MODULE SIX | Family Matters: Self Care for Family Members of Humanitarian Workers

PART FOUR | Thriving as an Individual

“People who believe they have the power to exercise some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective and more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes in their lives.”
— (Albert Bandura, Canadian psychologist)9

Strength factors for thriving

There are many ways of thinking and acting that can help you flourish and learn in the face of stress – we can call these characteristics strength factors for thriving. Here are just a few of the characteristics research suggests help people thrive. Some of these you may already possess; some you could develop with attention and practice:10

  • Good social support: Having relationships that involve give and take and provide safety, encouragement, reassurance, intimacy, and support. Well-developed communication skills and the ability to secure and maintain good relationships are vital keys to emotional health.
  • Self-esteem: Believing that you are valuable and capable. This is an important part of feeling that your life is worthwhile and that you have inner resources that can help you deal with challenges.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Being able to “go with the flow” when things take an unexpected turn, while still maintaining some necessary sense of personal control.
  • A sense of personal control: Feeling that you generally have control over (or that you can at least influence) what happens to you in life rather than feeling like a helpless victim of fate.
  • Realistic optimism and humor: A general tendency to expect the best in things and to look for positive meaning and the funny side of life. This is also related to a tendency to experience positive emotions (even alongside negative ones like anxiety and frustration).
  • Curiosity and openness to experience: An active desire to learn and openness to new experiences in life and relationships.
  • Viewing stress as a challenge rather than a threat: The tendency to see change, problems, and even crises as opportunities for growth rather than problems that can’t be solved.
  • Active, problem-oriented coping: The tendency to be proactive and problem solve, to take action in the face of stress instead of just detaching, ignoring it, and wishing it would go away.
  • Active spirituality: Spirituality refers to your deepest sense of meaning, purpose, hope, and faith (often a belief in a power apart from your own existence and a coherent “meaningfulness” in the universe). Active spirituality involves knowing what you believe and value, and engaging with life in ways that feed your sense of groundedness, connection, and coherence.
There are many ways of thinking and acting that can help you thrive in the face of stress. Some of them may come naturally to you, while others can be developed with attention and practice.

To think and discuss…

Look at the list above:

  • What is missing from this list – what other characteristics help you thrive in the face of stress?
  • Which of these characteristics come naturally to you?
  • Which would you like to develop further?


You might be reading this because you are feeling stressed yourself. You might be reading it because a family member is stressed and you want to help and support him or her. Either way, taking the time to think about how well you take care of yourself is important. If you’re stressed, self-care is the first and best line of defense. If you want to help someone else, it’s important to do what you can to stay balanced and healthy yourself in the process. You will be in a much better position to support them consistently and effectively if you reach out from a position of personal strength and stability.

Self-care is doing things that use or help you build strength factors for thriving. Everyone is different when it comes to what helps them feel relaxed, less stressed, and better equipped to thrive. Here are 20 different self-care techniques that can help you stay healthy and grounded – even thrive – in the face of stress.


  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Practice muscle relaxation or deep breathing
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and other substances to healthy levels


  • Realize that stress is a normal part of life, recognize its signs, and understand its impact
  • Have realistic expectations of yourself – you do not have to do everything perfectly
  • Practice being grateful and look for positives, even in times of high stress
  • Remind yourself of times you coped with stress before, and what helped you then
  • Acknowledge negative feelings, but don’t allow yourself to dwell on them for days on end


  • Connect – talk to and spend time with others
  • Create – write, draw, paint, sculpt, play music, or photograph
  • Watch, read, or listen to something uplifting or soothing
  • Laugh or smile
  • Cry


  • Participate in a community of meaning and purpose (e.g., a faith community)
  • Pray and/or meditate
  • Read or discuss something that inspires you or reconnects you with a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Spend time with art or music
  • Spend time in nature
If you’re stressed, self-care is the first and best line of defense. If you want to help someone else, it’s important that you do what you can to stay balanced and healthy yourself in the process.

Investing in your own physical and mental health is worth doing – it has payoffs for both you and others. If you’re not used to thinking about whether or how you take care of yourself, it can be hard to know where to start, and perhaps tempting not too. Don’t get overwhelmed! Remember that everyone is different, and the key is figuring out what works well for you. Then, bit by bit, practice different actions and ways of thinking that can help you take care of yourself. Just like getting fit takes time and consistency, self-care takes practice too. Over time it will probably come more naturally and require less effort and attention.

If you’re already pretty good at taking care of yourself, use the following questions as a “checkup” to help you think about your relative strengths and weaknesses, and where you could improve.

To think and discuss…

Think about the sources of your stress you identified in the chapter on Stress and trauma:

  • What are things you do to take care of yourself that help you deal with that stress?
  • Which of these four self-care areas (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) is your strongest?
  • Which one is your weakest?

Think about what you learned above about strength factors for thriving:

  • How do some of the self-care techniques you already use help you exercise or develop strength factors for thriving?
  • What are some specific things you can do that might help you further practice or develop strength factors for thriving?

Setting and meeting achievable goals is another characteristic associated with thriving:

  • What are two self-care techniques you would like to use in the next month?
  • What is one self-care goal you can set for this next week? What will you do? When? Where?
© Headington Institute 2009