Within Reach: Self-Care

by Mitch Radin, Clinical Psychologist

friends_huggingIt seems like everybody is talking about self-care these days, though all this talk seems to be doing very little for easing everyday stress, especially in the health care field. Most people in health care respond to encouragement to practice self-care with, “How am I supposed to turn off my phone and spend time doing what I want when I have a huge caseload of patients? I’m behind in my charting! Someone’s going to go without their medications if I don’t spend 3 hours on the phone trying to figure out what happened to their prescription!” Or something like that, anyway.

Self-care and mindfulness are deeply misunderstood practices, a misunderstanding bolstered by the myth that meditation solves problems and that being mindful makes you happy. The truth is that meditation is an effort to prepare oneself to deal with a problem, and being mindful only allows us to be more aware of what we’re doing and make more informed decisions about what we want to do next. It’s about being intentional and setting ourselves up to be happier in the long run. Self-care need be nothing more than acknowledging what we need in any given moment, such as saying, “This is self-care” whenever we take five minutes to just be quiet, hug a friend, or just take our time to hydrate. It doesn’t need to be a giant leap. Small, simple things.

It’s a matter of perspective. If the glucose levels of someone with diabetes changes with perceived rather than actual elapsed time; or people perform 40% better on a visual acuity test when wearing a pilot’s uniform, it follows: What we believe about what we’re doing has a big impact on how we do it.

Practicing self-care is well within reach of anyone who decides to practice it.  All it takes to start is acknowledging when you do something nice for yourself. It gets easier from there.