Last week, we explored the importance of working together effectively on our teams and addressing challenges in a positive way, particularly as we embark on our journey towards achieving Best Care at UTMB. In my post, I mentioned the importance of stress management, because when we operate under stress, we may not always be able to contribute to our teams in a positive way, or we may create a situation where our environment could potentially become unsafe. Over time, stress can even begin to affect our health.
This reminded me of a talk I have given in the past to different groups of caregivers and leaders about the importance of self-care. I was often asked during these discussions about how I managed to effectively juggle family and career—how did I manage to “have it all”?
That question always made me laugh, because I am not sure anyone ever “has it all”. What we do have is the outcome of the choices we have made in life that best suited us, our family, and our career. The outcome largely depends on how we set our priorities, and there really is no single answer for how we should go about doing this. We make the best decisions we can based on the knowledge we have at the time. In fact, I believe we have to approach most problems and solutions on a case-by-case basis, because our priorities can shift with time and depend on where we are in our current stage of life.
From a personal perspective, I realize managing stress 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. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that I must carve out time in my schedule for myself to ensure I can continue putting my best foot forward.
When I have led my talk on self-care, a visual aid I often used was a Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup bottle, which I washed out and filled with rice. I would 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.
As I continued the talk, I would shake a little rice out of Mrs. Butterworth as I went through the tasks of a “typical” day in the life of a career person with a family. Each time the responsibilities of the job or family required “action” on the part of Mrs. Butterworth, I would shake out a little rice. I did this over and over in the talk until we got to the end of the “typical” day. At this point, I shook and shook the bottle, but nothing came out—Mrs. Butterworth had expended all that she had by the end of the day with nothing left for herself to replenish or recharge.
I think that this is probably true of many of us. We love and are committed to what we do at work and the role we have within our family. However, after a busy day, we often forget to make time for ourselves and we have depleted our “reserves” over time. As a result, we can overlook important details, become forgetful or less productive, or feel irritable and incredibly stressed.
As we work together in a positive manner and navigate the challenges we encounter along the road to achieving Best Care, it is important to remember that in addition to being positive with others and maintaining a focused and optimistic outlook, we also need to take care of ourselves. 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 re-energize ourselves:
- Outside of work, take time to look at your daily activities and determine which ones help you feel your best. Add these activities to your calendar. If you plan them, you are more likely to actually have time for them.
- Check-in with yourself regularly to see if your routine needs to be changed. Sometimes we forget to ask ourselves the most obvious questions, like “Am I tired?” or “Am I happy?”
- Go for quality not quantity. Even though you may like watching TV, and can spend several hours doing that, aren’t there other things that would be better for you?
- It can be okay to say “no”. If you’re taking on so many commitments that you’re left feeling exhausted, it’s time to start prioritizing. Whether you decline an invitation permanently or simply take a rain check, saying “no” is sometimes exactly what your body needs.
- Take a break. If you’re passionate about your job, you might feel reluctant to take a vacation. However, if you don’t take breaks, not only are you not taking care of yourself properly, but you may eventually end up undermining your performance. Working more does not mean you will maximize productivity. In fact, just the opposite is true.
- In addition to feeling like you don’t have time for a vacation, having a hectic life can also give you a sense that you need to let your hobbies slide. Consider setting aside an hour a week that is only ever to be used for those activites.
- People with busy lives can often forget just how valuable self-reflection can be. If you don’t spend time thinking about how you’re feeling about what you’re doing each day, you risk losing touch with what you really want from life (and reduce the chances you’ll feel grateful for all the good things in life). If you have 15 minutes of free time a day, then you have time to keep a journal. Reflecting on what happened in your day and how you’re feeling can help you understand you get a better sense of your needs.
- Stay focused on the present moment. Practice mindfulness and use basic breathing exercises to get your mind into the right zone for creative visualization. Spend time listening to your favorite music, keep up with hobbies that help you feel fully in tune with your body (such as yoga, walking, swimming or cycling).
- Finally, never underestimate the benefits of laughter! It releases a flood of feel-good endorphins that boost your mood and help you to relax. So, surround yourself with family and friends that make you laugh!