It's that time of year- each morning reminding our kids to "grab a jacket, it's gonna be cold today. "
I just wish it were so simple to protect them from all of the other "stuff" they're exposed to....drugs, sex, discrimination, bullying, etc. We intuitively know, as parents, that the more exposure our kids have to this negative stuff, the greater their risk of getting hurt. We do what we can to protect them. We give them curfews and monitor their social media use, we teach them to be tolerant and kind, and we caution them against drug use and other risky behaviors. We are proactive and alert to the things that might harm them.
Here's the thing, we must also realize that none of us, child or adult, is immune to the influence of our world and the imprint it makes on our brains and therefore, our well-being. Whether it's through advertising, social media, the culture of our workplace, or even our own thoughts; our brains are being influenced every single minute of every day. And if we aren't mindful and proactive in protecting ourselves, the world will mold our psyche in ways that may not serve us or those around us. And, for those of us in healthcare, the implications are especially significant because we then turn around and directly influence our patients, their experience, and even their response to therapy- for better or for worse.
We, too, need to be reminded to protect ourselves- to manage our thoughts, our beliefs, and our behaviors in ways that will serve us, and ultimately our patients, well. This is particularly challenging in healthcare today because we are constantly exposed to stressful emotional, mental and physical challenges. It's the nature of the beast. And yet, it is these experiences that deplete us, often leaving us irritable and fatigued, particularly vulnerable to the next stressful event that may hit before we have a chance to adequately recover.
We simply haven't been taught or encouraged to develop a robust "emotional maintenance program". As a result, it's not uncommon to find ourselves emotionally spent, cynical and disillusioned (aka, Burned Out) before we know it. And worse yet, we don't have the skills to properly recover.
We are so consistently exposed to the belief that self-care is weak or selfish, that we begin to believe it ourselves. We even find ourselves perpetuating this belief to our peers, students, and co-workers. Pulling an "all-nighter" becomes worthy of bragging rights, skipping meals is the standard, and not drinking water so as not to have to take a potty break is routine.
We fail to insulate ourselves from the stress of our challenging work, and therefore we do precisely the opposite of what we need. We isolate ourselves, we just work harder and longer hours, we delay gratification a bit longer, and we begin to believe that taking care of ourselves is a luxury. Worse yet, we fail to look out for each other.
Bottom line, we are responsible for protecting ourselves and our peers from the elements. Life, healthcare, parenting...it's all hard at times, and we need to be far more diligent, more proactive and quite frankly, more demanding, that we have learned and we are practicing the basics. We must know how to manage our stress, set healthy boundaries, observe proper self-care, prioritize healthy social connection, and offer compassion for ourselves and our peers. We need to ensure that we are properly prepared for the unexpected, the heartache, the ups and downs, and the daily challenge of providing healthcare in a less than perfect system.
So, grab yourself a jacket (and one for a friend) and be ready. You know you're gonna need it!