“Dial it Back" How to take care of you during the Holiday Season
Ah, the Holiday season… Spending quality time with friends and family, cooking hearty meals, exchanging pleasantries, reminiscing over past memories, and playing fun games, right? Not if you’re a medical professional! When you’re first starting off as a healthcare practitioner, you’re excited about the prospects of your career, but most importantly, you’re looking forward to helping others. Then it gets less exciting when you come to realize that you have to work over the holidays. But think of it this way, it’s much worse to be the patient in an emergency room on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any time really than it is to miss a few family activities.
Why self-care is overlooked among medical professionals
Being a healthcare professional is one of the most challenging, and perhaps even draining, jobs. Particularly when you’re juggling taking care of patients, along with family and personal relationships. Being compassionate and kind towards others is part of your job description. But are you being compassionate and kind to yourself? So, you’ve come to accept that Christmas or New Year’s Eve is just another day at the hospital, that the patients’ needs, comfort, and wellness come above everything else. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to push your own physical and mental health to the pit bottom of your list of priorities. It’s not selfish to indulge in the occasional self-care act, especially when you know your work performance hinges on you feeling vigorous and high-spirited.
Why self-care is an important stress management tool
Finding the perfect balance between professional obligations and personal commitments to family and friends, specifically at this time of the year can prove to be a daunting task for many members of medical staff. Maintaining competence and staying focused, vigilant and productive is nearly impossible when you’re overtly stressed, no matter how much you love your job. This is why it is crucial to dial it back and take care of yourself, distinctively so during the Holiday Season.
Self-care doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice some of your personal and/or professional responsibilities. Sometimes it seems almost impossible to spare even half an hour out of the entire day for yourself, considering that any ‘free’ time you have goes into fulfilling other responsibilities and commitments. So, we’re not going to ask you to wake up 30 minutes earlier to exercise or meal prep. I mean, you’re barely getting enough sleep as it is. But we do have a few self-care tips that you can implement into your day-to-day life, without drastically changing your entire routine.
This is your self-care intervention
- Start by scheduling small breaks throughout the day. To most people, self-care is not an impromptu or spontaneous practice. You can’t just expect your brain to tell you when to stop or take a breather so you have to do it yourself. Sometimes during the holidays, you can have lighter moments where you can afford to take a 10 or 5-minute break. Put an alarm on your phone, every hour or so and just sit down, stretch or get a cup of tea. You don’t need to do anything for the next couple of minutes, and this is kind of a big ask but maybe don’t think of anything stressful either. Granted, it’s hard not to think of work when you’re literally on the clock, but focus on what you have achieved so far, not what you still haven’t done yet.
- Use relaxation techniques. Sometimes, the smallest details can add up to become this big monstrous stressor. You might be feeling overwhelmed at the number of patients you have to take care of, the errands you have to run after your shift, or even how your hair will look like, with no time to fix it, after a full day of wearing your scrub hat. First, take a deep breath (or five)! Who cares if your hair is ruined, it’s the holidays and you just want to be able to enjoy the very little free time you have with the people you love. If it bothers you that much, you can procure a scrub cap that best accommodates the length of your hair. But on a more serious note, incorporating relaxation techniques wherever you can is essential. The best thing about breathing exercises and meditations is that they don’t require a specific setting. You can do it anywhere, anytime. You don’t even have to be proficient in yoga or wellness, and we’re not going to ask you to ‘think of nothing’ either. Just sit in a comfortable position and focus on your breathing. It also helps to label each action, for instance, “inhaling” and “exhaling”. Repeat those words to yourself and you will find that your focus has instantly shifted from professional and personal obligations to the act of breathing. If you get an ‘intrusive’ thought, observe it, make note of it, let it go and aim your focus back to your breathing. Better yet, we’re not g asking you to meditate for an extended period of time. Ten minutes at a time is more than enough, and you can do this twice a day, or as much as you like.
- Talk to your colleagues about how work affects you. Suffering in silence is never the answer, and shouldn’t be. Burnout is very common in the medical profession, and you will find that many of your coworkers actually share the same feelings as you do. Feeling stressed over how difficult it is to find a good balance between your work and personal life is not a weakness. Sometimes, a tad bit of feedback can go a long way and talking to your colleagues can prove to be fruitful. They can share some useful tips on how they manage to get by, and you can do too. Being in the same profession, and working together over the holidays, you share a lot of common issues, so you know how helpful any piece of advice they offer you is, and vice versa.
- Be in the moment. Perhaps this is the hardest practice, as you often find yourself still immersed in your work, even when you’re surrounded by friends and family. If you’re lucky enough to get some free time during the holidays, then try your hardest to be in the moment and fully engulf yourself in the family atmosphere. Leave all your stressful thoughts about work at the workplace. Consider the convivial setting you’re at and the people you’re in presence with as your safe space. Don’t take this time for granted and strive to be both physically and emotionally present with your loved ones. You will soon realize how therapeutic and comforting a good meal and nice conversation can be.