Working in the healthcare field, whether as a therapist, social worker, counselor, addictions professional or other mental health professional, you’re treating and supporting others as they struggle to handle life’s stressors. However, many people forget that, just like everyone else, healthcare providers also experience burnout and stress in their own lives. So as a healthcare provider, how can you handle your own stress and anxiety in order to take care of your own emotional well-being?
Here are several ways that professionals can care for themselves when feeling “stressed out”:
1. Tap into your “stress signals” and respond accordingly. Make it a habit to check in with yourself, knowing and understanding how your body is reacting to daily life stressors and the extra challenges life throws your way. When you’re noticing things like an elevated heart rate, nervous energy, or tense muscles, ask yourself what you can do to return to your calm, relaxed state. Finding the things that work for you — whether it be meditation, a calming walk, or even distracting yourself by doing something you love like cooking or listening to music — will give you the tools to use when you find yourself becoming stressed and in need of self-intervention.
2. Prioritize to prevent overwhelm. We all have times that our to-do list seems endless, or our patient workload feels extreme, or we can’t figure out where to start first. Determine your top priorities at that moment and put the others aside; practicing this can help you become more comfortable allowing certain tasks to wait. It can be difficult to do this, but keeping your stress levels in check requires allowing yourself to let go of the idea that you MUST do it all. For example, you may prioritize calling in a patient’s prescription over responding to a non-urgent email.
3. Write it down (to work it out). Journaling has recently become a more trendy practice, but many who have been in the field for years began writing things down as students. Journaling can help you track progress, recognize patterns and identify stress triggers. It can be a powerful tool in connecting your emotional state to your experiences, both personally and professionally.
4. Build a routine that works for you — and stick to it. Creating a consistent, reliable routine can give you something to fall back on when things get tough. You’ll know what to expect, and therefore be better equipped to handle any stressful curveballs that come your way. Your routine will be unique to you — and could include quiet time or early morning workouts, pre-planning your meals, getting in time to read or journal and prioritizing a good night’s rest. Sticking to a routine, even if loosely, will give you the satisfaction of harnessing some control, even during challenging times.
By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to provide exceptional care for your patients. Because if you’re going to help others with their mental health and wellness, it becomes extra important to take care of your own.