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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jacqueline Cahalan

Creating a Culture of Care

Lately, between managing sick kids and helping plan for an aging family member, I've been thinking a lot about the concept of "care." Taking care of others can be uplifting and fulfilling, but it can also be exhausting and emotional. It involves not only physical care and emotional support for those we love, but also emotional labor and housekeeping tasks, such as errands, paperwork, or otherwise planning for someone's needs. Taking care of others is typically unassuming and lacks glamour. It is also, very often, underappreciated.

One thing that is typically overlooked is how providing care for others, in any form, is ultimately about relationships. And relationships- to others, to our larger communities, and even to ourselves- are invaluable, essential constructs that can give our lives meaning and value.

But relationships are also messy. And as an extension of that, caring for others is equally messy. It involves opening yourself up and embracing people for who they are and what they need. It means recognizing when they are in pain, or acknowledging when there is a problem that you cannot solve. It requires allowing oneself to be vulnerable to the fact that we are not that different from those who are struggling and that their needs or hardships could easily be our own.

All of this can be quite overwhelming, and asking for help can be equally hard. Much of American culture places significant value on independence and self-suffiency, inherent within which is the fallacy that we should be able to do everything alone. So we often attempt to juggle the various demands, stresses, and responsibilities of life all by ourselves. And we feel like if we can't do it on our own, then we are somehow flawed or deficient.

We live in a world where to care for others is undervalued but it is also taboo to ask for help. There is talk about self-care, and taking time out from the daily grind to focus on our personal needs, but this is frequently perceived as indulgent, and it also feels like one more thing to juggle. The result of this is that we are left with no adequate ways to have our needs met, finding balance seems impossible, and there is very little space for meaningful connection with others. No wonder so many people feel chronically lonely, anxious, and/or depressed.

If we are going to have serious conversations about well-being, wellness, and mental health, we need a paradigm shift. We often talk about finding our Tribes or our Villages, but beyond just finding them, we need to find ways to fully embrace them, and to allow them to fully embrace us right back. We need to feel comfortable thinking about our relationships and our communities as networks of care that we are all a part of. Emphasizing this type of collective mentality will create spaces where we feel safe to be ourselves, and to engage fully in the world around us. Imagine how remarkable that would be.

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