Are you a doctor who is so busy taking care of other people that you are neglecting your own health and mental wellness?

If so, you are not alone. A survey by the Samueli Integrative Health Program cited in this article found that only 57 percent of physicians practice self-care “often” while about 36% practice it “sometimes” even though 80 percent of doctors feel that practicing self-care is “very important”. The primary reason for the lack of self-care is not enough time followed by mounting job demands. 

When doctors stop taking care of themselves, they put themselves at a higher risk for burnout which can jeopardize their patients and their career.

Symptoms of burnout on the job include making poor decisions, making medical errors, and/or displaying hostility towards patients and/or colleagues. Burnout can also affect a doctor’s personal life in the form of depression, anxiety, marital dysfunction, alcohol or drug use, insomnia, and in some cases, self-harm or suicide. 

Here are self-care tips for doctors, physicians, and other medical professionals that are designed to support mental wellness.  

Value Yourself

As you treat your patients with an open heart, kindness, and respect, do the same for yourself. Avoid or tamper down self-criticism by focusing on your daily accomplishments. If you find this hard to do, try starting a journal where you note three things that you did during the day that made you happy. As time goes on, you will find it easier to celebrate your little (or big) accomplishments each day. 

Plan Healthy Activities on Your Days Off

Instead of going to happy hour to celebrate the weekend, make plans to do a healthy activity that broadens your horizons and stimulates your mind. Take your partner or friend to explore a neighboring city, try a new exercise class, attend a cooking class, or learn a new hobby. 

Make Time for Your Family

Designate a “family day” where you say no to any other invitations that arise. Whether it is a bike ride around the lake, hiking in the local mountains, or simply having a picnic in the backyard, use the day to be in the moment and focus on your family members.

Find a Fitness Routine that Works for You

A consistent fitness routine is one of the best ways to decrease stress, burn calories, and increase endorphins. Since most medical professionals do not have a standard 8-5 schedule, keeping a fitness routine may be a challenge. Be flexible and find alternative ways to get exercise in. For instance, on days when you are working, park farther away to get in some extra steps going to and from work, take the stairs instead of the elevator, ride your bike to work, or find a workout to do online before or after work if getting to the gym is too much. 

Practice the 80/20 Rule

Make mindful whole food choices 80 percent of the time by comprising your diet mainly of vegetables, fruits, lean meats, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, legumes, and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado). These foods will provide your body and brain with consistent energy instead of the high-low spikes that you will feel when eating foods high in sugars and carbohydrates.

Eating well is not hard when you take the time to do some meal prep before your work week. Pre-making food – such as healthy salads, soups, chili, etc., – will make easy grab-and-go foods during your week. 

The other 20 percent of the time is for you to indulge in some of your favorite comfort foods. No foods are off limits, but the overall key is to practice balance and moderation. 

Make Time for Self-Care

Self-care is not selfish but a way to recharge yourself so that you will be at your best for your patients, colleagues, and family. Self-care can be anything that you find relaxing and enjoyable. It may be a hobby, meditation, journaling, gardening, cooking, knitting, reading, getting a massage, or having coffee with your friend – the list is different for every person. Schedule in your self-care as if it were an important appointment and if something comes up, reschedule it immediately.

Get Your Sleep 

Sleep is time for your body to repair and recharge. Aim for seven to nine hours of continuous sleep per night. If you struggle with falling asleep, try incorporating some of these tips into your bedtime routine.

Seek Help When You Need It

If you have thoughts, emotions, or behaviors that you are feeling are beyond your control, seek professional help. Seeking professional help for your mental well-being is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

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Making self-care a priority will help you feel better both mentally and physically.

It will also be a positive example to your patients when you offer them advice on how to better care for themselves.   

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