Lets Talk About Self-Care

I have been thinking a lot about self-care in my work with patients experiencing high-stress circumstances.  In my practice, with peers and patients, I tend to ask, “what are you doing to take better care of yourself?”  The frequent response is so common it could be considered universal …blank stare, awkward silence, and a sheepish, “I don’t know,” usually accompanied with a shrug. 

I recently attended a professional development seminar with educators and other social service providers.  Self-care was one of the topics of discussion and it seems that our profession needs some reminding that self-care is an important part of maintaining professional performance. 

When thinking about your own self-care, it may be helpful to assess what current measures are in place.  Start by reaching for your written self-care plan and review the steps therein for efficacy …before you stare blankly let’s think about your plan a little differently.  If your plan is memorized, that’s fine.  You can probably list a couple of things off the top of your head.  But think about how we approach this with patients.  Typically we establish baseline and develop evidence-based strategies as part of a bigger, goal-driven plan, to establish progress. 

In January, my goal setting blog suggested broad strokes for goal development as a part of a strategy to focus and fulfill a declarative New Year’s resolution.  Twelve monthly goals as a means to achieving an overall annual goal.  A self-care plan could start the same way, but a more detailed plan is likely to yield more satisfying results.                  Start by thinking of self-care as several parts.  The first part is made up of all the little things you do in real time to set, and reset, in between patient encounters and other segmented work tasks.  Deep breathing, micro breaks, stretches, eye-strain relief, etc.  Avoid conflating these self-care items with pandemic protocols, although proper PPE and frequent hand-washing can also be an important part of a self-care plan. 

Next, think of (and write down in your self-care plan) some things you can do in your leisure time that will refuel and reward your hard work.  There may be some things you do for yourself (or your family and friends) outside of your self-care thinking.  Reconsider some of these items and then consider incorporating them into your plan.  The aim is to measure your plan for efficacy.  Some elements of your plan may become obsolete (or at least less effective) … consider updating certain aspects of your plan to improve efficacy.  Use of a self-anchored scale, 0-5 or 0-10, will help you measure your stress levels.  Keep track of your measurement in your self-care journal or workbook. 

Celebrate your victories (great and small)!!  By journaling your goals and accomplishments you will see real progress (or stagnation and the need to rethink some of your approaches).  No accomplishment is too small for your list (depending on how stressed you’ve been feeling lately).  Replacing the high caloric lunch with a light salad and a brisk walk … Victory!  Motivating yourself to planning (and budgeting) that vacation you always wanted … Victory!  Starting a self-care journal that includes scheduled tasks, accomplishments, and long term goals … you get the idea.

Now if you want to level up – think about having a couple of different self-care journals (or chapters).  Develop the idea that education and career advancement can be elements of self-care.  Using some of the same patient motivational techniques to assist your thinking and action.  Reading a professional journal article every day - self-care.  Volunteering to serve a board or work group – self-care.  Taking or teaching a class – again …I think you see where this is going …

HOW ?!??!  How is any of this self-care?  Aren’t you just adding commitments that will increase your overall stress with more deadlines and expectations?  The key here is balance and timing.  If you’re under high stress now, adding obligations to your already booked schedule is likely to increase some of your stress.  Part of self-care is folding into your day, week, year, and life, elements that lead to you feeling fulfilled.  Again, some of the things on your plate may be of less use to you at this stage of your career.  Consider replacing some things with more effective self-care elements, and plan – plan – plan as a means to ensure efficacy.  

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