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Self-Care for Healthcare Professionals

Self-Care for Healthcare Professionals

By Amanda Smith, LCSW

As healthcare professionals, it can often be challenging to practice good self-care because we are usually taking care of multiple other people at the same time. Working in healthcare during this global pandemic has made it nearly impossible to even think about the word “self-care” without feelings of pure exhaustion.

Luckily, as healthcare professionals, we can take care of ourselves even in a time like this. It’s all about getting creative and shifting our mindset. If we can redefine and reimagine our expectations for self-care, we will start to see those little self-care moments pop up from time to time.


First, Let’s Take Inventory

To do our job right, it’s always important to take inventory of our resources and supplies. But as healthcare professionals, we also need to take stock of our fundamental personal needs. Most of us work very well in a crisis, which speaks to the art of the profession-it’s basically in our DNA. It’s what makes us do our job well. However, living in a crisis mindset can lead us to neglect our most basic needs.

The first step of self-care for healthcare professionals is to figure out what we need. Try to take a few seconds out of our day to check in with ourselves. We are human, just like those we take care of, so it’s important to remember that we get hungry and tired, too. We have feelings just like everybody else. We get mad, sad, glad, happy, irritated, irritable, excited, bored, and scared. It’s unrealistic to think that we are immune to these human experiences. Once we have an idea of our needs, we can then move into designing a self-care plan.


Dealing with Compassion Fatigue

When I talk with healthcare professionals, I often hear that it can be exhausting to take on a caretaker role 24/7. Our job doesn’t stop when we clock out-healthcare professionals are also parents, spouses, friends, roommates and neighbors. Unfortunately, it’s tough for us to leave work at work. We have to attend to others’ needs in our lives while also finding time to take care of ourselves.


Compassion fatigue comes from overextending ourselves for a significant amount of time. We knew we’d experience this when we signed up in this field, but working as healthcare professionals in the middle of a pandemic has led us to experience more compassion fatigue than usual. We must recognize this and make efforts to practice self-care when we can.

The best way to take care of yourself when you are struggling with compassion fatigue is to put yourself on your calendar every day. You don’t have to take hours of the day for this, starting small will help make it more achievable. I’m talking about spending 5-10 minutes doing something that makes you feel loved. Self-care for healthcare professionals is just as much a mindset as it is an act, and if we can show ourselves that we love ourselves, it can produce a lasting positive effect that will carry us throughout the day. Getting out of bed just a few minutes earlier to enjoy a quiet morning can make all the difference. Take a few minutes to go for a walk when you need a minute to recharge. Spend a few extra minutes relaxing in the shower. Find something short and sweet to do for yourself and let it set the tone for the day.


Taking Care of Yourself at Work

In many healthcare settings, it can be challenging to find time to take breaks and attend to our personal needs. It has been especially unrealistic to do so in the middle of a health crisis. We tend to feel like we must do all and be all. While this level of work ethic is both impressive and heroic, we have to remember to keep things in perspective. It is possible to do your job and take time for yourself at the same time. If we can get a little creative and redefine what this looks like for us, we can find a few self-care moments along the way. Taking care of yourself at work does not have to be an enormously daunting task. I think this is where most people get tripped up. We tend to overthink self-care like it’s some fairytale dream that could never come true. Self-care for healthcare professionals can be very simple, and it doesn’t take much time, effort, or energy. It’s all in shifting your mindset. You can take care of yourself at work by establishing healthy boundaries, strategically planning for short breaks, making sure that we stay nourished and hydrated, or merely taking 30-seconds to catch your breath. You’ll find that 30-seconds is a lot longer than it seems, and you can do a lot in 30-seconds without missing out on very much. 


Self-Care in the Small Stuff

In the middle of this pandemic, some self-care practices may not be feasible. Some may not even be possible. Taking a vacation is pretty much out of the picture due to quarantine measures. The harsh reality is that self-care may not always end up looking like what you had planned. Sometimes self care is simply getting yourself out of bed and to work, sometimes it’s a candy bar from the vending machine and sometimes it’s a face mask and hot tea.

It’s important to remember that self-care is on a spectrum. It can be a grand luxurious experience, or it can be simple yet grounding. If we expand our definition of self-care to include some of life-s most fundamental practices, we will start to see it in a more attainable light. Self-care doesn’t have to be some big expensive, fancy commitment. It can also be recognizing the ways that we already take care of ourselves. We practice self-care all of the time without even noticing. Instead of shaming ourselves for not doing enough, let’s start finding joy in the things we are already doing. 


Are you interested in learning more about building, maintaining or starting a self-care practice? Are you a healthcare worker battling compassion fatigue? Are you looking to grow your self-care knowledge in general? Sign up for my eight week ‘Self Care 101 Webinar’ series! Join me live every Wednesday from 6-7PM EST starting July 29-Sept 16th!


You can learn more or sign up here.