Everyone knows that being a physician is no cakewalk. Doctors that work in hospitals, private practices, specialist clinics, and traveling care teams all face issues of stress and self-care; especially in these times of short-staffing and high medical demand from the population. Burnout among health professionals is at an all-time high and even if you are still completely mentally engaged, stress can quickly start to blur the edges.
Working in healthcare can be demanding and exhausting, so every doctor should have a toolkit of self-care best practices to fall back on.
1. Build a Diet of Healthy Snacks
Eating healthy is the number one thing that can keep your mind sharp and your feet agile - essential abilities for any physician. If you want to keep your routine on schedule, your patients laughing in the examination room, and not feel like burnt toast at the end of the day, healthy foods are essential. These are the nutrients you are feeding your brain and body, so even if you have no time, smart decisions are a must.
If you have a predictable routine, spend one day a week doing a big prep of healthy lunches and quick dinner ingredients. If you have no time (see, residents) then fortify yourself with a stockpile of healthy snacks.
Mixed nuts, fresh produce, dried fruit trail mix, fiber cereals, and even canned vegetables scarfed on a few moment's break can keep your stomach balanced and energized instead of starving or logy during the day.
2. When You Sleep, Get Quality Sleep
Prioritize your sleep hygiene. Doctors need good sleep more than many other professions, as your clarity of mind is critical to the role. You need deep, regenerative sleep regularly and - if possible - a completely consistent sleep routine. If you can't achieve consistency due to changing schedules and on-call shifts, then prioritize high-quality sleep whenever you lay your head down.
Drink a glass of water before bed and take a hot shower so your body heats up, then cools down. Spend the last hour before bed relaxing, if possible.
Use earplugs and white noise to block out distractions. Cover all windows and LEDs or use a face mask. Make sure your bedding is clean, your bedroom is cool, and set a loud timer so if you wake up in the night, you know it's safe to go right back to sleep.
3. Sneak Cardio Into Each Day
Speaking of exercise, do. Running around a hospital or clinic all day might be exhausting. You might even work up a sweat and get all your fitness tracker steps in, but it's not actually a replacement for real exercise.
Once a day, or three times a week, try to sneak in some serious cardio or weight lifting that pushes your body to the limit. This will encourage your muscles and metabolism to prioritize energy and get stronger each day instead of hitting a physical performance plateau.
4. Take Time to Be Happy and Feel Loved
Take time to feel the warm fuzzies. It can be easy when you're stressed out by work to let your time at home go by in a blur. But you really need that unwinding sensation of being with the people you love. The release of serotonin and dopamine in your brain does relieve stress, and family dinner, doing homework with the kids, a date night with your someone, or just hanging out with good friends can be that natural source of relaxation you need to avoid burnout over time.
5. Carry Sanitizer AND Hand Moisturizer
Doctors wash their hands a lot. With COVID still on the loose, we wash even more. But that also leads to drying. Other than stress, one of the number one current health problems for medical professionals is cracking hands. So carry a small bottle of hand moisturizer (or stock the nurse's station with a gallon) so that you can moisturize after every wash or sanitizer spray.
6. Give Yourself a Stress Outlet
When you start to get stressed, don't just power through it. It's one thing to be polite to a frustrating patient or to work through a headache until the end of the day. But then you've got to let go. Give yourself a stress outlet, a way to express all that pent-up energy, frustration, or mental static that can become harmful over time.
Go outside and give a mighty yell. Or crank up your favorite music and dance in your living room until you drop. If you just want to scream, try a toddler-like tantrum on your own bed in the privacy of your home. Or paint a picture that represents everything you are feeling. We all work our stress out in different ways, but it's important to have an outlet that leaves you feeling cathartic and relaxed at the end; ready to face a new week with optimism.
7. Do Something New Every Month
Finally, don't let yourself fall into a rut where the details gray out around you. Do something new every week or month. Take yourself to a different local museum every weekend for a month, the ticket prices are surprisingly small. Try a new restaurant. Sign up for a fitness group or a pottery class, or go to a friend's new favorite restaurant. Keep your life lively to relieve the stress of routine.
Locum tenens offer an interesting alternative for doctors seeking more control over their work-life balance. Whether you'd like to pick up a few extra shifts in interesting places around the city, split a part-time role with locum tenens work, or swap your stressful on-call role for a full-time locum tenens schedule, Med X has plenty of opportunities to explore. Contact us today to find out more about how locum tenens roles can improve your career and help physicians build a healthy work-life balance.