To Better Take Care Of Patients, We Need To Take Care Of Ourselves


 
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By Manju Mahajan, MD 

We all know by now that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world altogether. There is no question that stressors in our lives are more than ever before. This year’s Fall will be the most dangerous of Falls. So what does it mean for the physicians? How do we keep ourselves going when all we feel is a sense of isolation and burn out? And what about childcare? Who gets to keep their jobs between partners, or who works fewer hours? That’s if we have a partner. What if you are a single parent? These are some seriously stressful concerns.

Lately, I have had a few fairly healthy patients recently complain to me that they feel short of breath in their masks. I tried to affirm, reflect, and appreciated them for the efforts they were making to keep themselves and everyone safe, But in my mind, all I could think was, “I feel exactly the same” every day. I am a primary care physician and to be on the “safer side,” I wear an N-95 mask that I reuse and a surgical mask on top of it that I dispose of every day. And oh boy, do I feel choked every day, especially during an allergy flare. So I wonder what keeps us physicians going? What makes us show up to work every day? Even though it might sound clichéd, for most of us, it’s the love for medicine; it’s the love to be there and still be able to make a difference. And maybe money too. Here I have some self-help tips/tools that could potentially help us through these tough times. We cannot change our surroundings. We can certainly adapt.

1. We need to take care of ourselves. We should be our first priority. So if we feel frustrated, let down, unappreciated, isolated, please find a few minutes and write down what is it that’s really bothering you. We sometimes know just writing our emotions down can be cathartic, and it would surely feel good. After you write what you feel, make sure you read it. There is no harm in seeing a counselor if you feel the need.

2. One thing that has really helped me in my practice is that before entering any patient room, I pause for about 3 to 4 seconds, and I pay attention to my breath. This makes me center myself in the present moment.

Then even for a few seconds, if we can totally pay attention to what our patient is saying and be with them at that moment, it will lead to more satisfaction. If patients feel heard, they tend to follow instructions better.

3. Make time for the loved ones. We all have at least one person or a pet in our lives that makes our hearts fill with joy. Make sure you spend quality time with them. Now it’s more important than ever to stay connected.

4. We know, but we sometimes forget, so let’s remind ourselves to exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Let’s get those good neurochemicals to release naturally. Lack of time? How about 10 minutes of workout three times a day? Walk in the parking lot, do multiple rounds on stairs, utilize YouTube work videos. There are tons of resources out there; let’s make the best use of those.

When we are in the right frame of mind, we make better decisions. It’s not going to be easy, but we can still take care of ourselves, so we are ultimately able to help our loved ones and our patients who deserve a doctor who is not burnt out or is in a downward spiral.

 
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