Self-care and work-life balance: Healthcare workers need both to prevent burnout


Last week, the government lifted the COVID-19 public health emergency declaration. In exploring the “new normal,” I would like to highlight two lessons he has taught me from the pandemic: the importance of self-care and finding value beyond work.

I’m disappointed to see the return of a culture of hard work, a clear shift from the early 2022 debates about boundaries, self-care and work-life balance. My TikTok feed is full of fun “GRWM” (“get ready”) videos, self-care talks, getting a pay raise, interview tips, side jobs, and company buy-ins from @Saraisthreads’ “Veronica at Work” videos It became a change to a creator who does. Fired.

In my graduate social work classes, I always have a module on self-care. Over time, self-care can help health care workers better serve their patients, be more productive in the workplace, reduce sick leave, and generally be more successful through extrinsic and objective measures. I’ve found countless articles that say you can.

But what about self-care as a way of survival? How to maintain joy and meaning? How to be fully with those you love?

As a medical social worker, I learned the hard way. Self-care is a long-term commitment that requires thoughtfulness and intentionality. Over the past two years, I have been in therapy to recover from burnout, and it has made me wonder what self-care is meaningful, sustainable, and real. For me, it’s not a bubble bath, a fancy yoga retreat, or a vacation in Europe. Setting better boundaries, finding purpose, saying “no,” being kind to myself, and prioritizing my mental health have actually helped me.

I decided to ask my students and colleagues about self-care. Many early-career professionals associate burnout with personal deficiencies such as being overly sensitive, lacking exercise, and having weak boundaries. On the other hand, more experienced professionals and students identified more structural causes such as lack of support, low wages, understaffed and overwhelmed workplaces, and systemic oppression.

The shift in responsibility from individuals to systems has been consistently noticeable.

Finding Value and Identity Outside Work

When asked about the purpose of self-care, the experts overwhelmingly said self-care is to “recharge” or “get more involved with the patient.” Students noted ‘happiness’, ‘being with loved ones more’ and ‘feeling better’. The quality of these responses indicates that the conversation about self-care is changing, largely based on the lessons of the pandemic.

Self-care practices are essential for us to become better health care professionals, but there is a significant shortage of self-care in the United States. Self-care benefits us, our patients, and the communities we serve. But you don’t have to do anything “special” to self-care. Self-care ideas and practices can help you approach work and life.

Our work is an important part of our identity, but it may not be the only thing that defines us, or even the most important one. Pursuing hobbies, spending time with loved ones, and participating in activities that bring you joy can help you rediscover powerful joys and refocus on what matters most.

An important part of my recovery has been finding values ​​and identity outside of work. I found real joy in finding a hobby. As it turns out, I love woodworking. And there was a resource in my backyard for learning this new hobby. The Chicago Park District offers low-cost classes on a variety of subjects, including woodworking, weaving, and even sailing on Lake Michigan. Meanwhile, the Halstead Center and other organizations offer social sports leagues, and the Chicago Public Library hosts book clubs, social clubs, and other opportunities.

I also learned that self-care means setting boundaries, like turning off your computer after 5pm. Treat these as non-negotiable. Your health is as important as any other work-related obligation. Finally, resist the temptation of complacency, which is common among healthcare professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Seek help from a mental health professional if you think you’re experiencing burnout or compassion fatigue.

As healthcare professionals, we know we have a duty to provide quality care to our patients. We have an obligation to rethink self-care and find value beyond work.

I hope to see you in the field for a long, long time. We hope to see you again soon in our woodworking class.

Padraic Stanley is a social worker and program manager in the Department of Social Work and Community Health at Rush University Medical Center.he’s a public voice buddy OpEd project.

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