Sometimes, people think the best time to take care of yourself is during the holidays because things slow down a bit. As a healthcare professional, you know that is not always the case. Even if you do have time off during the holidays, you are generally too busy preparing for everything (or trying to hang on to what little patience you have left to deal with family members—please tell me you relate).
Focusing on a “12 Days” theme around the holidays is cute and all, but let’s face it—who has time for self-care crammed into 12 consecutive days, much less the 12 days before Christmas? Instead, I want to share useful information that is doable and lasts 11 months and 19 days longer.
Who Takes Care of You?
I’ve always wondered where people who provide care to others go when they need the same care themselves. Have you?
For example, where do licensed clinical social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists go when they need mental health care? I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t need a little help dealing with the things they see and experience on a regular basis. It must take a toll after a while. Or, what about my primary care physician? When she needs to see a doctor, where does she go? When my dentist needs a root canal, he can’t do it himself. Who does he trust to do it for him? (And why am I not going to that person?!)
While we’re at it, as a licensed massage therapist, I wonder if my clients wonder where I go to get a massage. The truth is, I rarely have the time to fit it in. When I do, I usually settle for whoever is available at the time.
As a health care professional, is it the same for you? Do you put self-care off because your patients and clients come first? Because you don’t have time to fit it in? Because you’re just too exhausted or experiencing burnout?
At some point or another, the care and services you provide to others you will also need for yourself. It is important to actively participate in your own care and wellbeing the same way you do for your clients and patients. After all, you can only give as much as you have.
“It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.”
The idea of 12 months of self-care isn’t meant to be a long, drawn out process. It’s about trying to include one small self-care activity each month. If you’re not doing anything currently, any one thing will be an improvement, right? It is a more realistic and manageable approach.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan,” and what better time of year than January to get started on both. It’s easier than you might imagine, and the small amount of time you take in the beginning is well worth the value you will receive in the end. Here are the three steps to help you plan your 12 months of self-care:
Step One: Make a List
Jot down the health concerns and goals you would give more attention to “if you only had the time.” I struggled with this activity at first but then didn’t want to stop. I made a list of 12 items, but you don’t have to. Do what works for you based on your needs and priorities—just focus on the big picture and don’t sell yourself short.
Also, I may be preaching to the choir here, but for good measure: Your mental health matters just as much as your physical health and the two often go hand in hand, so be sure to include that aspect of self-care in your plan, too.
Step Two: Prioritize
Number the items in your list by priority. For reference, take a look at my (sloppy, lefthanded, two-colors-because-my-ink-ran-out) napkin example. Try to incorporate various aspects of wellness (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) into your list, and include interests you have outside of your professional work.
When you are determining how to prioritize your list, be mindful of “shoulds.” My gut reaction was that I “should” prioritize my physical wellness items before my other items because I need my annual check-up, but I just want a massage. If you find yourself doing the same thing, shift your perspective and remember that every single item is something you need.
Step Three: Schedule
Add each of the items to your calendar, whether that is your planner, a digital calendar or even a wall calendar. Use what is easy or what you currently use. I like using the calendar in my smartphone because it syncs with my other calendars and it’s always nearby.
It might help to mark your calendar entries as urgent, color-code them or use a unique title that will motivate you to stick to your appointments. For example, because I try to never miss appointments with my clients, I am going to label my entries “Client Appointment,” to ensure I open it, read it and complete it. If there are items that require you to miss work (for example, a medical appointment), request the time off all at once, so you don’t have to worry about it later. An example of my self-care appointment is shown in the screenshots below. You’ll see in the calendar view, on January 10, the entry shows as “Client Appointment” at 1:00 p.m. but in the event details, it shows that I have an annual check-up.
Even if you don’t know exactly what your self-care goals are, it is OK. Try to schedule blocks of time on your calendar anyway. They can be however long and at whatever time of day you prefer. Even if all you do is breathe deeply for a few minutes or take a bubble bath every month, do something. But schedule it in advance—and fiercely protect your time.
In 12 months from now, you will have two options. You can reflect on the wishes you had, or you can reflect on the actions you took to make them a reality. Which will you choose?
Personally, I’m not waiting for January. By the time you read this article, my massage therapy appointment will be set in stone … hot stone, even.
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