True or false: When you think of self-care, do you instantly think of those pretty pastel Instagram photos of bubble baths, plants, puppies, cozy beds, etc.? What about professional self-care?

A common notion is that self-care and regulating activities are to be done exclusively outside of work, whereas work is inherently dysregulating. This has become an unspoken, unwritten rule that has defined the culture or many organizations.

Who came up with that rule, anyway? Why can’t regulatory activities (AKA- self-care) be weaved into the fabric of our work-life?

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Professional Self-Care Defined

Professional self-care involves promoting regulating, parasympathetic recovery throughout your work day and throughout your career. You care caring for your own well-being integrally into your daily work tasks on a regular basis.₁

Personal capacities such as energy, enthusiasm, engagement, efficiency, and accomplishment are important for optimal relationships between practitioners and patients and for professional satisfaction.₂

Relegating stressful states of being to work and de-stressing activities to outside of work just does not reflect reality. We spend a great deal of time at work, right? The inability to properly replenish our resources while at work can spill over into difficulties replenishing ourselves at home.

Self-care and clinical work should therefore be continuous, not separate!

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The Goal of Professional Self-Care

Establishing professional self-care includes creating a structure and process for resetting dysregulated internal states through a solid routine of self-directed care.₁

So, what do these dysregulated states look like?

  • Increased physiological arousal (increased heart rate, shortness of breath)
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased cognitive performance, working memory, cognitive flexibility

The goal is to promote calmness by decreasing arousal and promoting your nervous system to be in parasympathetic mode- AKA, your state of recovery.

Before We Get Into It...

Before getting into the 7 steps, you can go deeper with your professional self-care with our special Instagram series, the Professional Self-Care Series to address this topic. This is ideal for clinicians of all levels (i.e. employee, supervisor, management, etc.).

Learn how to protect your energy when you need it most at work, manage stress, and cultivate psychological resources to help you manage the overwhelm and stress that come with working in healthcare. Sign up for this free series here and get our Professional Self-Care mini-guide sent directly to your inbox.

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The 7 Steps of Professional Self-Care

1. Locus of Control (LOC)

Do you feel like things happen to you or that you make things happen?

LOC refers to inclined someone is to believe that they have control over their life circumstances. Those with higher external LOC tend to believe that luck, fate, or other factors have greater control over their life circumstances. Those with greater internal LOC believe that they have considerable control over their life circumstances.

Depending upon the situation and context, external LOC isn’t always negative. However, some research has shown that external LOC is associated with greater work stress and negative health symptoms. External LOC is also associated with greater levels of burnout, depression, psychological distress, job strain, and job dissatisfaction.₃

The goal is to foster an internal LOC when it comes to you empowering you to take action. Yes, there is a lot outside of control like outcomes, but what are the things within your control?

Having a clear definition of this along with having a growth mindset will have a positive impact on your well-being, along with possibly reporting fewer job stressors.₃

2. Self-Awareness

Do you feel like your mind is floating with 83,085 things to do and your thoughts are like a train, always passing by you?

This one has been one of the greatest gifts for me. I began practicing mindfulness post-burnout and I regret not practicing it sooner in life.

Mindfulness allows you to be an objective observer and notice and register internal/external events and feelings without criticizing, evaluating, or judging. You are simply noticing the present moment and labeling your physical and emotional sensations and/or what’s going on around you.

The goal with mindfulness is to become better at noticing when your internal state turns into dysregulation so that you can consciously incorporate actions to move your body back into a state of homeostasis.₁

These acts can be simple (and should be) in order to fit into the flow of your work day. Can you pause and direct your attention to one mindful inhalation and exhalation? Can you label your feelings and notice them before treating your next patient?

3. Social Support

Do you have people at work that you can trust in? Are there people at work you can go to for advice? Do you feel like you’re working in a silo and you don’t have much support?

This can make or break the success of a work team. As human beings, having social support and social connectedness are essential for our survival. 

Social support is sense of connection and belonging and is proposed to yield positive feelings about the self. It also includes overall levels of helpful social interaction available on the job from coworkers and supervisors.

Professional isolation in healthcare- especially in some specialities- along with dealing with burnout in isolation due to cultural norms and stigmas can be detrimental to the health and well-being of healthcare workers. ₇

Striving to seek social support is one important goal, but another thing to consider is if your organization provides opportunities for you to receive support. Social support can also be enhanced through improved team communication skills, increasing socio-emotional rewards, and increasing psychological safety in order to create a healthy and thriving work environment. 

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4. Recovery

Do you feel like between the news, events in our country and around the world, the high work demands and family demands, and your personal to-do list that you find it challenging to properly rest?

