Elements of a Self-Care Protocol – from The Resilient Clinician by Robert J. Wicks

The following is taken from The Resilient Clinician by Robert J. Wicks.  Dr. Wicks writes primarily for psychiatrists and other mental health workers, but his advice is applicable to anyone who works with patients.

There are basic elements of a self-care protocol that most everyone needs to renew themselves on an ongoing basis. It really doesn’t  require too much to take a step back from our work routine to  become refreshed and regain perspective. Some of the basic elements  might include:

• Quiet walks by yourself

• Time and space for meditation

• Spiritual and recreational reading-including the diaries  and biographies of others whom you admire

• Some light exercise

• Opportunities to laugh offered by movies, cheerful  friends, etc.

• A hobby such as gardening

• Phone calls to family and friends who inspire and tease you

• Involvement in projects that renew

• Listening to music you enjoy (Wicks, 2003, p. 50)

Other simple steps at self-care and renewal might be:

• Visiting a park or hiking

• Having family or friends over for dinner or evening coffee

• Going to the library or a mega-bookstore to have coffee,  a scone, and to peruse the magazines

• Shopping for little things that would be fun to have but  not cost a lot

• Taking a bath rather than a quick shower

• Daydreaming

• Forming a “dining club” in which you go out once  a month for lunch with a friend or sibling

• E-mailing friends

• Listening to a mystery book on tape

• Reading poetry out loud

• Staying in bed later than usual on a day off

• Having a leisurely discussion with your spouse over  morning coffee in bed

• Watching an old movie

• Making love with your spouse

• Buying and reading a magazine you have never read before

• Fixing a small garden with bright, cheery flowers

• Telephoning someone you haven’t spoken to in ages

• Buying and playing a new CD by a singer or musician  you love

• Taking a short walk (without listening to music) before  and after work and/or during lunchtime

• Going to a diner and having a cup of tea and a piece  of pie

• Going on a weekend retreat at a local spirituality center or  a hotel on large grounds so you can take out time to walk,  reflect, eat when you want, read as long as you’d like, or  just renew yourself

• Arranging to spend a couple of days by yourself in your  own home without family or friends present just to  lounge around and be alone without a schedule  or the needs or agendas of others

• Getting a cheap copybook and journaling each day as  a way of unwinding

Religion and Spirituality

People who are ill or hurting often turn to their religious roots for solace.  The mind and body connection is a powerful one, and one that can contribute to good patient care.  Spirituality in medicine can take an overtly religious tone, but only if both the physician and patient are completely comfortable.  No matter what your religious background, you will care for patients whose belief system is different from your own.  The true root of spirituality in medicine is compassion. Regardless of your religious background and your personal beliefs you can cultivate a philosophy of compassion.  Both you and the patients you care for will do better because of it.

 The workday can be onerous and fatigue can make you lose perspective.  It is important to find something greater than you and spend some time there everyday.  The most efficient method is to look inside of yourself by just sitting.  Learn to just sit.  It is harder than it sounds, but very powerful when achieved.  Slow your breathing, close your eyes and let the thoughts go.  Concentrate on your breathing and relax all your muscles.  Don’t fidget, don’t move.  When the thoughts start running (and they will), just acknowledge them and let them go.  Try to get to a moment (and that it all it will usually be) when your mind is silent and your body relaxed.  This is the moment to listen.  Being able to quiet yourself this way is very conducive to allowing your mind to work on the “big picture”.  If you spend even 10 minutes everyday in this kind of meditation, you will be surprised at how some of the things that are worrying you become “solved”.

 Work at finding beautiful places where you can sit for a minute or walk.  Nature is one of the most powerful spiritual experiences.  If you have a favorite place to hike or be outside, take some pictures and blow them up for your house or call room.  Put beautiful plants in your house and then take care of them. (Dead plants are a bad way to cultivate spirtituality…)  Watch for the surprising moments of beauty in a day and notice them.  Look for the flower blooming outside a patient’s room, the proud look of a father watching his two-year-old totter into the hospital, a new painting on the wall.

Cultivate a sense of wonder.  Have you ever seen anything more incredible than a beating heart in a surgeon’s hand?  Allow yourself a moment to be amazed in the middle of the day.  People have incredible resilience at times – notice it and appreciate it.