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Self care on a shoestring

Self-Care On A Shoestring

During the years of the COVID pandemic, one thing that allied health professionals didn’t have time to contemplate was self-care. Self-care is an important aspect of maintaining physical and mental well-being, and it is especially important for AHPs with demanding schedules and caseloads at capacity.

How can allied health professionals fit self-care into their congested calendars? Here are five freely available, simple tips for those of us who are time-poor and habitually invested in caring for others before ourselves.

Plan

OK, this isn’t technically ‘simple’—who has time to strategically think and plan about self-care, let alone do it? But if there is ever a time, it is now. Seize a moment (or half and hour) to consider some self-care strategies that resonate with you. Ask yourself these questions: how am I caring for my physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing? Now write down your answers, at least three for each theme. How often are you practicing these strategies? Are any of these areas neglected? Are all of them?

Planning can be the foundation for designing bespoke care for your basic health and human needs. For a more comprehensive approach to planning self-care, check out the Black Dog Institute’s planning tool designed specifically for health care professionals.

 

Talk

We are all professional listeners, attentively absorbing the immediate and chronic health needs of our clients. Offsetting this with talk is essential. Many of us have excellent organisational support such as mentoring and structured peer support, or Employee Assistant Programs to facilitate professional psychological care. But are you accessing these services? If not, use your phone or calendar to schedule times to regularly check in and debrief. This may be more challenging for practitioners who work privately, remotely or as consultants, however free, online peer support platforms such as Hand-n-Hand are becoming more accessible.

If you prefer to keep it close, then access your personal networks. Identify that one friend or family member who you can designate as a ‘listening buddy/partner’, someone you can call on to listen empathically, without judgement or commentary, as you download/offload with zero filter. Make a regular standing date to check in with that person, book a videocall in your calendar and stick to it, even if you think you have anything to say.

 

Breathe/Rest

“If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.” Joyce Sunada’s sage words should echo like a mantra for health professionals who find it so challenging to carve out space for self-care. One of the most simple and accessible ways we can regularly bring small doses of self-care into our daily lives is to breathe. We can all do this. Surprisingly, some better than others. But you don’t have to go to a breathing workshop to access the immediate and profound benefits of deep breathing for decreasing your stress and cortisol levels.

A foundation of many wellbeing practices—think yoga, meditation, mindfulness—intentional breathing has been found to reduce stress, regulate emotion and enhance relaxation, among many other health promoting benefits. There are many freely-available breathing exercises apps, pranayama instructional videos and breathwork blogs; too many to name here. Find something that resonates with you and incrementally introduce five minutes into your day (or week) and notice how conscious breathing affects your sense of wellbeing in that moment and beyond. Or simply close your eyes and practice deep breathing at your desk for one minute. Six counts in, eight counts out, and repeat. Transportable, free and always available. Breathing is the ultimate shoestring self care practise.

 

Connect with nature

Most allied health professionals work in clinical settings. That’s a lot of hours indoors, eyes on screen, removed from nature. But the natural world is a self care hub. Something we can all access freely and relatively easily. It’s often just a step outside.

In his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, John O’Donohue writes: “When we emerge from our offices, rooms and houses, we enter our natural element. We are children of the earth: people to whom the outdoors is home. Nothing can separate us from the vigour and vibrancy of this inheritance. In contrast to our frenetic, saturated lives, the earth offers a calming stillness.”

Reflect on the ratio of time you spend indoors vs outdoors each day and consider where you can correct the balance. Little adjustments like taking your lunch to a nearby park instead of eating at your desk, can make a difference to your basic sense of wellbeing. Can you take finish off that paperwork in the garden? Take that call in the sunshine?

You don’t have to climb mountains to connect with nature. The benefits of spending time in nature await to embrace you in your own backyard. Open your maps app and plot out the nearest natural space to work or home. A bush track, a lake, botanical gardens, a riding trail, a forest? Go back to your self-care plan and commit to going there each month (to start/at least). And take some self care activities along with you: socialise, exercise, read a book, do nothing; simply being in these spaces will connect you to the ‘calming stillness’ we all need a healthy dose of.

 

Socialise

A recent study of healthcare worker wellbeing has found that: “Feeling socially connected and valued were critical dimensions of caring for self, illustrating the importance of locating self-care in the social domain”. We are wired for social connection and belonging so it’s no surprise that social interaction is key to promoting wellbeing and sound mental health. Our social connections foster empathy and support, reduce isolation and stress, and even improve our immune, cardiovascular, and neuroendocrine functionality. All this, just by hanging out on a couch with a mate!

The power of connection, community and collegiality cannot be underestimated when it comes to our physical and mental wellbeing. Allied health professionals typically have the good fortune of enjoying diversity of connection through co-workers, multidisciplinary teamwork and extensive professional networks. Tapping into the social benefits of our workplace connections as well as making time to enjoy ourselves with close friends and family is an excellent, easy way to nurture and care for body and soul.

 

We are all working to provide the best care possible for those who come into the allied health space, but risks of compassion fatigue and burnout without practitioner self-care threaten to undermine our skills, intentions and capacity. The only person who can do self-care is you. We hope these tips inspire you to regularly access self-care in these small but profound ways.

 

For more helpful strategies, check out our article: How To Set (And Maintain) Boundaries In Allied Health Work Environments.

What are your thoughts on self-care in the allied health space? Leave a comment below, or contribute to the discussion on our Community Forum. To receive regular updates on allied health topics, events, jobs and services, subscribe to our Allied Health Insights  newsletter.

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