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Prioritising Self-Care as a Healthcare Worker

As a healthcare worker, the well-being of your patients is constantly on your mind. But do you treat your well-being with the same level of importance and care? Are you able to make time for yourself? Take a look at some simple strategies that can help you make self-care a priority.

The global pandemic has changed life for us all. The world today is filled with more stress, anxiety, and uncertainty than ever before. Many of us are locked down in our homes, staying indoors and staying safe. This, however, is not true for healthcare professionals.

If you are one of the many first responders to the ongoing health crisis, you might find yourself dealing with unique challenges. Not only do you have to put your own life at risk each day to take care of your patients, but you may also be struggling to manage an ever-increasing workload. It doesn’t help that the number of cases is growing day by day, and sometimes, you might feel like no matter how hard you work or what you do, it simply isn’t enough. You might also be away from family and friends, and might not have time to eat, sleep or rest. 

As someone in the healthcare industry, you already know how important it is to focus on your own health and to take care of yourself. However, in the midst of all that you have to manage, it’s easy for self-care to get deprioritised. But this is dangerous, and you already know why – not taking care of yourself can put you at risk, both physically and emotionally. Your immune system might take a hit, which in turn can make you vulnerable to diseases. You might also become more susceptible to emotional struggles like stress, anxiety and depression. And all of this can make it harder for you to take good care of your patients.

If you’ve given it a shot but have struggled to prioritise your needs, this guide will help. These simple tips and strategies can help you make time for self-care, so you can be a better provider for your patients while taking care of your own well-being. If self-care hasn’t crossed your mind yet, that’s okay, too. You could go through some of these strategies and think about which ones you’d like to apply to your own life.

Self-care essentials: Getting the basics right

Maintain a consistent sleep schedule

While working erratic schedules and incredibly long hours, your sleep might take a major hit. But good quality sleep is non-negotiable. Sleep is critical for your immune system to function well and can even help in maintaining good mood and energy levels throughout the day. While it might seem impossible, it’s important to at least try to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Having a consistent schedule can regular your body’s internal clock and make good sleep more likely. You could create a pre-sleep ritual by engaging in a few relaxing activities before bed. This can help you fall asleep faster and can improve sleep quality, too.

Stay active

Exercise releases feel-good hormones in your body that can elevate your mood, boost your immunity, and even improve the quality of sleep you get. Try to engage in some form of moderate or even light exercise, at work, home or while commuting if possible. If you’re at work, walk around the hospital corridor. If you’re at home, practise yoga or do some stretching. Exercise is a good way to release pent-up energy, so when you find yourself feeling restless, get up and get moving.

Take frequent breaks

Breaks can help you unwind and even recharge your body and mind. While long breaks might be difficult, try to squeeze in a few short breaks throughout the day. You can take a quick 15-minute nap, walk around your home or hospital corridor, eat a healthy snack or even talk to a friend or colleague. Remember that it’s important to spend your breaks wisely – so even if you are able to take just a few breaks in the day, do your best to make the most of them.

Keep a check on food and drinks

The substances you consume can have a strong impact on your mood, energy levels and even sleep quality. For instance, drinking coffee too close to bedtime can interfere with sleep. On the other hand, consuming alcohol or sugary foods can make you feel groggy and lethargic. As far as possible, try to have 3 meals a day. Incorporate nutrients and vitamins in your diet through fruits, vegetables, nuts or low-sugar cereals. Keep a filled water bottle so you stay hydrated during the day.

Self-care essentials: Maintaining emotional health 

Check-in with yourself

As you go about your busy day, you might not even stop to pay attention to your needs. To take care of yourself, you need to know how you are doing. Check in with yourself at regular intervals throughout the day. Ask yourself, “How am I doing right now? Is there something that I need?” This simple but powerful question can attune you to your needs. You can then take action to feel better and stay balanced.

Journal your thoughts

If you find yourself feeling anxious or distressed often, spend some time each day journaling your thoughts away. Note down what’s bothering you as descriptively as possible. Give yourself a time limit of  around 15 minutes to do this exercise. Journaling can give you a sense of relief and might also make it easier for you to think of a way to address a problem. 

