Here’s the situation (you might have to imagine yourself in a pre-COVID world for this one): you’re on a plane, and there’s some pretty rough turbulence, the oxygen masks are down, and you need to decide whether you’re going to follow the advice from the air steward and put on your own mask first, or if you’re going to help the person next to you.
Self-care for healthcare practitioners is no different. Choosing to put on your own mask first is the essence of self-care and it has benefits for everyone around you because no one can pour from an empty cup.
Before you roll your eyes and move on, hold up a second, we’re not suggesting that you act like you’re in a remake of The Sound of Music or start running yourself endless bubble baths in the name of self-care. Instead, we’ve collected the top 9 science-backed self-care strategies to promote wellness, even if it seems like everything around you is out of control (and let’s face it, there are 101 reasons to be taking strain right now.)
It’s been another incredibly challenging year for healthcare professionals, and most are running on fumes. These practical strategies aren’t designed to make you ignore the realities you face, but rather, to help you find a balance between life at your practice and your wellbeing and self-care. And the best part is, they’re (mostly) free.
Worry, stress and anxiety aren’t the enemies here. They’re essential for survival. The problem comes in when your brain gets stuck in a pattern of fight or flight, which can negatively impact your mood, ability to function optimally, and even your health, stopping you from relaxing in your downtime.
Shifting from Pessimism to Optimism with Proven Self-Care Techniques
The good news is that if you’re stuck in the negative right now, you don’t have to stay in that dark, overwhelming place. People who have negative thoughts can change those patterns, finally finding the freedom and balance necessary for a happy life. This results in a change in brain activity, leaving you happier, more optimistic and better equipped to take on the challenges that life throws at you.
And the benefits?
According to one study:
“Optimism is associated with mood, coping, and immune change in response to stress.”https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9654763/
Plus optimists live up to 15% longer than pessimists.
So, how do you initiate the shift?
1. Practice Gratitude
One of the most effective self-care strategies for healthcare professionals is the practice of keeping track of the things you’re grateful for. Even if it’s once a week, it’s likely to make you more upbeat and improve your physical health too.
- Write a gratitude letter – One study followed participants who were asked to write a letter to someone who had been particularly kind to them and deliver the letter in person. The positive effects of this exercise were felt even a month later.
- Keep a gratitude journal – Write down things that you are grateful for; they could be big or small such as achievements, belongings you appreciate, or things that happened during the day. Gratitude apps work better for some people, and you can set a reminder to make journaling a daily habit.
- Stop and smell the roses – We get so caught up in our days that it seems nearly impossible to stand still and breathe. Set aside time in your day to meditate, take a walk around the block or enjoy a cup of coffee without picking up your phone.
- Share your successes – Telling a friend about something good that happened to you amplifies its effects.
- Take time away from your phone – You probably don’t need someone else to tell you that scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok isn’t going to make you feel good about yourself.
2. Develop an Optimistic Mindset
Being optimistic is a choice and not necessarily a default. But, it’s not too difficult to work on cultivating an optimistic mindset. It doesn’t mean ignoring the bad things or glossing over setbacks, but rather focusing on the positive in each situation. Sounds impossible? Luckily it gets easier with practice.
- Write down your goals and dreams – The physical act of writing down future positive outcomes and life goals has a number of health benefits.
- Look for silver linings – There’s often something good in difficult situations; try to hold on to those by asking yourself:
- Have I grown?
- What am I proud of in this situation?
- Do I have new skills?
3. Learn to Be Kind to Yourself
Remember that you are your own harshest critic and unhealthy self-talk leads to decreased motivation and increased feelings of helplessness. You’d never talk to a friend the way you speak to yourself, so stop!
Also, spoiling yourself is essential. Your mind can’t be on your practice 24/7. Instead, spend some much earned time (or money) doing something you enjoy, whether it’s a short trip, a trip to the spa, or a walk in the park.
- Always ask yourself if the negative thought is true – Forgetting a friend’s birthday doesn’t make you a terrible friend; you just made a mistake.
- Do a quick reality check – If you’re convinced you’re going to fail at something, think back to similar situations where you succeeded.
- Think how you would address a friend – Chances are you’d be a whole lot less critical and a whole lot more gracious if it were anyone else.
4. Learn to Reframe Negativity
Confidence in yourself, and your skillset, is the first step towards achieving your goals and practicing self-care as a health professional. Rather than devaluing the work you do, speak about your practice with pride and conviction. This can help spark a shift in your mindset because you’re motivating yourself to achieve your goals, and you’re also giving others confidence in your abilities.
With reframing, you’ll be amazed to see how you eventually manifest your goals and create the practice you’ve always dreamed of running. So, remember to check yourself daily and be mindful of how you speak to yourself and others about your practice.
Having pride in your achievements is an essential tool in practicing self-care.
Positivity doesn’t mean the absence of pessimism; rather, it’s the ability to redirect your focus away from the negative aspects of a situation so that you can focus on the positive.
If you want to stay positive, you might need to work on breaking negative thought patterns. While you can’t ignore reality, there’s no point in obsessing about things you can’t fix or don’t matter in the larger scheme of things. Unfortunately, focusing on the negatives affects your mood and can have a negative impact on your performance as well.
