In last week’s Friday Flash Report message, we explored the value of compassion through the story of this year’s Licensed Nurse Silent Angel, John Patrick, RN. After posting the message, I received a nice comment from one of our nurses, who also brought up a very good point: whether as a care provider or an employee, we all offer many different types of support to others—patients, families and coworkers alike; therefore, it is important to remember to make time and find ways to replenish and care for ourselves.
From a personal perspective, I know this isn’t always easy to do, especially when one has a great deal of dedication to those for whom they care and for the work they do. I don’t mind working hard, because I love what I do—I help create safe and effective systems for patients to receive the best care possible, and I’m very passionate about it. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I do have to carve out time in my schedule for myself to ensure I can continue putting my very best into the work I feel is so important.
This reminded me of a talk I have given in the past to different groups of caregivers and leaders. To illustrate the concept of giving to others and the importance of self-care, I used an old syrup bottle, which I cleaned and filled with rice. I would then begin by talking about the many important priorities and obligations we have in our lives, and how in the process of putting so much of oneself into fulfilling these tasks and into caring for others, little things begin to drop off our radar when it comes to our own well-being. These little things can add up to have a significant impact:
We spend our workday accomplishing many different tasks. Some days are challenging. Some days we are so busy keeping the spinning plates in the air, we barely notice the hours have passed!
Some rice is poured from the bottle.
Before or after work, many of us may have children or dependents to drive to activities and appointments. After a full day’s work, we must still manage a household or have errands to run and chores to do. Our time feels short. Exercise is forgotten. Healthy eating is off the menu.
More rice is poured from the bottle.
At times, a great deal of the support we provide to others is emotional in nature. This is when we begin to feel especially tired. We’re a teacher, helper, advisor, and caregiver all wrapped up in one package. Soon, we find we have placed everything we feel we must do before our own health.
Soon, there is no more rice to pour—the syrup bottle is empty.
As busy caregivers and employees, we may find ourselves saying, “Don’t worry about me. I know it seems like I’m always doing things, but I really do take good care of myself.” Finding the time to exercise, eat healthy and get plenty of sleep are things we can do for ourselves physically, but what about our emotional needs? Do we find time to connect with ourselves and the things we enjoy doing?
No one can go on endlessly doing for others without also recharging their own batteries. There are some simple things we can do each day to help reenergize our inner selves:
- First and foremost, set aside some time weekly to relax and just “be”—instead of burning out before replenishing.
- Do something you enjoy! I love to read and listen to all kinds of music, and I love to cook (even though I don’t always cook things that I should). It isn’t always easy to make time, but it’s important to me to remember to set some time aside for what I enjoy and to spend quality time with my family.
- Do something you’ve always wanted to do. If you’re not sure how, take a class or look for a local group dedicated to the activity.
- Take a nature break. Walking in – or even just looking at – nature calms our nerves and relieves mental fatigue.
- Acknowledge your accomplishments and mini-successes and celebrate with small rewards instead of rushing to the next best thing.
- Slow down. It’s okay to commit to less instead of doing, moving and achieving, simply for the sake of it.
- Give yourself permission to accept help from others. It isn’t always easy to do, but consider what accepting help provides others. How does it feel when you help a colleague solve a problem they are struggling with? Or to drive an appreciative friend to pick up her car? Or to share the name of the best plumber in town? It’s satisfying, isn’t it? From a work standpoint, giving those who work with us the opportunity to help also provides them a new opportunity to grow and develop in their own careers.
- Stop replaying stories about the past and worries for the future. Realize that it’s okay to not have all the answers right away—don’t be hard on yourself for not knowing.
- Start the day a little earlier. You can use this time for something you enjoy like writing, reading or exercise. My days always seem to go more smoothly when I feel I have given myself plenty of time in the morning.
- Talk to someone. If you have a close friend or family member, talk to them about your feelings or difficult decisions. Everyone needs support!*
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise!
When is the last time you acknowledged the feelings that are asking for your attention? How do you take care of yourself from the inside out so that you can fully experience life?
When we learn to be gentle with ourselves, this is truly taking care; and when we give ourselves time to recharge our batteries, we can then reach out more effectively to others and show compassion and empathy to them, also. If we are filling our own emotional tanks with self-respect and loving care, we have much more to give to our families, friends, coworkers and the world in general.
* If you’d rather talk to someone in confidentiality, UTMB’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides professional, confidential counseling and assistance to employees and their eligible dependents and retirees. EAP is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.