A growing concern within the health care system is provider burnout, a workplace syndrome characterized by high emotional exhaustion, high depersonalization and a low sense of personal accomplishment from work (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). With 35−54% of nurses and physicians and 45−60% of health care students struggling with burnout, the industry is bringing awareness to the importance of self-care practices to maintain physical, emotional and mental well-being.
Heather Hansman, PTA, LMT, B.A., (‘17) is a Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) at Think Whole Person Healthcare and a licensed massage therapist and co-owner of Synergy Advanced Massage Therapy, LLC. Like other health care providers, she often forgets to extend the care she provides her patients to herself. “Being in a field where we are used to taking care of others, it is easy to overlook our own health and well-being,” she says.
Julia Gallup, PTA, (‘08) agrees. She spent 10 years in the Pain Management Program at Nebraska Medicine helping patients learn pain management strategies. She notes that chronic stress, like the kind many health care workers experience over an extended period, can strain the body in various ways. “Stress shows up physically, and we would see a lot of people who had chronic pain in the form of migraines and lower back pain,” she says.
For providers like Hansman and Gallup, practicing self-care means taking time to ensure that a healthy work-life balance is maintained. They make a daily effort to participate in stress-reducing activities and focus on pursuits other than work.
“Work-life balance is extremely important in order to provide the highest level of care for patients,” Hansman says.
Some of her favorite de-stressing activities include working out, receiving a massage, and socializing with friends and family. “I add self-care to my calendar to keep me accountable to make time,” she says.
Gallup incorporates a daily yoga practice and time for spiritual mindfulness into her routine. “If I don’t spend time doing those things, I just feel like I don’t have as much to give,” she says. “I feel like I might not have as much patience, or I might not laugh as much with patients, which is extremely important.”
One technique Gallup taught during her time in the Pain Management Program was diaphoretic breathing, or deep breathing, where individuals learn to take deep, intentional breaths to help calm the mind and body. According to Gallup, pausing throughout the day to practice deep breathing can help maintain both physical and mental health.
“I recommend this technique to everyone, whether they have pain or not,” Gallup says. “The slow breathing technique is nice because you can do it anywhere, anytime—you don’t need an hour of meditation. You can take three slow breaths while you’re waiting at a stop light.”
To practice deep breathing throughout the day, simply take a moment in between tasks to slowly inhale for four to 10 counts and then slowly exhale for the same amount of counts. Repeat this process several times to help calm your nervous system, increase your oxygen levels and refocus your mind.
The long-term practice of techniques such as diaphoretic breathing can help minimize stress and burnout, and these methods are especially beneficial for health care workers during moments of high stress or anxiety throughout their workday.
Gallup and Hansman agree on the most important aspect of self-care: to never feel guilty about practicing it. People often perceive taking time away from work, professional and family responsibilities as selfish, and this mindset can deter them from practicing self-care, which in turn leads to more stress, unhealthy habits and burnout. “Self-care is not a selfish thing,” says Gallup. “I do it so that I can be less selfish and more giving to other people and my patients.”
Self-care is an important component of the giving spirit health care professionals practice every day. It can take time to develop self-care practices, but doing so can lead to a healthier life and a more fulfilling role as a health care provider.
The Eight Dimensions of Wellness were established by the Clarkson College Wellness team to bring awareness to whole-person health and help the College community actively practice self-care.
Sources: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Taking Action Against Clinician Burnout: A Systems Approach to Professional Well-Being. 2019. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Shanafelt, Tait D. et al. Changes in Burnout and Satisfaction With Work-Life Integration in Physicians and the General U.S. Working Population Between 2011 and 2017. Mayo Clinic Proceedings, Volume 94, Issue 9, 1681 – 1694.