If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
If you've ever flown on a plane, you've heard a flight attendant instruct everyone to put their oxygen masks on first before helping others, in the event of an emergency. This safety spiel isn't to encourage a "save yourself" mentality. You can do more good for others if you're breathing oxygen in a depressurized cabin than if you are incapacitated because you failed to put your mask on. In other words, if you always assist others first, you will quickly lose your ability to take care of yourself and those around you.
However, if you’re a healthcare worker, self-care alone may not be enough to combat burnout. As a doctor or nurse, you have the weighty responsibility of caring for people in their most vulnerable state, and it’s a job that requires attention 24/7. Working in a high-stakes environment like a hospital can take a toll on your body and mind, even if you’re practicing healthy habits to prioritize your wellness. To achieve wellness in the healthcare setting, we need to care for ourselves, care for each other, and care for our organization at large through resources and programs designed to meet the needs of our employees.
You can't take care of others if you aren't cared for.
The demands in healthcare have never been higher than during the COVID-19 pandemic. And, burnout among healthcare providers, nurses, and staff is at an all-time high, too. Unfortunately, chronically stressed people rarely perform their best, which means that if you aren't prioritizing your wellness, it's affecting those around you, including patients. Likewise, if you don’t have the social or organizational support necessary to combat stress, it will be more difficult to get through challenging times.
You can’t take care of others if you aren’t cared for. On the #LiveWellHealthy blog, Dr. Hartman-Hall shares how prioritizing your physical and #MentalHealth enables you to help more people: https://bit.ly/3wk9Pxx.Click to Tweet
The risks of neglecting your well-being.
When you put everyone else's needs above your own, you put yourself at risk for physical and mental health issues that will ultimately get in the way of your ability to be there for others. If you don't prioritize wellness for yourself first, you're more likely to experience burnout, stress, fatigue, and overwhelm which affects your relationships both at home and at work.
Research shows that a chronically stressed brain lowers our cognitive abilities and empathy—two important dimensions of delivering compassionate, quality health care. Stress also leads to toxic emotions, like envy and resentment, which affect our ability to build positive relationships necessary for working in a team environment. As a result, stress in the workplace can lead to more conflict and turnover.
When caregivers are at their best, they have a greater capacity to give their time and energy to others.
When caregivers feel cared for, they feel better and have more bandwidth to care for others. Healthy employees capitalize on opportunities to learn and grow, which opens doors for new roles and responsibilities. Rather than just trying to "make it through," employees who are physically and mentally healthy thrive in the workplace, and everyone around them benefits. Co-workers can more effectively work together with less conflict and a better sense of fulfillment. More importantly, they’re able to be more attentive and careful both individually and collectively as a team, which leads to better, safer patient care.
What does it look like to prioritize the physical and mental health of caregivers?
If your focus is often on the needs of everyone around you, it's time to start checking in with yourself to see how you're doing. Everyone needs something different to feel their best. For some, a daily routine or habit before work, such as exercise, helps prepare them mentally for the day. Other individuals might be in a circumstance or mental state that would benefit from therapy.
Self-care is a buzzword these days, but wellness encompasses more than just making time for healthy habits like getting adequate sleep and eating nutritious foods. Wellness considers cognitive, financial, physical, emotional, and spiritual factors that help you to feel your best. Social factors are also critical, which is why it’s important to work somewhere you feel cared for both by your colleagues and your organization at large.
Practicing gratitude as self-care.One of the best things you can do for your wellness is the simple practice of living with an “attitude of gratitude” which can transform your physical and mental state—and those around you. Gratitude has long-lasting benefits for your health, and neuroscience experts link gratitude to social bonding, reward, and stress relief structures in the brain. Other studies cement these findings, proving that being thankful can also lead to less depression, more sleep, and better overall health.
The impact of gratitude on our ability to care for one another.
Expressing gratitude can make us happier and healthier, and when we’re more positive people, it benefits those around us, too. When we show gratitude to each other, it strengthens our ties to one another. Studies show that when we have better social support systems, we can more effectively combat stress and depression. With less work-related stress and more optimism, we’re more likely to find value in our work. This sense of purpose is a powerful antidote to caregiver burnout and turnover.
Expressions of gratitude don’t have to be complicated or costly. Whether you jot your blessings in a journal or you deliver an unexpected “thank you” to a doctor or nurse in person, the practice of gratitude can improve your overall well-being. A philanthropic investment in honor of a caregiver or care experience can also go a long way in demonstrating gratitude for a healthcare worker.
Prioritizing caregiver wellness at the organizational level.
Unfortunately, all the self-care in the world can’t completely eliminate burnout and stress in the healthcare setting. Unprecedented challenges, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, make it harder for healthcare workers to attend to their own needs. That’s why it’s important that healthcare organizations make it a priority to support their employees.
At MedStar Health, we're working hard to create a culture that acknowledges when people need help and responds by extending services to improve their wellbeing. We offer a variety of wellness programs and resources designed to help meet the professional and personal needs of our employees. From wellness educational materials and free mental health resources to subsidized child care and in-person wellness rounds, we’re dedicated to giving our providers and associates the tools they need to thrive.
Prioritizing your health and wellness means that you feel supported by those around you. When we care for each other and have organizational resources to help us achieve wellness, we’re more likely to find our work meaningful and therefore have enough in our tank to give to others.