Self-Care for Doctors

As doctors, we have been trained to care for others, often at the great expense of ourselves, and our loved ones.

But sooner or later, this takes a toll on us, and there may come a time when we realise that we want or need to start taking greater care of ourselves. This moment may be an illness, an accident, a relationship breakdown, problems with patients, colleagues or staff, or burnout, exhaustion and depression. When we decide we would like to take more care of ourselves, where do we start?

One of the great ironies about being a doctor is that we know so much about the human body, but we don’t seem to have a great idea of how to care for our own body in a tender loving way. We have been trained to ignore it, override it, push it beyond human limits, go without food, water, sleep and a social life for extraordinary periods of time, so we seem a little stumped when it comes to simple self-care!

We are also far from experts at looking after our own emotional health and have in fact been trained to override, dismiss and bury our emotions, which can lead to a host of other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, and ill mental health.

We have learned, through our experience, that we cannot truly care for others until we have learned to deeply care for ourselves. In developing a deeper understanding of ourselves and our own bodies, which is not something we were trained to know in medical school, we can develop a deeper understanding of what true health is, for ourselves and for our patients.

As a profession we strongly support evidence based medicine, but all too often we ignore the evidence of our own bodies. What if we began to see our bodies as a science experiment and studied how the way we live affects the way we feel? Our bodies are very willing teachers, but can only teach us if we are willing to listen. They will tell us exactly what is nurturing for us and what is not. They will show us how certain foods, lack of sleep, too much stress, and studying without a break affects us. And how the things we use to ‘relax’ can affect us too.

Through listening to our bodies, we can find ways to care for ourselves which nurture our bodies and beings and allow us to have a balance between our work life and our home life; ways to care for ourselves deeply, enabling us to live and work in a way that sustains and enriches us, and which we can then share with our patients, our families, and each other.

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