By Angelina Whalen
It's no secret that those who practice healing or caregiving professions are at high risk for burnout. Spending the majority of your time "other" centered can often leave you with little to nothing left in the tank for your family let alone yourself. Self-care, though seemingly simple enough to implement, is often left at the very end of the day's To-Do List. As a mental health professional myself, I don't fail to see the irony in the fact that I am much better at caring for others than I am myself. Another observation though, is that I am a far better therapist (mother, wife, friend, etc.) and thus produce better outcomes for my clients, when I am practicing consistent self-care.
Self-care yields the most positive results when it is incorporated throughout the day, versus occurring as a single event in the day (i.e. "I exercised today, so I took care of myself"). While any activity spent filling yourself up is time well spent, I'm suggesting more of a culture shift in how we prioritize ourselves in the thick of taking care of everyone else. This starts with something as simple as bringing more awareness to ourselves. I'm speaking for instance, about the times you wind up at the end of your shift having failed to take care of your own basic needs such as eating, drinking water, or even using the restroom (you know it happens!). Surely your body and mind were giving you signs that you needed to do these things, but you were either too busy to be aware of them or you chose to ignore them. Becoming more mindful of your own thoughts, feelings, physiology, and needs throughout the day is a fantastic first step in your quest to live and practice from a full cup.
Creating structure in the chaos is another helpful way to prioritize self-care. As a medical provider, it's unlikely that you spend each day in exactly the same fashion. There are cancellations, last-minute bookings, emergencies, complex patient needs, and office/personnel issues among other things that can cause your days to fluctuate. This doesn't even include all the things that can occur before you even show up to work! Finding ways to create--and stick to--a routine or schedule can decrease stress levels and promote opportunities for self-care. At work this might look like scheduling break/lunch times into your calendar or even setting recurring alarms on your device to remind you to take care of you. Forcing yourself to get outside of the office to eat, go for a walk, or just breath and soak up some Vitamin D is always beneficial in ensuring you spend your down time productively.
While creating structure in the workplace is important, this concept might be most practical in making the most of the time you have available before/after your shift. Maybe you start each day by preparing breakfast, enjoying a cup of coffee, or going for a run. Maybe before bed you read a book, listen to some music, or write in a journal. How you spend your "you time" will depend on your unique interests but the point is to intentionally designate time, in at least 15 minute increments to be spent uninterrupted and maybe even alone for the sole purpose of YOU. This time will always serve you best if it is spent in the absence of phones, laptops, or anything that can lead to work. If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can event incorporate one of these 15 minute time slots into the middle of your work day.
As a physician, it is important to remember that you are in a leadership role regardless of where or what you practice. As such, you play a huge part in setting the tone and vibe for your staff and patients, more so with you do than what you say. Encouraging self-care activities for all staff members and asking them to hold you accountable too is a great way to cultivate a positive work environment while keeping you on track with your self-care goals. Your patients will always pick up on the subtle things, and presenting them with the best version of yourself is not just good business, it's good self-care.
Angelina Whalen is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Owner of Valor Counseling, LLC in Lake Nona. She is passionate about mental health, and reducing the stigma that still surrounds it by raising awareness and through serving her community.