Make the Time for Self-Care!

By Brian Passenheim, Assistant Chief Probation Officer, Placer County

How you care for yourself physically and mentally impacts how you show up at home and work. There have been points in my life where I was good at setting time aside to recharge and many times where I failed. I have learned that you should invest in yourself daily, as there are limitless ways, including exercise, meditation, hobbies, continuous learning, volunteering, and anything that brings you happiness. 

As I reflect on my journey, I recognize that I had self-care dialed in as a kid, and I didn’t know it. My parents ensured I was involved in sports from an early age, with daily exercise, building positive relationships, and receiving feedback to reinforce things I did correctly and needed to improve. My self-care continued when I left California and attended college in the Midwest. I participated in prosocial activities, learned about life in smaller communities, and experienced what it was like to work on ranches. I chose to join a profession in community corrections, where I aimed to help others with behavior change. To be present for others in this role, I needed to practice self-care with positive daily habits, including working out regularly. I found an accountability partner, and we rotated weeks, picking each other up to go to the gym. When you know someone is waiting outside in the cold for you, you’re less likely to skip your workout.

In this profession, when people are at their lowest point, you have to establish credibility; they need to know and trust that you want to see them succeed. It takes a balance of building trust and accountability to get buy-in to incrementally work towards a larger goal for them. Here is an excerpt from a card I received from one of the clients I worked with, “I just want to thank you for all the help, encouragement, and guidance you have given me. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have you as my P.O. I have always felt that you were there to help me, and you did and I really needed it.”  It is gratifying to assist someone in improving their life. In addition to increasing their quality of life, they positively impact their family and community. After moving back to California, I continued working in community corrections as a probation officer. Initially, I set aside time to exercise, but this quickly disappeared. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize the consequences before it impacted my relationships with family and friends and overall health. I was often tired after work and did little in the evenings. I was different when I would get together with family and friends, as I lacked the energy I previously had when practicing self-care. Over time, there were fewer invitations from family and friends to spend time together. When I realized this, I recommitted to self-care, starting with a small commitment of 20-30 minutes of exercise each day. After a few weeks of regular exercise, my energy levels returned to their previous levels, and my relationships quickly improved. 

I maintained this routine for years until I returned to school to pursue my master’s degree, where my self-care switched from exercise to learning with some exercise sprinkled in.

After finishing school, I focused on exercising and utilizing other ways of practicing self-care to be present for others. One thing I love to do is go for a run, and over the past year, with accountability partners, started trail running. One individual helped me grow and achieve goals I never thought possible. I recently completed my first 50k [BC4] ultra race. I have to be honest; it was painful. The journey leading up to the race was rewarding and positively impacted my mental and physical health.

Another accountability partner calls me out when they notice I need to increase self-care. An additional accountability partner recently got me into mountain biking. He is a role model in self-care who spent time with me riding on trails and teaching me new skills. 

Everyone should have a hobby, as there are endless options to try. You can volunteer at an event that brings you joy, meditate, read, or learn something new. One of my hobbies is learning how to play the guitar.

Many of us are so focused on caring for everyone else’s needs that we neglect ourselves. Ask yourself: What advice would I give my kids, significant other, and closest friends? If I am not working on being the best version of myself, how am I helping those around me?

Taking time for wellness allows me to be fully present for those in my life at home and work. I have handwritten notes from my daughters under my keyboard at work that remind me why I need to be present for them. I read these notes periodically for a mental boost, especially during a challenging day. In one letter, my daughter wrote, “You inspire me every day to be a better person and to always strive for greatness.”  Another daughter wrote, “You’ve taught me to be kind, caring, responsible, and respectful.” The truth is that my kids are the ones who uplift me and have taught me to be a better person. I enjoy sharing my journey, as it is not unique to others. Caring for yourself is not selfish, especially when those around your benefit. Think about how well your days go when you take some time for yourself versus days you don’t!

From my experience, I have learned that self-care takes practice and that allowing time each day is critical to your health. When I get off track, I don’t stay down for long; I quickly get back on track, not focusing on how I failed. If you are not taking the time for self-care, start with a short daily commitment, like going out for a 30-minute walk to start your day. If you drink coffee, walk to your nearest coffee shop and reward yourself with a freshly brewed coffee. Another option is to take two fifteen-minute walks on your work breaks, taking time for fresh air while separating from your electronic devices.

Also, consider having an accountability partner. Having people around you who care about you and your physical and mental health and who you allow to hold you accountable is key to self-care. The payoff in the overall quality of life for yourself and others is worth the time spent. 

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