One of the best things you can do for yourself is to learn how to fully recover from healthcare burnout after each and every shift, whether it be from healthcare burnout's pre-cursor the Healthcare hangover (HH) or full-blown burnout.
The unprocessed stress & trauma of working in healthcare have profound effects on our health.
Its damages can spill out into the rest of our lives & potentially affect our patients, families & loved ones.
However, just like we were trained to do, we keep going.
Until we start to hate going.
Until we begin to feel overworked & undervalued.
Until our pay hardly seems worth the toll it takes on our lives.
When considering making changes in our jobs, we worry about succumbing to financial instability that may cause us even more stress if we choose to leave.So we begin to feel completely stuck, and what's worst: Too tired to do anything about it.
If this sounds like you, & you want to
✔recoup your energy levels
✔feel more rested
✔improve your mental health
✔lift the fog
✔Enjoy your work more
✔& be rested enough to be able to
gain more clarity about whether you need a long break, to change jobs or something else-
Here is an effective framework using the 3 Pillars of healthcare burnout recovery put in my E-Book that you can use the next time your work leaves you at a deficit.
With Rest Comes Clarity
By now you have probably figured out that in a heightened state of energetic depletion you are unlikely to find the clarity you need to make changes in your life, job or the patterns that lead you here. So it's important that before you add more to your plate, you learn to recover your energy levels in whichever way will maximize your return to homeostasis.
Only then will you have the bandwidth to examine your current job & whether changes are necessary or not.
The clarity about what to do next will come with space & time.
First, let's begin by getting a more intimate look at assessing your own needs.
Understanding Your Own Needs
How aware you are of your needs to restore your energy levels may depend on your upbringing, training & social circle.
Especially if you grew up as a child who was not allowed to have a say in what they needed, it may be hard for you to even know what your needs are.
As an adult, you may even find yourself drawing a complete blank when trying to decipher what you need to feel better if you are experiencing a healthcare work hangover.
As a professional caregiver, you may not be used to anyone asking you what you need to feel happy, relaxed, and well. It is not uncommon to realize you do not have a habit of considering your own needs first.
This was my exact dilemma, & probably the reason I ended up severely burned out more than once.
Spending some time figuring out the things you need in order to recover your physical & mental energy from healthcare work may be challenging & take some time to flesh out, but I highly encourage you to explore this.
Even if you draw a blank when attempting to figure out these things it's worth creating the intentional space & time to figure this out.
You may set a 10-minute timer & brainstorm about all the things that restore your body & spirit when you feel depleted.
1. Start by Optimizing your Basic Needs
After a tough shift of healthcare work, you may experience fogginess, irritability, physical depletion & other symptoms of a HH.
To keep it simple, start with optimizing your basic needs.
You may be familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
If you are unfamiliar with it, it is an idea in psychology proposed by American Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation" in the journal Psychological Review. He then created a classification system that reflected the universal needs of society as its base.
Taking these into consideration I created another pyramid that caters to the stages of healthcare work recovery for optimal well-being, based on my experience as well as guidance from my therapist & proven scientific strategies to unearth the early warning signs that lead me to complete burnout.
The first step in recovering from health care work is therefore to start with optimizing your very basic human needs.
It may look like this:
Leaving work after a rough shift/day/week & focusing solely on your physiological return to homeostasis: Go to a safe place to recover-->Shower--> eat--> sleep.
Once your basic needs are optimized then you can move on to the second stage, recovery.
It is important to note that there is not a standard time that it should take. Everyone is different and has varying levels of sleep quality, time, etc. It is simply encouraged that you take whatever amount of time you need to feel physiologically recovered.
2. Types of Recovery to Consider
Optimizing your basic needs will provide you with some clarity about what to do next.
Do you need more passive recovery? Like another day at home in comfy clothes?
Are your energy levels recovered enough that you are ready for more active recovery?
Ultimately it will be up to you which you chose, just make sure you do what feels right for you at the time.
