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5 Self Care Tips to Save Your Healthcare Career and Your Sanity

Self Care Tips to Preserve Your Healthcare Career
Gunnar Pippel/123RF.com

You work hard.

Day and night, evenings and weekends, holidays and celebrations. You work, giving your time and energy to take care of everybody else.

But who takes care of you? Who takes care of the healthcare provider?

You’re tired and you feel yourself burning out. There is so little of you left to give, and yet you know that your patients are relying on you to take care of them.

Your co-workers are stressed and overworked, and at home there are little and grown people depending on you to care for them also.

But you are strong. You keep on giving and caring, even when you are so exhausted your eyelids hurt. Your feet feel like they have been stepped on by a herd of elephants.

You need to be cared for; you desperately look for a break — a way to recharge.

Who is going to take care of you?

Here’s the honest truth: It will be you.

You will need to choose to care for yourself. Do it for you, to save your sanity and keep your heart soft enough to care.

If you can’t do it for you, do it for your career. A “bummed-out” health professional will not be able to care for others.

Caring for yourself is not brain surgery – it’s really simple!  It is choosing today to do one thing to fill your own tank.

Try these tips and see what happens.

The Secret Tip to Staying on Your Feet

Food, food, food! Tips on self-care always talk about food.

No surprise when you consider that the fuel you provide your body will directly impact your performance. If you eat garbage, you will feel like garbage.

You know this already; you tell your patients, I’m sure.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid sugary, processed foods
  • Cut back on caffeine

Avoid Sugar and Caffeine

When you eat something with sugar in it, you will feel crankier, make bad decisions, and be sluggish and unable to remember important details. Sugar makes you dumb.

Once you have cut back on your sugar intake, aim to reduce your daily caffeine. I know you work nights! I know you need a coffee to stay functional and coherent.

You’ll feel better (and sleep better!) if you at least reduce your caffeine.

Try these steps:

  1. Add more fresh fruit and greens to your diet by bringing a green smoothie with you to work. Sip on your veggies instead of your morning, afternoon, or midnight sugar and caffeine boost
  2. Get a fancy-dancy thermo cup with a solid straw and fill it up with one of these awesome energy boosting green smoothies:

Nobody will know what you are drinking but you. And you will (in a week or two – it takes time for your body to adjust to less sugar and caffeine) feel awesome.

Bonus tip: No more dreaded coffee breath. Your patients and co-workers will thank you. Silently, most likely.

Increase fats and proteins

Fat

Did I just say add more fat to your life? Sure thing I did!

Healthy fats such as coconut oil can:

  • Give you longer and more sustained energy than carbs
  • Act as an anti-inflammatory (Hello? Sore back, anybody?)
  • Function as an antibiotic and ward off illness (You work with sick people; you need all the help you can get!)
  • Improve your memory and cognitive function

Instead of a cup of coffee, add a tablespoon of coconut oil to a mug of hot milk with cocoa. Blend it up and it is a frothy hot chocolate that will give you sustained energy without the dreaded crash.

Protein

Eating more protein in your day will help you to stay full longer. Who has time for a decent lunch break? Protein will keep your blood sugars stable and prevent you from getting that angry, hungry feeling.

Protein also helps you to resist that box of donuts, bagels, and cupcakes sitting in the break room. You don’t’ need those bad boys. They won’t treat you well.

Instead try to:

  • Eat up to 30 grams of protein within 30 minutes of waking up.
  • Scramble 2-3 eggs with a side of spinach, zucchini, bacon, or sausage.
  • Bring a small container to work with (allergy friendly!) nuts like walnuts, pecans, almonds or seeds like sunflower and pumpkin to nibble on throughout the day.
  • Eat a dish of hummus with veggie sticks at lunch to keep you going.
  • Throw a scoop of high quality protein powder in your green smoothie. You wont’ believe the energy this will give your body.

Eating extra protein in a day can also help you lose weight. But it can make you thirsty. Which leads to….

Drink Water

I know, I know. Healthcare providers don’t pee. You have often skipped bathroom breaks for 12+ hours. But I hope you eventually go home, yes?

So when you are on your way home, fill up a giant bottle with water and start chugging. Your body is made up of 60% water, and you have run, sweated, and talked most of that moisture out of your body. It’s time to replenish.

A tall glass of ice water with a squirt of lemon or lime is refreshing and surprisingly rejuvenating. Try it when you first get home.

I know you can’t be running to the bathroom all shift, so be smart. Drink more water when you are off duty.

The Key to Not Burning Out

Did you know that the health care profession is considered to be the 5th most stressful job in North America?

That’s your daily life. No wonder you are feeling stressed.

I’ll give you 3 quick tips that won’t take much time to help you to defuse that stress. I know you don’t have hours of free time for mani-pedis and weekend getaways!

Meditate

Give yourself 5 minutes. You know you have 5 minutes each day. That’s how long it’s taking you to read this article or check the latest scoop on Game of Thrones.

Lock yourself in the bathroom on your coveted lunch break. Sit in your car before heading into your house. Get off the bus one stop early and walk home. Put some relaxing music in your headphones and block out the noise.

Breathe.

List the things you are thankful for, even if they are small. Gratitude resets our minds and reduces anxiety.

Journal

writing a journal about work can help relieve stress
ammentorp/123RF.com

I don’t mean writing long, emotional diary entries like in junior high. Just a quick 5 minutes of jotting down:

  • What you did
  • What you felt
  • Your goals
  • What you are thankful for

A simple daily journal entry in a notebook or on your phone can:

  • Clear your emotions
  • Increase your creativity
  • Help you figure out your future
  • Sleep better
  • Improve your relationships

Just quickly writing down the highlights of your day can remind you of why you are doing what you are doing. You are a helper. Making a note on how you helped somebody today will give you courage to help someone tomorrow.