Recovery involves the process of replenishing resources and includes psychophysiological and cognitive processes. This takes place during work, outside of work, and during sleep.

Ways of increasing recovery includes implementing relaxation techniques (done in and out of work!), maximizing your recovery throughout the day through proper breaks and job crafting opportunities, minimizing chores/hassles outside of work, and working on improving your sleep quality.

Some ideas for maximizing your breaks: sharing some laughs with your coworkers, going outside or near a window, practicing a mindfulness exercise, movement break, and grabbing a coffee with one your coworkers that inspired you that week (socio-emotional rewards at work!)

I interviewed the Sleep Doctor, Dr. Michael Breus in this episode on our show the Burnt Out to Lit Up Podcast and he discussed chronotypes and ways to enhance sleep quality based on your unique type.

5. Self-Advocacy

Do you feel like there are changes going on at work that don’t sit well with you? There are a ton of changes rapidly unfolding in healthcare every single day, and sometimes you may want to raise your voice around certain expectations that hinder your performance and well-being.

This involves advocacy efforts undertaken by you, which others (i.e. coworkers, supervisor) can promote and support.₅

Part of your well-being at work is having autonomy and feeling like your voice and input matter. Advocating for autonomy can look like:

  • Clinical work freedom: methods to provide care to pt without limits from the organization
  • Social and economic work freedom: control over the nature and volume of clinical tasks and determine own movements, priorities, schedules, workloads
  • Influence on organizational decisions: having a voice in organizational and managerial choices and ability to influence your unit/organization

The onus for speaking up can be influenced by your workplace; strong environmental norms could override the influence of personality on employees’ willingness to advocate for themselves or their team. ₆ AKA- high psychological safety is the foundation for workers to feel safe to ask questions, share opinions, and advocate for themselves.

6. Boundaries

Do you have healthy boundaries? Do you feel like you say ‘yes’ to tasks and events you secretly don’t want to say yes to? Do you ultimately end up feeling depleted because of this?

Personal boundaries can be defined as limits you set within and between relationships, including with yourself. Professional: limits you set within and between people at your workplace and the work environment. This includes spaces within which actions are allowed or not allowed to happen.

You must exercise healthy boundaries with team members, friends, family, and even yourself- if you want to get closer to your goals, enjoy life more, and have time for the things that matter.

7. Energy

Do you feel like you carry around low, negative energy? Do you easily get stressed out?

Personal psychological resources can be defined as entities that hold value in their own right for individuals, this includes resilience, self-compassion, and optimism. 

Think of psychological resources as your house- the floor is resilience, walls are self-compassion, and doors are optimism. The actions you perform in your house are framed by these resources.

On the other hand, if your house is built by self-criticism, pessimism, and fragility, you are limiting your potential.

Your goal can be to maximize and mobilize energy throughout the day. These are energizing resources to have and can help improve your mental and physical health, decrease high arousal that comes with the stress response and thus promote greater longevity, lower levels of rumination, and improve emotional intelligence, life satisfaction, well-being.

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The Professional Self-Care Series

This is a simple, free, and fun series around building up the 7 points made throughout this blog. You will receive links to brief Instagram videos along with a mini-guide that offers exercises for each step.

This series is easy to share with your team, so go ahead!

References

1.Miller, B., & Sprang, G. (2016). A components-based practice and supervision model for reducing compassion fatigue by affecting clinician experience. Traumatology, 23(2), 153–164. https://doi.org/10.1037/trm0000058

2. Kuhn, C.M. & Flanagan, E.M. (2016). Self-care as a professional imperative: physician burnout, depression, and suicide.

3. Hou, N., Doerr, A., Johnson, B.A., & Chen, P.Y. (2017). Locus of control. In C.L. Cooper & J. Campbell Quick (Eds.), The Handbook of stress and health: A guide to research and practice (283-298). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell

4. Chou, P. (2015). The effects of workplace social support on employee’s subjective well-being. European Journal of Business and Management, (7)6, ISSN 2222-2839.

5. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1-S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014?ajot.2014.682006

6. Kakkar, H. & Tangirala, S.If Your Employees Aren’t Speaking Up, Blame Company Culture. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/11/if-your-employees-arent-speaking-up-blame-company-culture

7. Stehman, C.R., Testo, Z., Gershaw, R.S., Kellogg, A.R. (2018). Burnout, Drop Out, Suicide: Physician Loss in Emergency Medicine, Part I. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine. Volume 20, no. 3: May 2019 DOI: 10.5811/westjem.2019.4.40970


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