As part of our series of collaborations with the LifeMatters Academy, Dr Margaret O’ Rourke, clinical psychologist and clinical director of Ag Eisteacht, shares some simple selfcare tips for frontline practitioners here. Margaret has spent her career supporting wellbeing and performance by helping practitioners to manage stress and prevent burnout via her evidence-based programmes. She advocates for a whole system approach so that care is embedded into an organisation from the top. However, there are things we can all do on a personal level also to help buffer the impact of the work.
Selfcare involves cultivating habits, skills and behaviours to sustain our wellbeing and build resilience. Positive coping strategies, stress management, managing our time and boundaries, healthy habits (both physical and mental), awareness of detrimental stress, self-reflection and being able to regulate our emotions all help to keep us safe and well.
The following tips may help you to look after yourself while caring for others.
Take a break
‘Always available’ cultures breed problems; fatigue, lower concentration levels, compassion fatigue and the chance of more errors, to name but a few. Evidence shows that health and performance improve when we take breaks to reset and refocus. Try to pause and take some time throughout your working day, no matter how brief it is, as this will help to pace and sustain you.
Designing and maintaining a reasonable work –rest – sleep – cycle is a vital element of selfcare. Sleep is essential to health. The World Health Organisation recommends that we get between 7-9 hours’ sleep every 24 hours. To get that amount of sleep, we need 2-3 hours wind-down time before expecting to achieve a good sleep. Ideally, a well-managed day should be no longer than 12 hours to ensure time for rest, reset, recovery and sleep.
Maintain a sense of hope
Remind yourself that what you are doing is important and that circumstances will change. You have the knowledge, skills and behaviours to ensure compassion and care for yourself, patients/service users and colleagues.
Maintain a sense of control & purpose
At the beginning of each day/shift take time to yourself to list three realistic wins you would like to achieve. At the end of day/shift, note or acknowledge those three wins. Meaningful purpose is a very important human need.
Take a moment outside of work to remind yourself of why you are working so hard /going the extra mile and what drew you into this work in the first place. A reflective pause like this can often help us to reconnect with the heart of our work.
Being grateful increases our confidence and self-worth. Consider what you value about yourself and your life. Gratitude helps to undermine negativity, cope with difficulties and change our mood. Take a moment each day to focus on the simple things you are grateful for in your life.
We know that the emotional toil of frontline work can be hard. Supporting others while coping with the additional pressures on systems and people can take its toll so selfcare is important. By looking after our own health and wellbeing, we have better capacity to support others.