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June 20, 2024

University Services Public Health

Self-Care Tips for Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals are committed to providing patients with the best care they can – but too often, they do so while neglecting their own needs. For both direct care practitioners and healthcare administration professionals, effective self-care habits are vital to continued health and wellbeing. This is especially true following the mental health issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare can be a high-stress field, but recent data suggests that professionals in this industry currently face even more elevated risks to their mental health. A 2022 survey of frontline health workers in Minnesota found that approximately 70% of respondents were experiencing moderate or moderately severe depression. Further, 99.2% of respondents reported high levels of stress.1

Considering these statistics, it’s important for professionals in health and human services to prioritize self-care. Continue reading to learn about the benefits of effective self-care and design your own self-care action plan.

A 2022 study conducted in Minnesota found that 70% of frontline healthcare workers experienced moderate or moderately severe depression and 99.2% reported high levels of stress.1

The Goal of Self-Care

It’s easy for self-care routines to get lost in the hustle of a demanding field like healthcare, but the proven benefits are too good to miss out on. Many healthcare professionals may be surprised to learn that self-care practices yield benefits for physical health in addition to mental health. A recent study from the American Heart Association revealed that many self-care behaviors can help lower the risk of2:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Stroke
  • Other life-threatening conditions

Beyond the benefits to physical health, practicing proper self-care can have a positive impact on overall wellbeing. Setting aside adequate time for self-care has been shown to3:

  • Aid in the management of anxiety
  • Benefit interpersonal relationships
  • Improve memory
  • Increase feelings of joy and satisfaction
  • Lower stress
  • Maximize productivity
  • Reduce symptoms of depression

In addition to the harm done to an individual’s health and personal life, neglecting proper self-care can lead to unintended negative results at work. For professionals employed in healthcare practitioner and healthcare administration roles, it can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout.

Compassion Fatigue vs. Burnout

The negative impacts of stress and declining mental health can take a serious toll on anyone, especially in the field of health and human services, where professionals may face high pressures on a daily basis.

You don’t have to sacrifice self-care to earn your master’s degree. Study when it’s convenient for you in the online M.A. in Healthcare Administration from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

Often, this can lead to compassion fatigue, which is the feeling of helplessness in the face of suffering. Many practitioners and administration personnel in healthcare experience compassion fatigue, and it’s important to look for signs of this condition in yourself and others. Signs that a person may be experiencing compassion fatigue may include4:

  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Feelings or statements expressing powerlessness
  • Feeling extremely overwhelmed
  • Feeling detached or numb
  • Increased anxiety, anger, or irritability
  • Reduced empathy or compassion

Lack of self-care can also lead to severe burnout, which is often confused with compassion fatigue though the two have important differences. Burnout is a state of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion brought on by stress. Professionals working in any field are at risk of burnout, while compassion fatigue is most common in industries that provide help or services to others.

In 2022, 46% of healthcare workers reported experiencing burnout – a significant increase from 32% in 2018.5 Signs of burnout can include6:

  • Feelings of dread or low enthusiasm
  • Inability to sleep
  • Increased headaches, stomach problems, and other physical symptoms
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Irritability or cynicism
  • Lack of motivation
  • Physical or mental exhaustion

46% of healthcare workers reported experiencing burnout in 2022.5

If you or someone you know is experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout, implementing self-care practices can help. It’s also important to know when to seek support from a mental health provider. Talk with your doctor or contact your Employee Assistance Program if you think you need additional assistance.


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Self-Care Strategies for Healthcare Professionals

With so many benefits to effective self-care, it’s no wonder that it’s entered the spotlight at a time when mental health needs are high. But which self-care strategies are most effective? If you work in healthcare, you may find it useful to incorporate the following strategies into your life.

Setting Professional Boundaries

Healthy boundary-setting is a necessity in practicing self-care. For those working in health and human services, including practitioners, healthcare administrators, social workers, and others, it can feel difficult to say “No” to clients, colleagues, and managers. Here are a few tips for setting boundaries at work:

  • Determine your priorities. If family time or alone time are your priority this week, it’s okay to say “No” to staying late at work
  • Don’t over-explain. Remember, “No” is a full sentence
  • Practice. The more often you practice setting boundaries, the easier it’ll become

Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be present in the moment and aware of your thoughts and feelings. Practicing mindfulness can help lower stress, make you feel more grounded, and even increase self-compassion and a sense of calm. To practice mindfulness, try the following techniques:

  • Meditate once a day. Start with just 3-5 minutes of guided meditation and increase your time slowly until you reach 10-15 minutes per day
  • Write in a journal daily, or at least a few times a week. Write about what you’re thinking and feeling, or simply jot down what you did that day. Any reflection on your week will help with mindfulness
  • Practice patterned breathing. This typically involves breathing in and out for specific amounts of time or in a specific way. Get started with these breathing techniques

Maintaining Work-Life Balance

Your job is important. However, it’s also important to maintain a healthy work-life balance. This can help you both manage your own stress and provide better care to patients and clients. A few tips for achieving a better balance include:

  • Take time to connect with friends and family during your off time
  • Use your paid time off, whether you go out of town or not
  • Don’t work through your breaks – take time to eat, talk with co-workers, or simply sit in a quiet area

As healthcare human resource (HR) professionals know, work-life balance also impacts employee retention. Learn about this topic and more in Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s online M.A. in Healthcare Administration program.

