trying to escape because I had burnout yet couldn't admit it?
The answer is yes, and no. I am always one trigger away from burnout. I am not saying I will give up television, but I will give up the thought process that it is in the name of self-care. The symptoms of secondary are real and identical to the signs of trauma. They include:
- Physical: rapid pulse/breathing, headaches, impaired immune response, fatigue
- Psychological: feelings of powerlessness, numbness, anxiety, fear, disillusionment
- Behavioral: irritability, sleep, appetite changes, isolate from others, substance abuse
- Spiritual: loss of purpose, questioning meaning of life, questioning good vs. evil
- Cognitive: cynicism, pessimism, hopelessness, preoccupation with clients, traumatic image
- Relational: withdraws or becomes “clingy”, distrustful, lack of interest in sex, lack of close friends
- Performance: decrease in quality/quantity of workload, low motivation, task avoidance
- Morale: decrease in confidence, decrease in interest, negative attitude, apathy
- Interpersonal: detached/withdrawn from co-workers, poor communication, conflict, impatience
- Behavioral: absent/tardiness, overwork, exhaustion, irresponsibility, poor follow-through
In conclusion, the real problem was not the binge-watching; the real problem was that I was experiencing secondary trauma without acknowledging it. I mistook a cry for help for self-indulgence. I was drowning from my last case, and I didn't recognize the hives and the fatigue and the need to escape as signs of vicarious trauma.
I have treated secondary trauma. I met with my accountability partner and talked about the case that hit too close to home. I tried a new sport hatchet throwing and pictured the latest perpetrator in the bullseye.
In the future, when I have unusual behavior, the first thing I will do is check the symptoms of secondary trauma.