When you work in a health-related field, you are very others-focused. Putting patients' needs before your own, working long hours and having household or other life responsibilities often take priority over taking care of yourself. Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to consider shifting your priorities, or at least carving out some time for self-care. Why? Because in order to most effectively take care of others, first and foremost, you need to take care of yourself.
by Mike Whitmer in Practice Procedures on Thursday, May 23, 2019
When you work in a health-related field, you are very others-focused. Putting patients’ needs before your own, working long hours and having household or other life responsibilities often take priority over taking care of yourself.
Mental Health Awareness Month is a time to consider shifting your priorities, or at least carving out some time for self-care. Why? Because in order to most effectively take care of others, first and foremost, you need to take care of yourself.
Mental Health and Your Practice
You probably notice when a patient visits and is bringing in some of their own stress and high emotions. Are you able to recognize in yourself when your own stress levels and emotions are running high? Bringing your own stress into the workplace, or internalizing the stress and burdens of others, can lead to potentially hazardous outcomes for you, your patients and your practice. Before your burnout reaches a breaking point, take your health into your own hands.
Here are 10 ways you can take care of yourself, even when it feels like you can barely manage the time.
- Breathe. It seems so simple. Just breathe. Deep-breathing exercises are one of the most surefire ways to quickly calm down when you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or emotional. Slowly and deeply inhale through your nose, feeling your diaphragm expand. Then exhale through your mouth, concentrating on your breath and feeling your stomach fall. Repeat until you find your body relaxing.
- Do a little exercise. Even if for just 10-15 minutes a day, a little exercise can make a big difference. Take a short walk during a break at work, or make some time for a few minutes of yoga to start and/or end your day, which is great for both strengthening your body and mind.
- Practice gratitude. Being thankful can improve your health both mentally and physically. If you find yourself getting frustrated, in the moment, find something you are grateful for. Consider creating your own gratitude journal, which can be helpful to look back on when you’re having a hard day. Your gratitude doesn’t have to be work related; simply the practice of thinking about or writing what you’re grateful for in your life will have a positive impact on your outlook and stress levels.
- Know when to say “no.” In your position it’s probably way too easy to say “yes” to everyone and over-commit yourself. There is a guilt that comes when saying “no.” This makes the elusive idea of balance in your life that much harder to achieve. It’s OK to give yourself permission to say, “No” or even, “Not right now.” There is a freedom that comes in setting that boundary. You may be disappointing someone in the moment, but in the long run your mental health and the safety of your patients are most important. Keep this perspective the next time you find yourself not wanting to take on one more thing.
- Choose kindness. Not just toward your patients, but also yourself. Giving yourself grace and self-affirmations can help you reset your mind. Think of talking to yourself as you would someone you care about who is going through a hard time. Don’t you deserve the same level of kindness and compassion?
- Get enough sleep. While this may seem obvious, often times it is way too easy to burn the candle at both ends. Not enough sleep can result in difficulty concentrating and poor judgment, neither of which are beneficial to bring into the workplace. Listen to your body and know when you need to rest, before you find yourself crashing.
- Cultivate relationships. Spend some time investing in relationships, whether getting to know colleagues in your office or making time to be with family and friends. Be present when you are with people (rather than on your phone) and enjoy their presence and the opportunity to connect.
- Pray or meditate. A little spirituality can go a long way in helping you develop a healthy mind and bring a sense of calm and peace into your life. No matter your form of prayer or religious beliefs, the positive benefits are the same.
- Do what brings you joy. Outside of work what do you enjoy doing for fun? If it takes you a long time to think of an answer to that question, that means you really need to spend some time with yourself. What did you enjoy doing when you were younger? Tap into some of your former hobbies and consider exploring new ones.
- Protect your financial health. One of the most important ways to protect your mental health is to protect your financial health. Stay tuned for future blogs where we will give you ideas and tips on how you can safeguard your finances.
Self-care isn’t one size fits all. Find what works for you. The important thing is to recognize your mental health and well-being and practice self-care. Just as when you travel you are advised to put on your own mask first, you also need to adequately care for yourself first and foremost so you can be the best version of yourself as you care for your patients.