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Why Self Care Is So Important For Medical Professionals

It's impossible to pour from an empty cup.

Focus and drive are essential in setting goals and succeeding. . . but we also must take care of our mind and body so we can reach our goals with full potential. This is especially vital in the healthcare field where we have signed up to care for those who are sick, in pain, and in need. The burn out is real, and our cup can be depleted much faster than most other professions. This makes self-care and life balance essential in nursing and medicine.

DEFINING YOUR PERSONAL BALANCE

What IS balance when it comes to life, work, health, and play? It's not (usually) a perfectly split, 50/50 deal. . . And if we expect it to be, we may forever be disappointed. It's also not a concrete concept. . . It's a constant ebb and flow that fluctuates and changes over time, just like we do as individuals.

So, what is it? Is it all personal perception? Is it just a matter of how we feel at a given time on a given day? Do the opinions and feelings of family or friends weigh in on the spectrum?

I believe it's a mixture of all of the above. To me, balance is finding equilibrium within my priorities while seeking stability to my stress and emotions. It's the feeling of harmony between meeting my emotional, physical, and spiritual needs.

INTROSPECTION

It's valuable to pause and think about what balance means to you. Because if we can't even define our own personal balance -- if we can't even pinpoint what it takes to feel centered, prioritized, and happy. . . then how can we strive for it and achieve it? We have to gain insight on what balance even means for us - personally, individually, as a wife/husband/mom/dad/friend.

Everyone's version of balance and self-care is going to be different. And we must always keep in mind that it's a continuous journey. . . To expect that one day our lives will miraculously be in equilibrium without the slightest hint of chaos or dismantling is unrealistic. Life is full of phases and ups and downs. . . And the more flexible and adaptable we can be in defining our personal balance, the more successful we will be in attaining it.

Here are some principles that influence my perception on and intention within my own self-care.

MOVE

I intentionally don't use the word "workout" because there is a broader concept to be considered here. We aren't talking about how to lose weight, we're talking about how to stay balanced. And moving your body is key.

This concept seems like a give-in until we find ourselves so inundated with work and deadlines that we need to be reminded of its importance. I have never sat as much as I have in grad school. Between 16+ hours of lecture a week and the 30+ hours of studying that accompanies it. . . I sit ALL. THE. TIME. After the first few months of starting my FNP program, I realized I sure as hell better find a way to not be glued to my computer (and still manage to get my work done) or I will go crazy.

While the buckle-down and get-shit-done attitude is a necessity for success, so is exercise. In fact, studies have shown that exercise helps normalize our sleep patterns, it induces biochemical changes within our brain that enhance our mood and memory, and it's very efficient at lowering stress levels.

We also must remember to not complicate exercise. Exercise does not have to be a two-hour commitment a day. It doesn't even have to be a one-hour commitment a day. Find what it is that you enjoy doing and make the time, even 20-30 minutes, and do it. Yes, a week (maybe even two) will go by and you'll realize you've done absolutely nothing but work/study/sit. It happens. But it's so important to find that sliver in each day to take a walk. . . go to spin or yoga. . . take a bike ride. Just MOVE.

Make time for this and know that the long-term benefits will manifest through your mood, work ethic, well-being, and BALANCE.

REST

Sometimes self-care is a good old-fashioned nap or sleeping in. There have been (many) days in grad school where 4pm rolled around, I've been in clinic and lectures and meetings all day and the only thing I want to do is lay down and crash. And at first, I felt like I was slacking off if I napped. . . I felt like it was taking time away from studying and if I wasn't studying I should be exercising or, more realistically, studying some more.

WRONG. This extra time of rest 100% led to me getting better grades, doing better in clinic, and staying sane. I realized that if I listened to my body and allowed it to rest when it needed to, I was then able to stay much more focused and on-point when it came to getting work done. I also felt refreshed and ready to take on the world - which is SO much better than showing up to life feeling (and probably looking) like a run-over rag-doll.

If you've signed up for two years of hardcore grad school or seven years of medical school or a lifetime of a badass, intense career. . . You've got to sleep. Remember, it's a marathon - not a sprint. The work will continue to pile on and the expectations remain high. . . A tired, worn out, burnt out you is not who should show up for the challenge.

LAUGH

Laughter really is the best medicine. This concept may also seem simple, but in reality, allowing yourself to become distracted from the day's demands and responsibilities can be a challenge in itself. With all the hard work and attention that nursing and medical school demands, making space for fun and laughter really will keep you feeling balanced.

I moved to Nashville by myself for my accelerated nurse practitioner program. . . knowing absolutely no one and leaving my (extremely funny) husband and all my friends in Colorado. While I was at Vanderbilt to focus on school and kick ass in one of the most rigorous programs in the field, what actually made my experience so valuable was the fun incorporated in along the way. Life is too short to be serious all the time. Even in healthcare. There has to be time for laughter and there must always be room for a smile on your face. Besides, isn't that the point of balance? To feel happy, healthy, and fulfilled?

Allow yourself the opportunity to have some fun, embrace seeing the humor in life, and trust that the more well-rounded you are, the more centered, grounded, and balanced you will feel.