This week I was inspired by a tractor trailer. Ok, not the tractor trailer itself, but the words it had written in big block letters on the back door,
“Take time to be safe.”
I am assuming that whoever decided to have this printed on the truck was referring to road safety but it got me thinking (as I sped on by).
Do we take time to be safe at work? I mean, I know we all take safety precautions at work, we wear gloves, we double check drug doses and confirm names against wristbands. Working in outpatient pain management, I am always checking the state prescription drug monitoring program, medication interactions and dates of refills.
But how do we protect ourselves at work?
How do we keep our hearts and souls safe?
Yes, this is literally what I was thinking as I was driving a little too fast on Route 287.
So I started with one of my favorite strategies, asking myself questions that don’t have immediately obvious answers.
Do I do anything to keep my heart and soul safe at work?
Do I have a sense of safety or am I ill at ease?
(The trick here is to ask the questions with curiosity and not judgment. There is NO “should” here.)
And I realized that I do now, but I didn’t always, which is why I was on the brink of burnout in the past.
Simplified, having safety strategies for your heart and soul doesn’t mean closing them in and making them impenetrable. It means continually restoring and supporting them so that you can continue to live and breathe despite the barrage of things that can happen at work:
your heart and soul can be strong AND malleable.
Research shows that the factors that aid in burnout prevention (aka support our souls…and our bodies) are as follows: a sense of autonomy, teamwork, personal meaning, maintaining interest, accepting personal limits, strong relationships, perceived workload, self awareness, mindfulness/gratitude, and age (heehee). The best thing is, you don’t need all of these things, you can pick and choose (except your age, you can’t choose that).
The personal safety plan that saved me from burnout wasn’t without hiccups. I started out shaky and learned as I went, desperate to feel better at work. I had invested so much time and energy that the thought of leaving filled me with almost more angst than the thought of staying. But I realized as the safety plan started working, as I started feeling happier, that I had to let other people know.
You can feel better too.
Of course, I can’t bundle my whole journey into one post but I thought I would throw out the basics and see if something resonates with you. First, by framing it as a safety need, it immediately moves up on the priority list. Just that little mental shift can move it from a “good idea” to a non-negotiable.
And the safety of your heart and soul is non-negotiable
…and as uncomplicated as putting on gloves.
The strategies can be divided into 2 categories, things we do at work and things we do outside of work. The ones outside of work are pretty straightforward and boil down to basic self care. I consider them the “stacking the odds in your favor” items: getting enough sleep, drinking water, getting some exercise, building and maintaining relationships with family and friends. Being as healthy as possible makes things easier at work, and any small step in the right direction is one more support for your soul.
Put that way, it seems worth it.
Initially I just started by prioritizing my sleep, even over Netflix and putzing around. That was really all I did for a number of months.
And it helped.
When I was a little better rested, I started tackling the “at work” strategies. And here’s the crazy thing. All of the at work strategies are addressed IN YOUR HEAD!
That’s right, all of the strategies that research has found that help prevent burnout boil down to what you are THINKING at or about work.
I am a good thinker, I could totally do this.
Let’s start with the obvious ones (maybe I will end up taking you through the whole journey, I am on a roll now).
Sense of meaning: How did a sense of meaning or purpose fit into my day? That one’s easy. I believe that EVERY person deserves care. I believe that I can help decrease suffering in the world. I believe there is always something to be done to help people and I believe I am the person to do it.
What I realized with this strategy though, is that I wasn’t thinking about the meaning very often. If you asked, I could verbalize it, and mean it, but I wasn’t keeping it in mind during the day. So I set out to solve just that part of it. For me, that meant taking 5 minutes at the beginning of my shift to set an intention for the day to focus on the people I was helping. I also wrote reminders on the bottom of my printed schedule. Reminders like “I get to help people today” or “Show up with compassion.” High tech, I know, but it works.
Sense of autonomy: Notice that it is a SENSE of autonomy. This one took a little more intellectual work. I have to get to work at a certain time. I have to see patients and do notes. I have to follow the rules of the job.
But, when I looked for it, I could find all the ways that I have autonomy. As an NP I can decide on my patient’s plan of care, how often they need to come in, and how to approach each patient. I get to look at the day as a whole and prioritize my actions. I decide what to take home (nothing) and what to stay at work and do. There are lots of little things that I can have autonomy in, and those can balance the things I don’t get to control.
Maintaining interest: This is one of my favorites. How can I look for ways to maintain interest? This can be through continuing education, certifications, talking with colleagues about interesting or troublesome cases. It can be through trying new ways to explain things to patients. It can be putting together a presentation on info that I want to know more about like sleep strategies, medical cannabis, motivational interviewing, topical analgesics. The possibilities are endless.
It can be done through a google search :)
Self awareness: This is what started me down this whole road. Becoming aware that I was “ill at ease” and that something needed to change was the first step, but the next one was gathering data on myself (aka self awareness). I started writing things down: how I felt, what I thought about my situation and my work environment, what I was telling myself during the day. Once I had these lists, I was able to decide which of the thoughts I wanted to change, let go of, or simply ignore. By gaining awareness, I gained control. I was able to decide on purpose how I wanted to show up, how I wanted to think about things, and ultimately, how I wanted to feel.
This one was really the most life changing.
The moral of the story is, there are lots of ways to “take some time to be safe”. If your heart and soul rely on it, are you willing to try one?
P.S. If you are still struggling with ways to protect yourself against burnout, or start inching away from it, or recover from it, I know I can help you. I still have some spots in my end-of-the-summer free coaching sessions. I am offering a free, 1 hour coaching session to 10 people. No strings attached. No sales pitch.
I just want you to start feeling better. That’s it. Message me if you need me :)