In peer support self-care is critical, since so often you will be relating to the distress of others out of your own lived experience. That can be challenging and exhausting. Stress can also come from your own fears, worries and concerns about your ability to address the needs of those you support.
You might want to please many different people and find it difficult to say no to multiple demands. However, peer support is a two-way relationship in which both people pay attention to the health and wellbeing of the relationship. Self-care is not just something you do for yourself, but something that you can accomplish in mutually responsible relationships.
Many of us have been taught that helping another person means that you do everything for them. Ironically, this is one of the barriers to self-care. Another barrier is that you don’t tell the person what you are feeling or what you need because you are being paid to help them, or you think that you might stress them out.
When we pay attention to what the relationship needs rather than to what we think the other person needs, we discover that we share responsibility for both the challenges and successes we encounter in the recovery relationship. Since stress in peer support relationships can come from a number of sources, you could well encounter some of the situations or feelings listed below:
- feeling others’ pain to the extent that it becomes your own
- feeling unsure about whether or not your own needs and wants are important in the peer relationship
- feeling like you will let your peers down if you ‘relapse’ or appear to be struggling yourself
- not knowing how to say no, or when to say no to other peers or co-workers
- feeling responsible for someone else, especially around safety
- not addressing your own support needs.
Peer supporters can become isolated socially and professionally since many relationships are structured by service policy. This may result in fewer opportunities for individual support; particularly if peer supporters are working in the context of the services that they once used.
All peer supporters should consider ways to develop sources of support which could include:
- Form a peer support group in the community. You might want to network with other peer supporters in other organisations, and have opportunities for formal and informal meet-ups.
- Explore online sources of peer support. Don’t forget to explore sources that are nonwork related such as sports, book clubs, and crafts or hobby groups.
- Attend to your mind, body and spirit as you think about self-care.
- Build in time for you, as much as is possible — for example making sure you pursue your interests such as arts, reading, meeting friends and so on.