Take a Break

Please do, dear hardworking Caregiver. You need to give yourself a break.

I know it is hard.

So many people depend on you, but somewhere in your day or your week, give yourself permission to relax.

You do get days off…sometimes.

Spend some time in nature. Turn off your phone for 24 hours and take a break from the Internet and news that constantly hits you with the harsh realities of the world.

You know life can be horrible. You see it everyday. But it’s not all ugly.

There is beauty and you need, more than anybody, to keep on seeing the beauty that is still present.

Give yourself a chance to relax and see beauty in nature, in your children, in your spouse, in art, in music.

Beauty is nature’s antidote for burn out. I prescribe a regular dose.

Hospitals are chock full with emotionally charged situations. No matter what department you work in, tempers can flare and things get ugly with patients, co-workers, and supervisors. Working in healthcare exposes you to messy situations.

An Effective Strategy for When Tempers Flare and Bedpans Fly

Here are 7 strategies to keep yourself safe when people are getting angry and in your face.

  1. Take a step back. Literally. Putting an extra foot of space between you a person who is upset prevents the person from feeling crowded and reduces their anxiety. (Also, they can’t hit you as easily. Sad reality.)
  2. Keep eye contact, but not in an aggressive way. Try looking directly in their eyes for 5-6 seconds at a time before breaking eye contact briefly. This relays honesty and compassion. When you look at a person, try to SEE him or her as hurting and upset. Picture your sweet 2-year-old and feel empathy.
  3. Relax your facial expression, unpurse your lips, return your eyebrows to a resting position (not raised or scowling). If you look angry, they will just get angrier!
  4. Remain calm. You are the logical, reasonable one right now. You are in control of the situation. Lower the tone of your voice. Don’t get shrill! Speak slower. Use the person’s first name – this helps them to feel like a person.
  5. Ask gentle questions and practice empathetic listening. Helpful phrases include: “Can you tell me what happened?” “I can understand why that is upsetting” or “That sounds really tough.”
  6. Don’t argue. It won’t help anything! Apologize if you are in the wrong and a patient’s meds are late. Reassure the patient that you will take care of the situation as best you can.
  7. Let it go! Just like Elsa from Frozen, it is hard to be the focus of anger. After you leave the unpleasant situation, take a deep breath. Blow it out. Pat yourself on the back for handling it well. Recognize that you probably feel tight and upset from those emotions. That’s okay. You are safe now, and the situation is finished.

The Surprising Way to Make Work Feel like a Party

How to have more fun at work
gmast3r/123RF.com

Yeah, yeah! Who doesn’t like a little fun?

Forbes magazine reports that adding fun to your workplace reduces sick calls, increases your productivity, and cuts back on stress.

So cut loose!

But remember you are still a professional, so cut loose appropriately.

Remember that there is no place for jokes and humor that demean and insult other people. Humor at another’s expense will not have any positive effect.

Zero. Don’t go there.

But a smile, a harmless joke, and a shared laugh will make those around you happier. Those who spread joy often receive joy.

  • Aim to do one kind and unnecessary act for a co-worker or patient everyday. Write a little note to a co-worker thanking her for something she did. Celebrate with a patient for his progress.

Take some time to laugh, to see the funny side of things. Health care professionals are famous for being able to handle morbid situations with humor.

If you are too busy to bring joy to another person, you are missing the mark. Take some time today to spontaneously – or plan to – help another person and bring him a smile. This will make your workday fun!

The Best Way to Know Where You End

You are only one person. Taking care of you will mean knowing your limits. That’s your responsibility. Nobody will respect your boundaries if you have none.

Say no to the things that don’t really matter, so you can say yes to the things that do. It’s okay to say “No” to covering a shift for a co-worker who wants to go to a concert. Later you can say “yes” to being there for an ill family member.

You need to define both for yourself, your patients, and your co-workers what are your duties and responsibilities. When you are going above and beyond your responsibilities, you feel emotionally and physically exhausted. And you might feel used.

Then you end up not being able to give anymore.

Don’t go there.

Healthy boundaries protect you and will prolong your career.

You can say no and still be a nice person. You can say no and still take care of your patients. Try to:

  • Say no respectfully: “I know you want to chat, but I can’t right now.”
  • Say no and give a reason: “I can’t take your shift; I am already committed to another event that weekend.”
  • Say no with a rain check: “I can’t go out for drinks tonight, but I would love to go down to the cafeteria with you right now.”

Taking on others’ concerns and life issues will burn you out. It is so tempting because you are a CAREGIVER! Bah!

But being a caregiver does not mean you are a superhero. Even Superman has to say no.

Sometimes caring for somebody means letting them figure it out on their own.

Conclusion

What do you think? Are your healthcare career and your sanity worth saving?

You have so much to give to those who need you. We need you. The world needs people like you who care.

Can I just stop and say, “Thank you”?

Thank you for caring. Thank you for being the person who holds hands and cleans up bodily fluids. Thank you for dealing with all the crap, literally and figuratively.

But don’t forget you.

You matter.

It doesn’t have to be hard and it doesn’t take much time to add a few simple self-care strategies to your day.

Will you do it? Cut back on the sugar, take some time to meditate, have fun, set boundaries.

Just do one thing for you today. What will it be?

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About Crystal Jones RN

Crystal Jones is a Registered Nurse who moonlights as a professional freelance writer. She uses her expert knowledge, skills and personal experience in health, education, parenting, simple living and mental health to provide content that teaches, engages and inspires readers. When she isn’t writing, working or crying in the bathroom she can be found in the kitchen burning dinner for her husband and 3 young kids when she would rather be out in the garden. Check out her work and how to connect at WriteLifeChange.com.