Why do doctors ignore their own self-care needs?

Most busy doctors completely forget (or ignore) the importance of integrating personal downtime and self-care into their schedules.

It’s no surprise so many doctors wrestle with overwhelm. Downtime is crucial for stress management.

What about you? Are you guilty of skipping your “you time?”

No, I don’t mean attending a seminar, reading an article, or talking about stress reduction at a staff meeting.

I mean, when is the last time you scheduled some real downtime, just for yourself?

Although my husband is a “manly man,” his work as an oral surgeon gives his back and neck a daily beating.

So for him, scheduling acupuncture and massage visits on a routine basis is more like maintenance than self-care. He knows that this type of downtime enables him to be his best for his patients and his family.

For me, there are different levels of downtime. One of my routines includes going to the gym, even when I don’t feel like it. It keeps me on track and healthy, and it keeps me honest. It’s a way of doing for myself what I tell my patients to do.

However, what I tend to push to the wayside is self-nurturing downtime. Like, the times when I just hang out in the backyard reading a magazine — not a journal, not a business book — a silly, indulgent magazine about hairstyles, high heels, and such.

Why do doctors put their own self-care needs second? I think it’s time we take a stand and turn that around, don’t you?

From this day forward, I’m giving you permission to put self-nurturing in your schedule.

We all need to feel rejuvenated, refreshed and renewed to be better doctors, spouses, parents and friends.

You may not have a long weekend coming up. But, can you hire a babysitter for a couple hours and go see a chick flick with your BFF? Or maybe your idea of downtime is attending a sporting event that doesn’t involve grade school teams or high schoolers.

For you, self-nurturing downtime might be the traditional girly mani/pedi appointment, or, beer with the boys after shooting some hoops.

Or maybe your idea of downtime is a solitary walk on a moonlit night to restore your sense of You.

Here’s how you do it: Write down an activity that you’d like to do, just for yourself. Now, pull out your cellphone and take a picture of that note you just wrote. In the coming week, do whatever it takes to make that activity happen for you.

Everyone — especially doctors — must make time for self-love and self-nurturing.

But, to reap the benefits, you must first sow the seeds.

Doctor’s orders.

Starla Fitch is an ophthalmologist, speaker and personal coach.  She blogs at Love Medicine Again and is the author of Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine. She can also be reached on Twitter @StarlaFitchMD

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