Providing for Your Needs

Remember: You can’t fill anyone else’s cup if yours is empty. In order to do your job as a healthcare professional, you need to provide for your own needs before going to work and providing for the needs of your patients. This includes:

  • Hydrating your body by drinking plenty of water
  • Exercising at least three times a week
  • Eating foods that make you feel healthy and energized
  • Getting enough rest to re-charge and start your day with a clear mind

Disconnecting

In a world that’s more connected than ever, disconnecting is another important way to practice effective self-care. It’s also one of the most difficult parts of a self-care plan to achieve. To disconnect, try to do the following:

  • Choose designated hours of the day to keep your phone in another room on silent
  • Don’t check your email after work hours
  • Refrain from checking social media or other apps outside of specific time periods

Building a Self-Care Action Plan

Having a plan in place can help you prioritize self-care in your daily life. Whether you’re looking to refresh your current self-care routine or create one for the first time, the steps below can help you create and stick to a self-care action plan to get on the right track.

Consider Your Current Habits

Start by evaluating your current self-care habits. If you’re unsure where to start, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you unwind at the end of the day?
  • How do you relieve stress?
  • How do you set professional boundaries?
  • How do you care for your own needs?
  • How would you rate your work-life balance?
  • How often do you disconnect from technology?
  • How do your current habits make you feel?

Identify What’s Missing

Next, consider which self-care habits might be most beneficial to add to your routine. To accomplish this, as yourself the following questions:

  • Are any of your needs going unmet?
  • Do you practice mindfulness?
  • Do you have healthy professional boundaries?
  • Who would you like to spend more time with?
  • Are there any hobbies you’re neglecting?
  • How would you like to feel at the end of each day?

Schedule Time for New Self-Care Behaviors

It can be difficult to find time for new habits, especially if you’re used to neglecting self-care. If you’re having difficulty finding time to practice self-care, try incorporating some of the following time-saving habits into your schedule:

  • Prepare meals with friends or family members
  • Spend five minutes breathing deeply or journaling at the beginning of the day
  • Set reminders to drink water throughout the day
  • Don’t look at your phone for at least an hour before bedtime
  • Schedule a day off from work to spend with friends or family

Reflect and Refresh

Finally, it’s essential to consider how well your new self-care action plan is serving you. Take time to reflect and update your plan as needed:

  • How do your new habits make you feel?
  • What works for you? What doesn’t?
  • What other strategies might you try?

Help Others Develop Self-Care Habits

As a professional working in healthcare, it’s essential to practice effective self-care to maintain your own physical and mental health. If you hope to work as a leader in healthcare administration, it’s also important to know how to pass these skills on to others.

At Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, you can learn to lead with empathy. The online MA in Healthcare Administration will help you develop the management and leadership skills you need to make a lasting impact as a compassionate professional in the healthcare field. Request more information to get started today.

Sources

  1. Grünheid, Thorsten and Hazem, Ahmad. “Mental wellbeing of frontline health workers post-pandemic: lessons learned and a way forward.” Frontiers in Public Health. Jun. 19, 2023. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10315458/.
  2. American Heart Association. “Self‐Care for the Prevention and Management of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke.” Journal of the American Heart Association. Aug. 31, 2017. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5634314/.
  3. Perry, Elizabeth. “Why you need a self-care plan (and 5 ways to get started).” BetterUp. Oct. 6, 2021. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.betterup.com/blog/self-care-plan.
  4. Canadian Medical Association. “Compassion fatigue: Signs, symptoms, and how to cope.” Physician Wellness Hub. Dec. 8, 2020. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.cma.ca/physician-wellness-hub/content/compassion-fatigue-signs-symptoms-and-how-cope.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Health Workers Face a Mental Health Crisis.” Vital Signs. Oct. 24, 2023. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/health-worker-mental-health/index.html.
  6. St. Leger, Henry. “5 Signs You’re Headed Toward Burnout — And How to Stop It.” Healthline. May 2, 2023. Retrieved May 2, 2024 from https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/signs-burnout-and-how-to-stop-it#how-to-face-burnout.