I want you to picture a scenario most of us haven’t been able to experience much over the past year. Imagine that you’re on a plane. You’re flying to see family, going on an adventure, or just getting away from everything for a bit. You’re listening to the in-flight lecture on safety and how to take care of yourself in the case of an emergency. Now, think...what is the first thing the flight attendant says when talking about putting on your oxygen mask? It’s to put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping anyone else. This isn’t just good first aid advice, it’s good self-care advice, too. Because before you can provide quality patient care, you have to be well yourself. Moreso, before you can be a shoulder to cry on, or the rock someone leans on, you have to be strong yourself.
So the first lesson in self-care is simple: Self-care is not selfishness. Self-care is recognizing that you can’t drink from an empty cup, and sometimes you just have to fill your cup up before you can let others drink from it. Remember, you have to be able to breathe if you want to help someone else breathe. So, take that breath, whether metaphorically or literally. Take that time to fill your lungs and your heart, and let go of any guilt you may feel about it.
The second lesson in self-care is to embrace simplicity. We’ve all seen the self-help books, with the covers that laud the “12 steps to better self-care,” or “10 products you need to take care of you.” The truth is, in my opinion, none of that is really needed. Self-care, as indicated by its very name, is about the self. It is individual. Self-care is not a one-size-fits-all, or a guided path that only an expert can take you on. YOU get to decide what self-care looks like, and it does not need to be expensive or complicated. Self-care is what you make of it.
The third lesson is that the end result of self-care is the care itself. Sometimes that ends with tangible rewards, like art produced from a beloved hobby, or a language learned, or home projects completed. But sometimes the result is the time spent doing something that is just enjoyable. Sometimes time is spent reading or playing video games, taking walks with friends and family or listening to music. Any and all of these are valid forms of self-care, and you should do the things that make you happy and fulfilled, regardless of whether you have something to “show off” at the end.
The final lesson, and perhaps the most difficult to embrace, is that you have to make the time for self-care. How many times have any of us said, “I don’t have time to take a day off,” or “I can’t take a day off, I have too much to do”? The work we do is important, no doubt about that. But, we are just as important as the work that we do, and we have to give ourselves the grace to take time off. The pharmacy will still be there when you come back, others will step in to handle issues so patients are taken care of, and the end result will be a calmer, happier you who is ready to step back into the fight.
It can be hard to prioritize self-care, and difficult to not feel guilty for not doing something “productive.” It’s important to remember that you are important, and prioritizing your mental wellbeing is vital to providing quality care to your patients.
You deserve to take the time you need to care for yourself, during a pandemic and any other time.