It’s common in the healthcare profession: you spend so much time taking care of your patients and your responsibilities, you don’t find the time or just plain forget to care for yourself. Ignoring your own needs can be incredibly damaging, though, and can often lead to or exacerbate burnout—a problem that was well-documented as being widespread in healthcare long before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and one that has surely become worse since. This Valentine’s Day, give yourself the gift of self-love by practicing these five self-care tips for healthcare professionals to support your physical, emotional, and mental health.
Breathe Through It
We know, you’re busy enough as it is, but self-care doesn’t have to be a huge part of your day, or a giant commitment. Even if you start small with just a few minutes of mindfulness, you can still make a real difference in balancing your mind and adding wellness to your routine. Breathing can be an effective way to relieve stress and to ground yourself, and it can be done just about anywhere—at home, in a break room, or in your parking spot before or after work—making it the perfect self-care exercise, even for the busiest of healthcare professionals. Take time to settle into stillness and just breathe, be it on your own, guided by a meditation app like Calm, or with the help of a short YouTube video on mindful breathing.
?? Action Step: Soften or close your eyes. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Breathe out through your nose for four seconds. Repeat four times.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Just like the physical boundaries you encounter on any given day, such as walls and doors, the mental and emotional boundaries you set for yourself are meant to protect you. It is important to remind yourself that even though drawing lines may be uncomfortable at first, you are doing so out of respect for yourself and for your own well-being. Examples of healthy boundaries you can set may look like resolving to physically and mentally leave work at work, learning to say no to things you cannot, do not want to, or do not have the capacity to do, and granting yourself the time and the physical and mental space at home to unwind after a long day.
? Action Step: Begin to develop at least one healthy boundary you can set for yourself related to something or someone that may be triggering stress in your personal or professional life.
Enrich Your Body
We shouldn’t have to tell healthcare professionals this, considering you have such a firm grasp on how the human body functions, but your own body needs fuel to function, too. It’s not just your patients who need plenty of water, nutrient-rich foods, and restful sleep. Be sure to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. You should also avoid foods that can trigger a stress response, such as caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars. Instead, reach for foods that can lower stress levels, such as soothing warm foods, like soups or teas, antioxidant-rich dark chocolate, or avocados, which are packed with stress-relieving vitamins C and B6. And, of course, set yourself up for a restful night of sleep, whatever that looks like for you. Some helpful ways to get meaningful rest might include hanging blackout curtains, wearing an eye mask, taking melatonin before bed, or setting your thermostat to 65 degrees Fahrenheit for the most comfortable sleep, according to the Sleep Foundation.
? Action Step: Commit to drinking at least 64 ounces of water each day this week. A marked water bottle may help, if you have trouble getting your sips in.
Unburden Your Mind
Journaling can be an effective way to release emotions you have trouble expressing otherwise, be they negative or positive, or freeing thoughts that, otherwise, have no place to go. If you’re a morning person, try starting your day by committing ten minutes to journaling—set an intention for the day ahead, reflect on the wins and challenges of the day prior, or just write down everything that is on your mind. If you are struggling to find positivity in your daily life, try keeping a gratitude journal, to avoid focusing on your problems and to develop a greater appreciation for the positive things in your life. No matter what you write down, or when you do it, make time to unburden your mind on a regular basis.
? Action Step: Write down five positive things from your day. Here is one to get you started: “I am alive and breathing.”
Whatever makes you happy, whoever brings you joy, make time for those people and hobbies as often as you can. After your shift, snuggle your pets or your partner, cook a good meal or order in, curl up with Netflix or go for a hike, call a friend or read a book, plan a vacation or go for a drive to unwind. Take the time to partake in whatever it is that typically brings you joy, or try new hobbies to fill your time, instead of stewing in the negativity of your day. Getting out of your routine of work, eat, sleep, repeat might be just the thing you need.
? Action Step: Call or text a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. It may not only be good for your mental health to reconnect with them, but they may benefit from it, as well.
You Can Always Ask for Help
Sometimes, the best way to care for yourself is to ask others for help. If you are struggling, please know you are not alone. You are just a call or text away from reaching professionals who can help you to process what you are experiencing. If you need support, reach out to them at:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) Disaster Distress Hotline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746.
- The Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK.
Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.