Rebranding the Mindset of Self-Care

Katie Ouzounian discusses rebranding the concept of self-care and how it fits into the law enforcement community.

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A couple of episodes ago, I introduced you to wellness coach and law enforcement wife Katie Ouzounian with Episode 106: Are Values Driving Your Relationship? During one of our chats, she mentioned words to me that made me cringe. Self-care. Try telling an LEO spouse who is managing two to three kids, working full-time, has a spouse working undercover night shifts, investigation, or on call 24/7 that they need to “take time for themselves and practice self-care” Try telling an officer who is working their regular duties and picking up extra duty shifts to “take some time out.”  This lifestyle is not cut out for bubble baths, massages, yoga kind of self-care lifestyle. When Katie told me she wanted to talk about a different approach to self-care, I said to “bring it on” as a challenge for her to convince me otherwise. She did just that.

Rebranding self-care

While the idea of self-care seems easy, the stressors of the lifestyle make it difficult to act upon the traditional activities people think of as self-care.  Katie states that self-care is about mindset. The typical mindset surrounding self-care can be “fluffy and extra”.  She recommends that we replace those words with “gritty and essential”.  As a community, we are already familiar with getting “gritty”, digging in, doing hard things, and the sacrifice needed to do that.  “Angela Duckworth says grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. So, self-care is really just habits that we do to maintain our health, that allow us to keep doing what we want to do long-term.” shared Katie.

The deficit of self-care

As an officer or spouse, sacrifices have to be made over and over again and it can be difficult to find space for yourself. It is common practice to keep pushing through tough situations and you ultimately put the needs of everyone else first. Unfortunately, when we don’t do things regularly to take care of ourselves, we create a deficit and a lack of resilience. Over time, this can cause issues that affect your health, physical and emotional well-being as well as your relationships at home and work. To avoid the deficit, self-care needs to be proactive, so we are doing things to prioritize our health that are meeting our needs.

Time limitations

The spouse’s perspective

“Do you know what I do? I am trying to maintain a household. I am taking care of these three little bratty kids. I’m running around while my husband or spouse is out there working. They’re sleeping. I’m trying to keep the kids quiet. I have to do my housework at seven o’clock because they’re sleeping. I’m trying to cook my meal. What do you mean self-care?”

The officer’s perspective

“Self-care? Are you kidding me? I’m just trying to hold it together. Do you know what I do all day? I come home, my self-care is getting sleep and food. Take a bath? No. I have to take a shower to clean off the shit that I dealt with all day long. That’s my self-care. Between shift work, extra duty jobs, reports, and sleep, it seems like there is not enough time between shifts for self-care.”

The time constraints of the job and the impact it has on home life can make it hard to find a moment to breathe, let alone any extra healthy habits, but these healthy habits are needed! They help us maintain and sustain ourselves to have resilience and build up a reserve to get through hard situations. If we don’t act proactively, we eventually are forced to do things reactively, but how are healthy habits established?

How to set up proactively healthy habits

There are three main parts of self-care to keep in mind when establishing healthy habits. They are awareness, self-control, and self-reliance.

Awareness is being mindful of how to take care of yourself. Notice what your needs are, what’s helpful and how you feel emotionally and physically. We all have some of that knowledge, we just don’t always pay attention to it.

Self-control can be thought of in two different ways. One is realizing that you do have some control over most situations and how you’re reacting to them. The other is self-discipline. Self-care takes self-discipline and self-discipline is grit! When you find things that you like to do that feel good and that are good for you, the self-discipline aspect doesn’t seem so bad. A great example of this is working out. You may not want to work out some days but, you remind yourself that you need to in order to accomplish long-term health goals.

Self-reliance is the belief that we can act on something and actually do it.  This is important because it allows us to take action on things that we care about and believe that we can have an impact. Self-reliance can also be acting on developing solutions to a problem which helps us identify what works for us. If we don’t feel like a guideline is working, then is there a better alternative that is still beneficial?

How to take action on healthy habits

Start small and think about what you care about, what you value, and what is important to you.

The idea of self-care can be overwhelming. Start small with something that feels manageable and you can always build on it at a later time. Then think about how you can organize your life around your values and the small changes that are necessary for healthy habits. A lot of times when we can tie our values and what we care about into our behaviors, they are more successful. Think about New Year’s resolutions. The reason they fail is because they are rooted in something that is temporarily important or unrealistic.

How to find the time

If time is holding you back from self-care, it is helpful to find something that you can let go of to make room for something more helpful. Let go of behaviors, things, or people that you’ve committed to that are sucking up time and energy that you aren’t getting value from.

Don’t discount anything that helps you process stress or brings enjoyment. Maybe it is a nice hot shower or going for a run. Whatever habit you choose, make it part of your routine.

Everyone’s healthy habits will look different.

Don’t draw comparisons from your habits to someone else’s. With shift work, self-care habits will look very different than a 9-5 job or one that has flexibility with their schedules. The same mindset applies when it comes to a family with kids and a family without. While you can learn by watching what other people are doing, it may not work for you. Find what works for you and your family.

Have flexibility and learn from setbacks.

If your idea of self-care doesn’t work, it is ok. They are not failures. It provides you with information that this one way that you tried something, just didn’t work. How did you grow from that experience? Try something different and adjust.

Don’t shame yourself!

There’s no shame in your game if you are not implementing those healthy habits, self-care type of things all the time. It takes practice to create a routine where self-care fits in!

Something is better than nothing!

Whether it be an hour run, a 15-minute walk, or sitting in silence in the dark for 5 minutes, something is better than nothing. Self-care is not an all or nothing mindset. The little things matter and can add up over time!

Say no!

Saying no is hard, but sometimes it is the best resource that you have when developing and maintaining healthy habits. Whether saying no to people or activities, it can actually clear up space and energy for you! It is understanding the mindset that there are things you can resist that will provide you with healthier habits in the end.

Self-care doesn’t have to be a dirty word.  It is about essential habits, grittiness, and developing proactive healthy habits so you do not wind up in a deficiency that will impact your resilience and your ability to move through difficult situations. Your brain can constantly learn habits. It can change, it can shift, but you have to have the mindfulness and awareness to be able to do it. When we start to change our mindset and we incorporate healthy habits, it can move us into greater resiliency, which is absolutely essential in law enforcement.

Katie is a wellness coach and has a coaching practice, Tough Roots, that focuses on helping first responders and their partners, as well as healthcare workers, define, attain and sustain wellness. She is the spouse of a first responder and has been married for seven years.

To get in touch with Katie visit: toughrootswellness.com  

Angela Duckworth: Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

Rick Hansen- Positive neuroplasticity: The Positive Neuroplasticity Training

Atomic Habits: Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

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Rebranding the Mindset of Self-Care

Katie Ouzounian discusses rebranding the concept of self-care and how it fits into the law enforcement community.

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