5 Self-Care Tips For Physician Moms to Jump Start Their Health and Prevent Burnout

physicianburnout physicianmom selfcare worklifebalance Mar 04, 2019

According to research by the Mayo Clinic in 2016, there were 9 strategies presented to help prevent physician burnout. One of the strategies is to provide resources to help individuals promote self-care.

As much as we don’t want to admit it, there is some responsibility that we have for fighting back against burnout. As physicians, we are taught not to ask for help and to put the needs of others before our own. Women are guiltier of this as they are also caregivers for their family members and carry the bulk of the responsibilities at home.  Unless we break the cycle of putting our needs last, we are going to continue to see high rates of burnout and increased exodus from the field of medicine.

What is Self-Care?

We are conditioned to think that self-care is all about massages, yoga, meditation. It’s much more than that. It’s a commitment you make to yourself to take care of your mind, body, and spirit. Self-care is as necessary as the air you breathe, so it’s essential that you reject the belief that taking time for yourself, equates to practicing self-indulgence. Self-care is the mindset, activities, practices, and habits you embrace to guard yourself against stress and burnout. We know it as practicing prevention. To care for yourself, you first must know what you need and then go after it.

Practicing self-care can not only change your life but it can save your life. So, what would that look like?

It's one thing to talk about burnout and it’s completely different to have experienced it. For those who have never experienced burnout and say that self-care is not the answer to preventing burnout, is unfair and also misleading. For those of us who were faced with burnout, we realize that self-care on some level was lacking. That’s not to say that it’s the only answer but neglecting oneself is part of the problem.

We all know the airplane scenario as it relates to self-care. If a plane has lost pressure, the right thing to do is to put your mask on first. Then, when you have your mask in place, you can assist others. The reason for this is simple. Until you are taken care of, you are likely to cause more problems and become part of the overall problem rather than being part of the solution. This is what self-care looks like. It’s about taking care of the things that matter to help heal you so that you can become part of the solution.

So what are some self-care tips that we can practice?

  1. Know thyself- We first must practice self-awareness which allows us to be able to change our negative thoughts and self-destructive behavior. Self-destructive behavior can look like not taking the time to rest, exercise, eat healthy, recharge or disconnect while away on vacation or away from work. When you are self-aware, you can identify when your well-being is off. When you are tuned into yourself, you don’t allow chronic stress to set in because you know your triggers and how to control your environment and emotions when those triggers are constantly being You know what your priorities are and can manage them effectively by creating boundaries and learning to say no. You are aware of how your mood can affect your behavior and how you interact with others. You are aware of how you respond to change and can put a plan in place to reframe your thoughts when negative emotions set in.
  2. Get physical- As physicians, we know the importance of exercise and all the health benefits. We also have to practice what we preach for our own benefit. Getting 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week is recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. In addition, the guidelines say adults should aim to complete muscle-strengthening activities, such as resistance training or weight-lifting, at least two days per week. The ultimate goal is to move more. Making time for exercise is one of those priorities that must be at the top of our list and we may have to let some other things go in order to achieve this goal.
  3. Disconnect- Taking time away from medicine or any stressful job for that matter, is important to reduce chronic stress. Constantly being in an environment that is stressful and that requires you to be hands-on 24/7 is not healthy for our minds or our body. If you have vacation time, use it and disconnect while you are away. Take this needed, well-deserved time to try something new, read a book (not medicine of course), and reconnect with family. Recharging allows you to return with a fresh mind, increased motivation, and energy to get back in the saddle again.
  4. Have a routine - Learning to schedule your time and prioritizing is the ultimate form of self-care. It allows you to be able to make time in your schedule for you and the things you love. Developing a morning routine is one of the most important things that has helped me with managing my stress level. Practicing gratitude in the morning helps me to get in a positive mindset which allows me to have the focus to take care of myself. Next is listening to a short meditation piece to give me clarity, followed by some form of physical activity to give me energy and stamina for the day. You get to decide what your routine will consist of. Just make sure it’s something that energizes you and creates a positive mindset.
  5. Create Boundaries- Understand what it means to create boundaries. We have all heard that we must learn to say no. And I truly believe that it’s crucial to be comfortable with saying no and knowing when to say it. But the truth is that most people get uneasy just thinking about having to tell someone no. So, the key is to not concentrate on the negative connotation that the word no may bring. Don’t dwell on the feeling that you are going to hurt someone’s feelings if you say no. You can approach saying no with the intention of honoring the request of the person by letting them know that you understand their needs and would be happy to help if another opportunity arises, but now is not a good time. No explanation needed.

Self-care comes in many forms-physical, mental, spiritual, and social. Having the resources to develop a self-care routine is essential to preventing physician burnout. Organizations can help as well by providing resources and a supportive, healthy environment that promotes work-life balance, healthy relationships, and time for fitness.

Before you continue to live in survival mode—before you continue the habit of not taking care of yourself—make a commitment to take action this year and develop a wholesome self-care routine.

Are you doing a great job of taking care of yourself?  How great are your efforts at making yourself a priority?

Take this assessment to get an idea of how much or little you are prioritizing self-care. You can then start taking the steps to create a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

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