'Self-care is not selfish': Milwaukee VA chaplain advocates taking time for yourself

LAST UPDATED: September 20, 2022
Source: Va.gov​​
​Author: David Walte​r

If you think taking a vacation is self-care, think again. 
Instead of allowing a person to relax and recharge, vacations often bring their own share of headaches and stress – followed by the anxiety of returning to work and a slew of unread emails and pressure to jump back into the fray. Instead, Milwaukee VA Medical Center Chaplain Robert Allen says people need to be more aware of what “fills your cup” and carve out time to do that. 

“We need to identify what fills me, but also what drains me,” he said, noting that friends and family we love – as well as work we have a passion for – can also be draining. “You need to come into a balance where you are being poured into as much as you are pouring out.” That is just one facet to Allen’s prescription for self-care, which he lays out in his book “Self-Care: Let’s Start the Conversation.”

Allen advances four pillars of self-care: 
  • Retreat: “Simply get away,” he said. “Take ourselves out of whatever the chaos is so that we can finally breathe.” 
  • Reflect: “Take a step back and think, ‘What worked well? What things do I need to change or adjust?'" 
  • Replenish: “Whatever fills your cup in your most needful space, which means self-care is progressive; it is not stagnant. What you needed in your 20s is different than what you need in your 30s, 40s and 50s.” 
  • Restore: “After you have retreated, given yourself time to reflect and refilled your cup, now you can move forward … and implement things that you’ve learned about yourself.” 
“Self-care is what everybody needs to help them find their voice and what they need for themselves,” Allen said. 

Finding self-care 
Allen, hired in 2021 to head the hospital’s chaplaincy service, has a varied background in counseling, coaching, ministry and business. But it wasn’t until his clinical pastoral education classes that he encountered true self-care.
The assignment: Go somewhere and disconnect, with only a Bible and maybe pen and paper. So Allen went to a nearby park, where for the first 10 minutes his head was swirling, thinking about everything else he needed to do.

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