As promotores, community workers, social workers and advocates we go the extra mile to help the families and individuals with whom we work. But is there such a thing as a mile too far? Often times we give and give at the risk at overtaxing our own physical, mental and spiritual health. At what point do your own needs take precedence over those of the people you’re helping?
Our Latino culture places a lot of responsibility, particularly on women, to take care of those around them, often at the cost of taking care of themselves. I often see our promotores and promotoras taking calls from families in the community at all hours of the day or night. When needed, they immediately get in their car and go to the aid of those in need, many times adversely affecting their own plans, family time or even personal time to rest and renew. And while they’re doing incredible work helping those families, they may be burning themselves out in the process.
It’s all about balance. Balancing your own needs with those of the people you are helping. There’s nothing selfish or greedy about it. As a matter of fact, those whom you are helping need you to take care of yourself first. We are like rechargeable batteries. As long as we’re charged, we can keep the motor going and keep what we’re powering moving. But if we run out of energy, we’re of no help whatsoever. It’s important to let that battery recharge fully before putting it to work again. And as long as you regularly take time for yourself and look after your needs, you’ll be in a good condition to continue helping others.
If you’re recharging—spending time with your family, sleeping or even enjoying that television show that helps you relax—it’s okay not to answer your cell phone when someone calls for help. Recharge, then check your voicemail and help with what you can. But you won’t be able to help much if you haven’t first recharged.
Listen to that voice inside of you that tells you when you need to step away. Are you tired? Getting resentful? Not sleeping well? You need to step back and spend time helping yourself before you help others.
Make some time for yourself. If you can, go out for a walk in the mornings. Spend a few minutes in nature every day. Or at the very minimum, close your eyes for a few seconds, refocus, reprioritize and then tackle what’s ahead.
If you’re a spiritual person, take time every morning to read, pray or write. Connect each day with your source of spiritual health and let it guide you through your day.
And by all means, have a sense of humor!
You’re dealing with troublesome, dire situations day in and day out. People are in need, in trouble or hurting, and you carry a lot of that weight with you. You need to laugh, find the positive in every situation and allow humor to help you through the hard times.
We need to be aware of our cultural tendencies to sacrifice ourselves helping others and instead set realistic boundaries that are healthy and still enable us to help as much as we can. And if you work with Latinos who are in caretaking roles, be cognizant of these cultural traits and help your coworkers maintain that balance in their lives.
There is a lot of work to be done in our communities, and we can only take on the great challenges in front of us and accomplish our goals if we remember to keep ourselves in the optimal health, mental and spiritual condition to help.