Practicing Self-Care in Healthcare

Jerry Bridge Self-Care Leave a Comment

Here’s a teaser from my new book due March 2015 “If healthcare is about well being, then why am I so stressed out?”

 “The physician will hardly be thought very careful of the health of his patients if he neglects his own.” Galen (130-200 AD)

A few years back I was presenting a keynote for the North Carolina Health Information Management Association. I was speaking about the importance of self-care when I noticed that a hand shot up from the audience. It was Audrey, then chapter president for the association. She came up to the front of the room and took the microphone. I’ll never forget the importance of what Audrey shared with the 300 plus attendees in the room that day….

“I want everybody in this room to know that as a single mother of two young children, I was this close [raising her right, her thumb and index finger making a half circle, indicating the tiny space between them] to leaving two orphans. I had a heart attack that nearly killed me. I am 33 years old. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me, I was the ‘mystery’ patient. As it turns out, what had caused my heart attack was stress. Since then I have given up working crazy unsustainable hours. I no longer do email dispositions at three in the morning. The emails can wait but my kids need their mommy, alive and well!”

This was quite a wake-up call indeed!

The principle of caring for others before self, if not explicitly stated, is deeply rooted in the healthcare providers approach to patients. This is a long lived, core value that extends throughout our “modern” healthcare system. Perhaps it’s time to think differently, about the need to take care in order to give it.

 ‘Putting your mask on first’

I spend a lot of time on airplanes. There’s no wonder then that I can recite, word for word, the flight attendants announcements regarding the safety features, seat belt instructions, and what we’re supposed to do (other than freak out and pray that we don’t all die!) in case of emergency.

“In the unlikely event that there’s a loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the ceiling (hopefully). If you’re travelling with a minor”, the dutiful attendant informs us to, “put your mask on first before attending to others”.

In the context of wellness and stress, what would it mean for you to put your mask on first? What would you be doing differently? What new habits or behaviors would you have?

It might simply be spending a few minutes each day, sitting quietly, taking a few deep breaths in order to release stress and anxiety. Maybe you invite a few people to join you for a walk during lunch. Or perhaps you imagine yourself as an 80 year old, writing a letter to your ‘current’ self, a letter in which you express your goals and aspirations for a healthier, happier, stress-free future.

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