Self-care key factor in community health

Editor’s Note: MAPP,  Mobilizing for Action through Planning & Partnerships, is a local coalition that aims to use and build upon our strengths to improve our individual, family and community health. Health is defined broadly to include cultural, economic, educational, environmental, mental, physical and spiritual health.  


When I recently got in touch with Dave Branding, CEO of South Peninsula Behavioral Health Services (the Center), I was surprised to hear he had watched the sunrise from the harbor. Turns out, Dave loves boats and harbors here in Alaska. Having been here almost four years, I’m guessing that his love of boats and harbors has grown from his appreciation for how they get him closer to fish. Dave is one of the most dedicated fishermen I know.

But running an organization as big as the Center has got to come with some stress, so I am glad that our area can offer Dave the moments for personal connection to what feeds him. Personal self-care is vital for health and resiliency.

When Dave originally moved up the ladder in the behavioral health field, his goal was to work with more than just one person at a time. Now instead of directly working on the emotional well-being of clients, he is more concerned with the well-being of an entire workforce who serve those clients. In these tight economic times statewide, he has mentioned his struggle with the conflict of knowing that staff needs to take time and care of themselves on one hand and while being productive enough to sustain the organization and its services to the community on the other.  

This is a common struggle. When do we cross over from enthusiastic encouragement to peer pressure and toxic stress? Can you identify it in your life? Is it at work or at home? If you can identify it when someone does it to you, can you identify it when you do it to someone else? Is it a habit or is it directly tied to how hard the day has been?

This is where self-care is of utmost importance.  How can we be balanced and supportive of others if we aren’t ourselves? This chain reaction of personal health affects our relationships to the people around us, our work environments, our community as a whole. No amount of self-care is too small or insignificant. Every flight attendant will tell you: put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. 

Knowing what feeds you and prioritizing it in your life is a huge part of that. Only then can you calmly step back and clearly see in others what they need and support them in that. For Dave, going fishing is the way he relaxes and stays centered.

At the Center, everyone is constantly connecting the concept of individual health to community health.  Homer is known state-wide as a caring community. Clients of the Center often receive services at home or learn skills in the community rather than being shuttered up in some facility. Seeing our connection to the bigger picture, to the community at large, is part of that individual health.

Really, it’s all connected. Individual health leads to better interpersonal relationships which creates better workplace and community environments. A more supportive community is also one that feeds the individual and families. It all comes around.

So where is the weakest link in your life? What is most in need of strengthening?

During the last MAPP community health needs assessment, the concept of toxic stress and ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) was identified as a root cause of a huge number of health issues. It is quantifiable. It is not just soft talk about how we should be all warm and fuzzy to ourselves and each other. It is concretely measurable. Toxic stress affects your brain, your body, your relationships.

The good news is that the cycle can be broken. At the Center, Dave was proud to tell me about Parenting with Love and Limits, a new program starting this week focused on supporting families through a combination of education and therapy. This program is evidence-based, meaning that SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has already proven that it works. Since so much of our emotional wellness is connected to all these other relationships, it is not surprising that a program that includes the whole family instead of just the individual is going to be more effective.

The connections between our individual, family and community health are endless, but easy to forget as we go through our day.  As a gentle reminder, thousands of Homerites will be receiving a packet in the mail with details about connecting on these different levels and what that looks like. Packed with information, images and stories, this packet won’t ask you to donate, join or jump onto any bandwagon.

It simply is asking you to think about the importance of connection.

To yourself.

To others.

To the community.

May we all be healthy.

Kyra Wagner is the coordinator of Sustainable Homer and a member of the MAPP steering committee.


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