I’m sure that you didn’t enter the caring professions expecting things to be easy, but as the song goes ‘no-one said it would be this hard.’ Unlike so many careers, what you are leaving behind at the end of a long and tiring day isn’t just a ‘to do’ list, it may quite literally be life and death. In addition, being frequently under-resourced means that so often your best is never quite enough. And that’s not easy to cope with.
Regardless of how good you are at your job, unfortunately you aren’t super human. Coping with the demands of your role day-in-day-out can easily take its toll. Yet just because you work in health and social care this doesn’t mean that you are immune to physical or mental ill-health.
We know that you are skilled at looking after your patients. But what about your own needs? Who looks after them? If you constantly give out to others without respecting your own needs you risk becoming ill or getting burnt out.
It’s important that you can identify what you need to keep yourself as healthy as possible. You must also accept that, despite facing similar pressures, this may not be the same as those you work or live with. For example, some of your colleagues may enjoy going out after a long shift, but if this leaves you stressed and exhausted then you need to find more nurturing ways to unwind from work.
So, as World Mental Health Day approaches let’s look at some areas to consider to optimise your own health.
Learning to be a bit kinder to yourself is the first step in taking care of yourself. Your working day is challenging enough so try not to make it even harder by setting unrealistic expectations or blaming yourself for things outside your control.
It’s unrealistic to think you can avoid stress, so developing positive ways to manage it is essential. But as stress can be so subjective, first you need to recognise what ‘being stressed’ means to you.
Unfortunately, there is no quick or easy solution. Instead, stress management must become part of your lifestyle. Things that can help include relaxation exercises, yoga, tai chi, breathing techniques, mindfulness, and physical activity. But remember it’s important that you find strategies you enjoy and can stick with.
Don’t under-estimate the powerful impact that hobbies can have, anything that absorbs your mind can help to distract you from worrying thoughts. Talking to colleagues or friends can also help get things in perspective but try to limit the amount of time you spend going over incidents from work.
Learning to control your stress levels can take time so be patient with yourself.
This useful tool, taken from cognitive behavioural therapy (www.getselfhelp.co.uk) can be applied to any situation where you notice a build-up in your stress levels.
You can practice this technique wherever you are, even if you are with a patient or relative. Over time it can help you cope better with the day-to-day demands of your job.
After a testing shift it’s natural, and often helpful, to reflect over things in your mind. However, at some point you must switch off and focus your thoughts away from work. The alternative is to ruminate over the same points again and again and this will only drain you of energy and mental reserves.
The more resilient you are, the more able you are to ‘bounce back’ from ‘bad days.’ It doesn’t mean that you don’t feel any emotions, more that you aren’t knocked off-centre by them.
Though some people are naturally more resilient than others, it is a skill that can be worked on. As we all cope differently, there is no exact formula for resilience, however learning how to switch off, developing self-awareness, nurturing a positive outlook and investing time and energy into friendships and relationships can help.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human survival depends upon meeting your basic physiological needs, including eating, drinking and sleeping. Yet you need to look after all of these to see the best effect. So, there’s no point investing in the latest yoga class if you are neglecting to eat well or not getting enough sleep.
Working shifts can play havoc to your lifestyle and make sticking to a healthy regime more challenging. But don’t give up before you have started! Look for innovative ways to work around your rota.
Remember too, that life is all about balance so remember to fit in time for hobbies, friends and simply having fun. Laughter is after all the best medicine!
There may be times when switching off and taking care of yourself becomes harder. This could be due to pressures at work, witnessing emotional situations or difficulties at home.
Though some people still think asking for help is a sign of weakness, vulnerability is now one of the recognised qualities of great leaders. So, if you are struggling, try to find someone you trust enough to share at least some of what you are going through.
This post was last modified on 17 May 2021
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