As healthcare professionals, we are paid to dole out evidence-supported advice to help our patients attain and maintain wellness.
We tell them about the critical importance of getting a good quality and quantity of sleep. We tell them about the benefits of good nutrition and hydration, and the costs of self-neglect. We teach ways to be mindful and to approach one’s day in a well-paced, organized and balanced manner so as to reduce stress. We promote optimism and affirmation as we remind our clients of how far they’ve come since they were admitted into our care in order to spur them toward their best effort. We encourage their reaching out to others for support and social connection because research has shown how these habits promote wellness and independence.
We preach these evidence-supported practices in our daily work with patients, yet how often do we engage in them ourselves? Many healthcare settings have devolved into factory-like models with aggressive demands for productivity. It has become all too common for healthcare professionals to find themselves racing from one patient to the next with barely enough time to complete minimal care requirements and avoid being penalized for (you guessed it) decreased productivity.
Many colleagues (one of them my oldest daughter, a nurse in a pediatric heart ICU) describe literally running from patient to patient without time to use the bathroom, drink water, eat a snack or meal or connect with others beyond the tasks at hand. If our patients described this as their lifestyle we would for sure offer a corrective plan of action!
The work demands in healthcare settings are not likely to reduce any time soon. If you want to stay in the game and forestall burnout, you need to appreciate that your workday is a physical, mental and emotional decathlon, so you should treat yourself like the athlete you are. Let’s start with what happens outside of work, because you (hopefully) have more personal control over what happens at home.
First on the list is sleep. It seems that every week I read something new about the benefits of getting enough quality sleep, including improved mood, sharper cognition and better fitness. Schedule 7-9 hours of sleep daily, and keep to it. Period. Drink water — lots of it. Eat wisely. Exercise regularly. Schedule in some relaxing fun. Repeat. Take care of yourself as if you were competing in a demanding sport, because you are and your team is relying on you.
Plan ahead to sustain yourself during your shifts/workdays. Buy and keep with you high protein foods (think nuts or protein bars), healthy carbs (dried fruit), and water you can grab and consume on the run. If you get lucky and there’s an option to eat an actual lunch with your pals, take it and save your bring-along for tomorrow. But don’t just hope for the best; it may not be that kind of day. You’ll be running on empty or grazing at the vending machine, settling for junk food and sugary drinks. Ugh.
At least three times per day, take 15 seconds to stretch and breathe deeply. If you really want to reset your brain, try using an app to train it into meditation. I like Calm because you can start with very brief exercises, but there are many. Step outdoors or look out the window and notice the sky. Look for beauty and think about someone you love. Say a prayer or meditation message that helps you to feel centered and balanced. Pat yourself on the back for all you do, and appreciate the privilege of being able to help others.
Your work is so very important to your patients, team members and our world. Staying well will allow you to do and enjoy it for as long as you want to.