Ground yourself in moments of distress

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, practise grounding. This is a mindfulness exercise that involves using your 5 senses to anchor yourself to the present moment. Identify things you can see in your environment. Notice the sounds you can hear around you. Become aware of what you are feeling. Try to identify any distinct scents or taste. Doing this for even a couple of minutes can shift your mind away from negative thoughts and emotions, and can give you the buffer to respond to a difficult situation more calmly. 

Disconnect from technology

The constant influx of information, news and updates can keep your mind active, alert and switched on. This can make it harder for you to feel relaxed and at ease, even when you are on a break. Set aside some time each day that is completely free of gadgets and technology. Put your phone on airplane mode or keep it away for 15 minutes. If you want, you can choose to do absolutely nothing during this time. This can give your mind a much-needed break, and can even protect your mood, energy and productivity levels. 

Stay connected

Social engagements and interactions might seem like a luxury at this time. While this is understandable, it’s crucial to be proactive about staying in touch with loved ones. Having social support can make you more resilient in the face of challenges – and you know better than anyone else that your life is filled with plenty of them at this time. Put in the effort to stay connected with loved ones. If possible, do activities together online – watch a show, play a game, or even have a meal together.

Be kind – to yourself

Even though you’re doing the best you can to help others, the current situation is uncertain – and this can make you feel as though you’re not doing enough. When negative, self-critical thoughts take over your mind, make a conscious effort to be kind to yourself. You could do this by practising positive self-statements, also known as affirmations. Acknowledge your effort and appreciate your good intentions. You could repeat to yourself, “I’m doing the best I can”, “I am making a positive difference in the lives of others”, or even “I am strong and capable of doing good things right now.”

Do things for yourself

At the end of each day, carve out a little time and space for yourself, and engage in an activity that you enjoy doing. After all, you deserve some me-time after all that you do for others each day. Making time for fun activities is crucial, as you may be dealing with a lot of negativity and stress on a daily basis. Immerse yourself in a good book, watch your favourite TV show, listen to soothing music, do some painting, spend time with your pet, or if you’re up for it, whip up a hearty meal for yourself.

Cultivate gratitude

When you’re feeling overwhelmed with all that you have to deal with, take a moment to appreciate everything that’s going well. Decades of research suggests that gratitude is not only beneficial for the mind but also for the body. You could try noting down 3 good things that happened during your day. You could be thankful for the weather or for any support you received from your colleagues. If you do this exercise right before bed, it can even help enhance the quality of your sleep.

As you work tirelessly to take care of your patients, make sure you find the time to pause and attend to yourself. Remember that self-care is an ongoing process – start small, but do make sure to start. Even simple changes to your everyday life can make a significant difference to how you feel, your ability to work, and your ability to be the best you can be for your patients.

References

Sleep, Physician Burnout Linked Amid COVID-19 Pandemic. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2020, from https://www.ajmc.com/newsroom/sleep-physician-burnout-linked-amid-covid19-pandemic

Wisetborisut, A., Angkurawaranon, C., Jiraporncharoen, W., Uaphanthasath, R., & Wiwatanadate, P. (2014, February 18). Shift work and burnout among health care workers. Retrieved June 09, 2020, from https://academic.oup.com/occmed/article/64/4/279/1464114

Shift, E. (2020, January 10). Shift Work Burnout: Causes, Red Flags and How to Beat It​. Retrieved June 09, 2020, from https://theothershift.com/shift-work-burnout/

Lacina, L., Brown, K., Jain, P., & Sharma, K. (2020, April 18). Give Covid-19 health workers a rest period. Retrieved June 09, 2020, from https://theprint.in/health/give-covid-19-health-workers-a-rest-period/403877/

Dr W. Clay Jackson Discusses Identifying, Addressing Clinician Burnout. (n.d.). Retrieved June 09, 2020, from https://www.ajmc.com/conferences/psychcongress2018/dr-w-clay-jackson-discusses-identifying-addressing-clinician-burnout

Farquhar, M. (2016). Fifteen-minute consultation: Problems in the healthy paediatrician—managing the effects of shift work on your health. Archives of Disease in Childhood – Education & Practice Edition, 102(3), 127-132. doi:10.1136/archdischild-2016-312119

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