Taking care; looking after yourself matters too.

Health care is one of the most rewarding careers, but it can also be one of the most challenging and stressful. We understand that your priority is your patients; but you can’t care for others unless you also care for yourself. Staying healthy and happy when you’re coping with the demands of the system, working shifts, and trying to fit your personal life around your job is never going to be easy. Over the years, though, our team of trainers – all experienced practicing health care workers themselves – have amassed a few tips and strategies which we hope will help.

1. Step away from the smartphone

A few years ago, some news outlets reported that a French law had banned employees from checking their emails after 6pm. Before you get excited about moving across the channel – it wasn’t true. But maybe it should have been. ‘Switching off’ from work – both literally by turning off your phone, and figuratively – is important. Spending your free time doing other things gives your mind and body a break form the stresses of the job. That’s good for your work, too: studies have shown that people who really switch off when they’re not working are more productive when they are on shift.

2. It’s okay to say ‘no’

Going the extra mile for your patients is one thing – and something that we all aspire to do – but nobody can do that all of the time. The nature of health care is that there will be days when you start early and stay late; and, for many, it is the very unpredictability of the job that is part of it’s appeal. But if you’re on call 24/7 to the increasingly unremitting demands of your boss, it’s probably time to start saying ‘no’.

We know that turning down a request for help can be really hard. After all, you don’t want your patients to suffer. But there are ways you can make it easier. Try not replying to the boss’s “can anyone cover… ” email straight away. Or, answer the phone request by saying that you need to check with your family and you’ll text back in a couple of hours. Neither of these are unreasonable requests, and both give you time to weigh up whether you genuinely have the time – and energy – to do what’s being asked of you.

3. Leave your work in work

This isn’t just about not taking paperwork home with you at the end of the day. It’s also about – literally – leaving your worries at the door. Before you leave at the end of your shift, either do a full and comprehensive handover with your relief so that you don’t have any lingering problems to think about later, or make a list of things that you need to deal with the following day. Then, take a moment to acknowledge that it really is the end of the day, and you’re leaving work.

4. Good enough is good enough

The house is a mess, there’s a pile of washing to do, and the kids are colouring in your wallpaper. So what? Nobody’s died, and nobody’s perfect. Give yourself a break, and accept that sometimes striving for perfection in one task just gets in the way of completing all of the other things you need to do. Good enough is, more often than not, good enough.

5. What else do you do?

You might feel as though you don’t have time for anything else in life apart from work and your family. Taking even an hour a week out to do something different, just for you, can give you something to look forward to. Find a group of friends to mix with who aren’t anything to do with work.

It could be that you take up a hobby, or go to an evening class to learn a new skill like photography or a foreign language. Perhaps you could take up volunteering for a couple of hours each week. Whatever you choose, simply spending time doing something that you enjoy – and that isn’t work – can be a real boost to your health and wellbeing.

6. Make them wait

One of the best ways to avoid having to be permanently available by email and text 24/7 is to tell people that you will reply to all messages within a given timeframe, e.g. 24 or 48 hours. As long as you make sure that you really do reply by the time you say you will, this helps manage people’s expectations of you, while making sure you don’t feel forced to keep one eye on your phone at all times. Provided you stay on top of your 24 or 48 hour deadline, it’s surprising how well people take to this. There’s also the added bonus that it helps ensure that your colleagues – and your boss – only bother you with something when it is genuinely urgent.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help

This is the most important point of all, and one that many people find hardest to put into practice. It is okay not to be okay; and there is no shame in asking for help and support when you feel like you need it. Something as simple as chatting with a trusted colleague, friend, or family member can make you feel better. Maybe it’s even time to book some of that holiday time that’s been slowly stacking up.

If you feel like things are really getting on top of you, though, and you could do with some more support than your friends and family can offer, then reach out for help. Your union, your employer, your GP, and charities such as MIND are all out there to lend a hand to health care professionals.