“Why do I need to recover?” “Self-care isn’t needed in medicine.” These are all too common responses when the topic of recovery and self-care are discussed within the context of the healthcare system.
The concepts of ‘self-care’ and ‘recovery’ share many overlapping principles. In essence, the need to establish a self-care or recovery routine is based on the fact that we are all human and, as such, have physical, emotional, and psychological limits to what we are able to do without ‘recharging our battery’. Just as an athlete must recover following competition, so too do patients need to recover following medical or surgical treatments and healthcare professionals need to recover following the demands of busy and, frequently, stressful schedules.
In order for the high level athlete to be able to return to the next training session or competition at their best, recovery is essential. Those at the top of their respective sport are well known to emphasize the recovery process. Without emphasizing proper recovery, humans are physically, psychologically and emotionally unable to continue to perform at their best consistently over time and become at increasingly higher risk of physical, psychological and emotional burnout. The same applies in the healthcare system. We are no different.
There are several components to a daily recovery program. As described by high performance psychologist Dr. Michael Gervais, this includes mindset skills, proper nutrition and hydration, sufficient sleep, and regular exercise1. The domain of mindset skills includes meditation as well as other skills, including optimism, stress management, and connection to purpose. This allows for greater self-awareness of how we are coping, an optimistic perspective to allow us to continue through challenges and a guiding light to ensure we are living in a way that reflects what is most important to us. Proper nutrition and hydration are essential to provide the basic building blocks of what our body and mind require for our physiologic processes to be at their best. Sleep is an essential process that allows our brain and body to repair damage done through even regular day to day activities and has wide ranging benefits for our physical, emotional, and psychological wellbeing2. Regular exercise is essential to keep our bodies fit and strong as well as providing numerous benefits to mental health.
The application of these skills allows the body and mind to regain its optimal state following exposure to stress, regardless of whether the stressor is physical, emotional, psychological or a combination. The stressors need not be a particularly traumatic event, although they certainly could be. From the patient perspective, a medication or physical procedure, and from a healthcare professional perspective, completion of a complex surgery, are common examples that definitely qualify. For both patients and healthcare professionals to be able to return in the optimal state for being at their best, it is essential for there to be a recovery process in the interim. Without adequate recovery, the body and mind will not have been sufficiently rested or provided with the necessary building blocks to continue to perform at a high level. While it may be challenging to incorporate each of these aspects into a busy schedule, they are fundamentally all skills which can be developed and are necessary for us, as humans, to be at our best for ourselves and others.
Developing these skills for patients may allow for a faster recovery following treatment. The skills can then be utilized within all aspects of life to allow the individual to be at their best for themselves and those around them. Healthcare professionals will benefit in this fashion as well as with additional advantages of being able to provide patient care at their highest level and decrease the risk of burnout. Many, although far from all, instances of burnout result at least in part from insufficient recovery following the regular demands placed upon all healthcare professionals. In order for any of us to perform at our best in any area of life, we need to ensure we prioritize adequate recovery for our mind and body. Put another way, without sufficient recovery, there cannot be high performance.
Just as athletes at the highest level of their sport emphasize recovery following training and competition, we must incorporate these skills into the healthcare system on a daily basis. Doing so will allow each of us to be at our best for ourselves and those we seek to serve.
1. Gervais M, Carroll P. Compete to Create: An Approach to Living and Leading Authentically: Audible Originals, 2019.
2. Walker M. Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams. New York, NY: Scribner; 2017.