It all begins with recognizing the early signs of when you’re feeling down.
“I ask myself a series of questions—Did I eat properly today? Did I take any time alone? Did I exercise?”
As a therapist and educator, Susan Wener had plenty of strategies on self-care to share with Jewish General Hospital staff at the Humanization of Care Nursing Grand Rounds. But it was perhaps her perspective as a former patient that brought the greatest insights into the importance of self-care, which is often neglected by clinicians.
The two-time cancer survivor told staff, “When you feel good about yourself, you’re able to provide better care to patients, who in almost all cases are seeing you because they have no choice. I can promise you, we patients do not want to be here. As soon as our clothes are off and that hospital gown is on, we lose our identity. We need your kindness, your expertise and your presence.”
Ms. Wener explained to staff that simple gestures can go a long way to making new patients feel at ease, whether a smile or a friendly question about their family. “A pleasant rapport will help to build a trusting relationship with your patient,” she said, and will lead to smoother interactions during their hospital stay.
“If you do encounter a patient who is giving you a hard time, remind yourself that it’s not your fault,” she said. “In some ways, illness is narcissistic. Sometimes we want to yell and scream at you, but it’s only because you happen to be there.” On those occasions, she counseled staff to find their preferred self-care method to help them overcome the stressful situation, and start the next day fresh. These might include listening to soothing music, spending time with family or friends, or simply taking a few moments to breathe deeply.
For the staff with demanding schedules who struggle to maintain a work-life balance, Ms. Wener suggested looking at self-care as restorative and liberating, rather than another chore or indulgence. “Go for a walk, and as your feet move, think ‘right, left, right, left’ to stop the chatter in your mind,” she suggested. “Take a shower and imagine all your worries washing off of your body and going down the drain.”
Self-care among clinicians promotes their own well-being and prevents burnout, Ms. Wener concluded. “After all, if you don’t take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of us?”