In this week between Christmas and New Year’s I’ve been thinking about how challenging the holidays are for those of us who work in healthcare. It’s a perfect storm of stress:
● The end-of-year rush of patients trying to access all their annual health benefits
● The personal pressure of shopping and showing up for the holiday gatherings and parties when you work in an industry that is 24/7/365
● The impacts of cold weather and dark skies on our mental health
And, in 2021:
● The continued pandemic
● The emergence of the Omicron variant
● The return of seasonal flu volumes
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and even hopeless at times. I know I do.
I was reminded recently of a conversation I had with my friend Tom Jenike, MD, Chief Well-Being Officer at Novant Health in North Carolina in June of this year. In that conversation, he shared a recurring metaphor that you have probably heard before: when the masks drop on the plane, we have to put the mask on ourselves first.
It’s easy to dismiss this metaphor as trite, but I would say this: Never before has it felt so much like the masks are dropping on the proverbial plane.
Self-care is key to survival in these difficult times – and I know how hard it is to prioritize it. But, without it, we jeopardize our ability to safely take care of our patients, support our colleagues, and lead our teams. And if, by some miracle, we manage to use our last breaths at work, then the people we love the most – our partners, children, family, and friends – will bear the brunt of our burnout.
Luckily, Tom also gave us three simple thought exercises that can help us build our personal wellbeing training plan. Today, as I’m feeling this sense of pressure and overwhelm, I wanted to share his three questions, as well as my own personal answers, in the hopes that, together, we can all find the rest and recuperation we sorely need to be our best selves:
Question 1: What are the key relationships I must intentionally invest in?
To help answer this question, think of this metric: If you put 10% more into these relationships, they would have the biggest ROI for your personal wellbeing.
● My husband, Duncan.
● Our children and grandchildren and close friends who are like family
Question 2: The emotion I want to experience more of in my life is:
Pick one or two emotions that you need more of. The power lies in just naming them. For me:
If I approach each day asking myself how I can create more joy and fun in my day…imagine the power of just intentionally finding ways to do that.
Question 3: My 10 Day Recovery Plan
Tom compares providers like you and me to elite athletes. It’s flattering, but also a poignant reminder: athletes prioritize rest and recuperation. They know that without it, they cannot perform their best. Providers…well, we tend to forget this important ingredient.
So, identify two commitments that you must make in order to have more wellness, more energy, more joy, and a stronger spirit (Note: these commitments must be in service of YOU). For me:
● Turn off my cell phone
● Block out time on my calendar for exercise
It is my hope that the holidays brought some moments of joy, rest, and relaxation to all of you. As we close another difficult year and look forward to what may well be another year of high stress conditions, I hope that you can find ways to prioritize your mental health and self care, so that you can continue doing your important work to the best of your ability.