by Wade Drury, LCSW
The past couple years have sparked renewed interest in the life and work of Fred Rogers, aka Mr. Rogers from the children’s television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. As a social worker and life-long fan, I applaud the return of such a dear friend. I never met Mr. Rogers, personally. Yet, like others who watched his program growing up, I felt he spoke directly to me. His uniquely steady demeanor allowed children to explore thoughts and feelings about the world around them. Viewing the latest biopic film, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, reminded me of the impact Mr. Rogers made in my own childhood and how his self-care lessons remain relevant for me and other grown-ups today.
Self-care is often mistakenly viewed as a quest to avoid unwanted feelings. Although distraction from stressors can be helpful sometimes, it’s vitally important to connect with ourselves, to feel what we feel. Mr. Rogers had a special way of teaching us to welcome feelings. As he often taught, “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”
This lesson was reinforced in my graduate studies when learning about critical thinking. I thought emotions were impediments to critical thinking. However, I learned to be mindful of what my feelings might tell me about myself and my situation. I’ve learned that in honoring my feelings, I become more of my true self, personally and professionally. For example, I realize the power of honoring the frustration and anger I feel when a social policy negatively affects clients. I can channel those feelings into moments of empathy and acts of advocacy. Feelings aren’t a barrier to my work; they inform me of my own humanity amidst it.
Mr. Rogers demonstrated inexhaustible ways to express and manage our feelings, without hurting ourselves or others. As Mr. Rogers’ song What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel? says, we can choose positive ways to respond to feelings such as anger.
As a child, a favorite part of the show for me was when Trolley led us into the neighborhood of make-believe, where Mr. Rogers used puppets and imagination to explore how to manage big feelings. Now, I realize self-care often benefits from a bit of make-believe. Self-care strategies can be as diverse as our imaginations allow. A spark of creativity is often necessary.
Part of the beauty of being human is the creativity we possess to transform our experiences and feelings into meaningful moments. Imagination is not just child’s play. It can be an adult’s self-care companion.
Perhaps Mr. Rogers’ most meaningful self-care lesson is the transformative power of quiet, mindful reflection. A poignant scene in the new film depicts a practice Mr. Rogers often encouraged, pausing to reflect on the people who have had an impact on our lives. Self-care doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it’s about the self-care neighborhood.
We should intentionally take moments to receive the lessons given us, by curiously opening our hearts and slowing down. When we get swept away in the busy-ness of life, we often miss the self-care lessons all around us. One of my self-care mantras has become “When life gets busy, slow down.”
I encourage you—as Mr. Rogers often did—to reflect upon your self-care journey. Would you take that minute of reflection now, before reading past this sentence: Who taught you about self-care? I appreciate Mr. Rogers for all he continues to teach me. Perhaps he or someone else in your self-care neighborhood taught you valuable self-care lessons.
Please, won’t you be my self-care neighbor by sharing your reflections below?
Wade Drury, LCSW, serves as a social worker in Northeastern Arkansas. He is a contributing author in The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals, with the entry Relationships: Cultivating Your Garden.