5 principles of self-care for health professionals

by Lisa Chu, MD

As trained caring professionals, often we think of self-care as “selfish” or something that we do after we’ve taken care of our other “duties”, “responsibilities” and “obligations”.

Just for a moment, I invite you to think of self-care in a different way. I invite you to consider that your knowledge and practice of self-care is essential in creating a healing relationship with your patients, and creating a healing environment in your clinic, operating room, or hospital.

I have a new mantra as I create my life and offerings to the world: “You’ve gotta live it to give it.” Until we can connect with what is common to all human experience, we cannot be fully compassionate toward our patients and authentically promote the state of wellness and health we claim to be guiding them toward.

Here are 5 principles of self-care to get you started:

1. Boundaries. Establish personal boundaries between you and the other people in your life. Define who you are and take responsibility only for your role in creating your reality. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is, says there are three kinds of business – my business, your business, and God’s business. Stay in your own business.

2. Move from reactive to creative mode. How? Start with the way you wake up each morning. What do you say to yourself as you open your eyes? What thoughts go through your mind before you get out of bed? Start noticing whether you are reacting from the minute you start your day (do you check e-mail before getting out of bed?), or taking time to create an intention and mindset that affirms your sense of self before you begin to respond to others.

3. Listen to your body, your intuition, and your felt experience. In a system where you have been selected and trained to trust the power of your mind over all else, and where you have been rewarded for your ability to memorize and answer questions correctly, it is a shift in mindset to begin to listen to the totality of your being, not just your thoughts. How to tune into your body? See the next step.

4. Find out what restores you. Only you can know the answer to this. No book, coach, friend, family member, or mentor can tell you. When I say “restore”, I’m not talking about sleep, alcohol, television, or the internet. These are distractions, designed to get us out of our bodies and escape into illusion. Restorative activities actually engage your mind and body in a deep, coordinated way, AND provide you with a sense of freedom and joy.

Maybe it’s salsa dancing, or skeet shooting, or golf, or badminton, or singing karaoke. In order to find out what truly restores your body and spirit, it will require some exploration and therefore risk (or as I like to call it, “adventure”!). You might explore something and later abandon it when you find out it doesn’t work for you. That means you’re learning about yourself! Keep going. Listen to that faint yet definite inner voice that calls gently to you in the silence of being still, and says, “Wouldn’t that be fun?” or “Doesn’t that sound interesting?”. Then see what happens.

5. Give yourself permission to feel good, and to want what you want. Again, being in a system that has selected and trained you largely for your ability to suppress these feelings, this principle may seem ridiculous to you. As you explore the activities that restore you, and begin to experience the feeling of joy generated internally from the connection of mind, body and spirit, you may actually start to feel good!

It may feel criminal to you, like you’re a child breaking the rules and deserving to be punished. This is your mind talking, not the truth of your felt experience. Allowing yourself to feel good will take some time and practice, but I’m here to give you not only permission to do it, but also to remind you that if you don’t know how to feel good yourself, you will not truly be able to make your patients feel better, no matter what technology or intervention you are offering them.

Lisa Chu is the creator of The Music Within Us violin program.

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  • http://dign.eu Pieter Kubben

    Useful post… sounds rather mindfulness-alike, shifting back from “human-doings” to “human-beings”.

    Nevertheless good to keep these things in mind!

  • http://www.medicalisland.net Dr. Lawrence Kindo

    It is sometimes difficult to establish ourselves in our jobs that demands 24×7 availability. Well, that’s almost true for most Indian doctors practicing in the country – I am not talking about big names that just stroll in and sign a paper or two and their day is done at the office, but those junior doctors that slog it out day-in and day-out in patient care. These selfless people (I mean, overworked) are by no means inhuman by their nature. They sure do have families, other matters to attend to, but duty at the hospital becomes their daily rut. I am sure it would do them some good to take these suggestions seriously. Man, I need a break as well. Check out the plight of junior doctors in India on my blog at http://www.medicalisland.net/exodus-of-indian-doctors and http://www.medicalisland.net/quacks-in-india-claim-majority

  • Natalie

    I’m so glad you made a post about this. It seems to be a topic of discussion here lately (maybe it’s that time of year). I always find myself remind those around me- other professionals, patients, parents- that in order to provide the utmost for those you care about, you have to make sure your own life is in check.

    I especially love the boundaries part. It’s so hard to keep distance between yourself and those who seem to suck the life out of you.

  • smartdoc

    Excellent post. Well thought out and inspirational.

  • http://www.sherwoodcommunications.com Sarah Sherwood

    A needed article. As someone who works regularly with physicians, I see a kind of “burnout” that is not only human, but common for an “alpha” male and female. Even though overwork is common, it can negatively affect personal performance. We think, I’ll just take a vacation, but that’s not the answer. The solution is closer to what is written above.