- Acknowledge negative thoughts and move on – Once you have the negative thought in a certain situation, ask yourself what the options are and move on. This will guide you back into a positive mindset.
- Understand that positivity is a choice – The quicker you reframe a negative experience, the more time you’ll spend feeling positive, and it becomes easier and more intuitive the more you do it.
- Get perspective – Try asking yourself if the issue is really worth all the energy that you’re spending on it.
- Set aside time to worry – This sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but it means you can mentally put the issue aside, and it buys you some time. There’s a good chance that you might already have come up with a solution during the course of the day, or the situation may have resolved itself by the time you get to your “worry session”.
- Distract yourself – This isn’t an excuse to google cat memes (although it can provide temporary relief), but you can take yourself out of the situation by putting on your favourite music, going for a walk, or watching a movie.
- Spend your time or money on yourself – Many of us tend to people-please, stretching ourselves beyond the point of self-care. Learn to see when it’s too much, and treat yourself once in a while.
- Market with pride – If you think marketing is pushy, it’s not. Instead of thinking of marketing as ‘sales’, rather think of it as communication. While the end purpose of marketing is existing client retention and new client acquisition, your marketing strategy can be focused on awareness, education and building a reputation. Consider these when compiling your marketing strategy.
5. Focus On Time Management
Running a practice can be overwhelming, and finding a work-life balance and the perfect clinic management systems can be challenging. We can easily feel like there’s not enough time to get everything done between personal and professional life.
Instead of throwing up your hands and complaining about not having enough time, think through the different areas of your life and practice you want to spend time on, and proactively block out time for these things. Treat the time you spend working ON your practice as just as important as personal time. (If you’re using Power Diary practice management software, block it off as a personal appointment so that it’s in your calendar.)
Leaving tasks to the last moment can cause you to feel overwhelmed and unnecessarily stressed. However, if you don’t balance your time, so you spend periods away from work, you’re likely to be even more overwhelmed.
By changing your mindset around the time you have available, you’ll quickly start to reap the rewards. In addition, you’ll likely get to a point where you can hire assistants to take some pressure off your day-to-day so that you can get even more strategic with your time.
- Develop a new mindset – For example, “I have plenty of time for everything I need to do.”
- Block off time in your calendar – So that you have time set aside to get everything done.
- Get proactive – Don’t leave things to the last minute; it just makes you more stressed and less productive.
6. Try Mindfulness
- Label your thoughts – Thoughts are just that; they’re thoughts. They’re not always true, they’re not always good or bad, and you shouldn’t always believe them.
- Meditate – Using a meditation app, breathing exercises, a body scan, or your own approach, try to carve out some time every day to check in with yourself. Use your clinic management software to set a daily reminder.
7. Foster Positive Connections
Strong relationships are closely linked to happiness, so be sure to spend time with your closest connections and people who bring positivity.
- Seek out people who build you up and make you feel good about yourself.
- Know your limits when it comes to helping your friends. While helping is essential when you have the emotional energy, it’s okay to say no if you find that you’re giving too much. Your healthcare work takes a lot out of you, so be sure to look after yourself and your immediate family first.
8. Make Changes
If you’re spending too much time working, you can make a change to give yourself a more balanced lifestyle. Whether it means taking a slight pay cut or hiring extra help, you don’t want to wake up one day to find that you were too busy working and missed out on golden opportunities.
- Do something fun – Break out of your routine and opt for some excitement. Join a hike, watch a comedy, or put on some music and dance around your living room. It doesn’t have to be a big event, but it will give you a little bit of room to breathe.
- Schedule a chat with a mentor – The pressures of running a practice can be overwhelming, so getting an objective perspective and some positive reinforcement can give you the motivation you need to keep going, giving you the chance to switch off at the end of the day.
9. Take Care of Your Body & Mind
As humans, we thrive on time in nature, exercise, nutrition and sleep. Self-care for healthcare practitioners is an essential key to running a successful practice and living a fulfilled life. If you’re skipping out on any one of these, your ability to think positively about yourself and your situation will be affected.
- Get enough sleep – Strive for 8 hours, but be guided by what your body needs; it may be more or less.
- Get out in nature – Join a hiking club, commit to one or two hikes a month, or make a list of natural highlights around where you live like this photographer did in a small town in England.
- Get some exercise – Combine your exercise with time out in nature where possible, but even a 20-minute walk around the block will make a big difference.
- Eat properly – Good nutrition is key for your physical and mental health. If you are time-constrained, work with a dietician or a meal delivery service.
- Take a hot bath – After all, there is something uniquely soothing about taking some personal time out, even if it’s not the magical cure-all that the media suggests
These are the top 9 tips for self-care for healthcare practitioners to help you move from surviving to thriving. They’re all backed by science and are accessible to everyone. If you’re spending too much time at your practice or struggling to find a balance between work and play, it may be that you need a mindset shift or a new approach to the way you work.
Note: This article is not medical advice, nor should it be considered a solution for anxiety or depression. The article is aimed at offering ways to cultivate a positive mindset. Please seek out the services of a mental health professional if you are struggling with anxiety or depression.