Self-care. Taking care of yourself. First heard from the mouths of parents as they send their children off to school. At this point it only means eating snacks and lunch, not getting hurt, paying attention, and being careful on the ways to and from school. Past that point, it continues to be reiterated by parents, guardians, family members and maybe teachers and other advisors. But this concept does not seem to radiate to the forefront of our minds until we reach the years of post-secondary education, or at least, that was the case for me.
When I started university, being away from home meant many new responsibilities and situations I had never experienced before. I had to take care of myself without the support of my parents. Like many first year undergraduate students, I had some trouble adjusting; that was when I realised the importance of self-care.
I had the privilege of taking a self-care course in my second year of undergraduate studies. Upon completion of the course, I realised the importance of being able to ensure that you have some sort of grasp on your own life, allowing for, to a certain degree, control. Self-care is indeed self-love. In loving yourself, you will take better care of yourself. You won’t let yourself suffer through stress, sleep deprivation and poor health; you will seek a way to resolve these issues, just as you would if this were someone you loved dearly. I began to realise that in loving myself, I was also showing love to those close to me. By taking care of myself, I was eliminating the worries and concerns thrown unto them because I was not taking care of myself. I started to realise that self-care is not an option; it is a responsibility and duty to those who I love. After all, how can you claim to love another person when you don’t know how to love yourself?
Once medical school started, I realised that self-care is more than just a responsibility and duty to those I love; it is a responsibility and duty to my colleagues, patients and society. How ironic would it be for a physician to tell their patients to take care of their body, mind, and spirit when they cannot do so themselves? How convincing would it be for a doctor to tell a stress-induced sleep deprived patient to relax, let go and let be, when they themselves are struggling with the same issues? Surely I’m not saying that physicians and healthcare workers cannot struggle. I’m saying that we should be taking arms to fight the battle against our demons, rather than pushing them off to the sides until it is too late. It is a difficult path, and we cannot do it alone. But in acknowledging these issues we are already taking the first step towards a solution to help ourselves. Knowing how to help ourselves is also very important, which is why I am very thankful for the support system that medical school offers, and having them let us know that they are there for us.
Aside of the hypocritical side of the argument, there are also dangers of not embracing self-care to your colleagues, patients and society. It has been stressed time and time again that we as healthcare workers are a team, and teams are only as good as their weakest member. Suddenly, there is concern that perhaps you may bring down the team if you are not up to standards. Even worse, you may be jeopardizing the care you are giving your patients. Your ability to do good and to bring enhancement to society is compromised. Clearly this is a dilemma in and of itself: you are struggling, you are afraid you’ll bring down the team more, and you continue to struggle. Now what? Again, it is about breaking the cycle and being able to step forward and say “I think I need some help”, and being active in pursuing that kind of help.
It’s a very difficult task I know; I have experienced it. But after the first time, you become at ease with yourself: “I’m not seeking help because I am weak, I am seeking help because I am strong enough to say I need it. Through it, I will become stronger.” With this mindset, it becomes so much easier. I understand that it may be hard for some of my colleagues to do so, and I only hope that my own experiences will encourage them to be proactive in their own self-care journey.