I find that for me, I need passive recovery before active recovery more often than not, but every so often I'll have really restful sleep that completely restores my energy levels and I wake up with energy to work out & do more active recovery.
Here are some ideas of types of passive vs. active recovery that you can add to your toolbox.
There are also a few things that are scientifically proven to maximize & promote calmness & well-being, & incorporating these into your recovery rituals can potentiate the results.
Feel free to use them.
The Studies by Dr. Perry from the book he wrote with Oprah called What happened to you? and how as humans we are programmed to be calmed by rhythm in utero by the sound of our mothers beating heart. This is why babies are calmed by movement and pace & it has the same calming effects on humans of any age.
Other effective tools that potentiate recovery are:
Warmth: warm shower, cozy blankets, soft clothing make you feel safer
Repetitive chores: washing dishes, folding laundry watering plants, etc, are known to provide a sense of peace if approached like a moving meditation.
3. Don't Skip the Play
By this stage, your energy levels will be recovered & you may be really tempted to skip this step completely before returning to work. With your energy levels restored you may really be tempted to tackle that to-do list or even to take on new things.
Do yourself a favor & don't.
The benefits of play for adults are long documented and are far too great to skip.
According to the NIP, the National Institute of Play (how cool is that, that this even exists), Play is the gateway to vitality. By its nature, it is uniquely and intrinsically rewarding.
Play generates optimism, seeks out novelty, makes perseverance fun, and leads to mastery. ...
It also enhances relationships. The NIP cites studies that indicate that play refreshes a long-term adult-adult relationship.
Some of the hallmarks of its refreshing, oxygenating action are humor, the enjoyment of novelty, and the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies. ...
Playful communications and interactions, when nourished, produce a climate for easy connection and a deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy. Who wouldn’t want this in a relationship?
An added bonus is that play encourages you to develop personal interests outside of work, which is wonderful since, for many of us, our career in healthcare is so closely tied to our identities that experiencing burnout can even feel like a betrayal by your career.
Although our work as health care professionals inherently makes us emotionally invested in our work, it helps to have emotional boundaries & a full life outside of our work in order to offset its emotional toll.
If you have a hard time figuring out what to do for play, one of the best places to start is by recollecting your childhood interests.
For instance, as a child I was really into dinosaurs, playing musical instruments, and nature- and now as an adult, I find myself attracted to the exact same thing. I love dinosaur books, movies, etc, I still play piano and guitar for fun & In fact, as an indoor plant hobbyist, I have even found myself creating nature inside my house.
If that doesn't do it, keep researching, trying new things and over time you will find interests that bring you lots of joy. Even better if your join a group related to your interest as well to satisfy the psychosocial need we humans have to have healthy social bonds.
After completing all 3 steps of Recovering from a HH, you should feel refreshed, with more clarity about what to do next & ready to return to work or not- it's up to you.
Rinse and repeat every time you find yourself in the throws of a HH.
The amount of time it takes you to go through all steps is personal & does not have to necessarily have to take long.
By getting to know your Health Care Hangover Recovery Rate (HHRR) you can better prepare to customize your work schedule given the opportunity. For me, it takes me about 2.5 to 3 days to fully recover from a bad night of call as a CT Surgery PA. Knowing this- allowed me to space out my call days in a way that maximally promotes my own homeostasis.
Imagine if you were able to have a schedule when you always feel refreshed and energized coming to work?!
It is possible.
I also understand that there are some responsibilities that cannot be put on hold, such as parenting, health issues, school work, family emergencies, etc. Also, I understand that you may not have the control you wish you had over your work schedule. This framework is meant to give you something to approximate, make your own, and spark thought & introspection around what you need to feel happier at work and in life.
It can be customized & it is also meant as a starting point for you to begin to get to know your own needs and the work schedule & life activities that you need to function optimally & get maximum enjoyment at work and beyond.
If you loved this article spread the love and share it with someone you think would benefit!