The holidays are over yet many of us express needing a “holiday after a holiday”.
Although this may be a wisecrack, often holidays are packed with various events with very little time for relaxation and leisure.
Yet relaxation and enjoyment are essential for our creativity, peacefulness, as well as contributing towards feeling a sense of meaning and pleasure in your work. It is therefore crucial to prioritise self-care, whether during a holiday or back at work.
Moreover, many people, especially those in high-care professions, often work without noticing that they may be struggling with fatigue or may be on the verge of burn-out. These include doctors and nurses, social workers, mental health professionals and teachers.
The following simple guidelines can help in developing more self-care, especially when working in high-care or any high pressure work situations.
Positive, compassionate, and helpful connection with colleagues is the most under-appreciated source of stress-reduction, resilience and peacefulness.
If we are ruminating about a difficult interaction with a colleague or client, then sharing with a caring, supportive colleague can help to lighten the burden. When we intentionally practise kind and supportive interactions with others, we can foster a collaborative work environment where successes and failures can be shared and borne together. The common form of social connection in many workplaces is “happy hour”, which can exclude people with responsibilities at home and could turn into an unproductive venting or gossiping session.
Exploring other ways to connect and creating opportunities to engage in meaningful and playful activities together, from deep conversations to a fun group games event, can be more beneficial.
Bringing this sense of belonging to your workplace might involve intentionally scheduling a time to check in with colleagues about what is going well or not.
Simple practices of gratitude – at the beginning of a meeting, perhaps, or privately with a colleague – do more than just shift our well-being and outlook.
They can also ignite more kind and altruistic behaviour: When we receive and acknowledge generosity from others, we are more likely to share that feeling through acts of kindness. Instead of getting over-focused on production and work only, taking time to find reasons to feel grateful can lead to feelings of groundedness and relaxation.
Genuine gratitude goes far beyond a simple statement of “thanks”. It includes a clear and deep understanding of what you are thankful for and how it helped or supported you.
You can start by asking yourself: “What can I be grateful for today?” or “How has my life been improved recently?”
There is a longstanding apprehension among healthcare professionals and medical educators around practising compassion and empathy.
This emerges from the belief that empathic healthcare providers lose objectivity in their decision-making, are susceptible to “caring too much”, and succumb to feelings of shared despair with their patients – leading to depression and burn-out.
But research inside and outside of healthcare has called this idea into question. Researchers are finding that a measure of empathy can effectively inform clarity and compassionate care, which leads to better outcomes for the recipients of care and greater well-being and satisfaction for care providers.
Routine self-care and “time-out” can help prevent compassion fatigue and burn-out. Diarise these times too as they are as valuable as scheduling work tasks and meetings.
Self-compassion – applying kindness and care towards our own challenges and struggles – sounds like it would be simple for people in the caring professions.
And yet it is easy to ignore one’s own needs if you perceive your struggles as insignificant in comparison to the struggles of those whom you are helping, or if you feel that you are not living up to high standards.
Self-compassion is a practice of giving yourself kind, caring attention – the type you’d give to a close friend or family member you love.
With self-compassion, we take a moment of mindfulness to recognise our difficulty and struggle, whatever the reason – whether we feel we created it, or whether we are feeling the pain of another.
That simple acknowledgment of our challenge is immensely influential on its own. The next step is to recognise that we are not alone in our struggle or suffering, that many people suffer just like us.
And, lastly, we apply some kindness towards ourselves: a phrase or word that feels soothing, something a close friend might say to us.
Explore the work of Kristin Neff on her website self-compassion.org
Meaning and purpose
Reinvigorating a sense of purpose and meaning in high-care work is essential. This kind of work has intrinsic meaning because it involves helping others to be well, but this can be obscured beneath intense schedules and the demands of administrative tasks.
First, reflect on three questions about meaning, which you can try with others:
When was the last time you experienced meaning?
How did you know it was meaningful? What does meaning feel like – in your body, mind and heart?
Where do you have opportunities to cultivate more of this feeling of meaning in your daily work and life?
Meaning is deeply connected to values and that which you value as most important in your life.
Often we get stuck on feeling a particular way without actually putting into action that which will create a sense of meaning and joy.
Perhaps we can heed the words of the poet, Rabindranath Tagore, who said, “I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung”.
I hope you and all of us will choose to sing our wonderfully imperfect songs, instead of only stringing our instruments and never using them during this short, precious life.