By Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, CEO and CNO of Transylvania Regional Hospital
Self-care is a term we hear often, and it encompasses not only how you care for your body, but your emotional health as well. COVID-19 has challenged us in ways we never could have foreseen just six months ago. Our worlds have gotten smaller, and typically include home, work — either inside or outside the home, and the grocery store. We’re also spending more time with our families than ever before, which is a bonus, but also a challenge at times.
No one has had the experience of living like this before, and this is why it’s particularly important that we maintain our physical and mental health by taking excellent care of ourselves. What does this look like? A fine balance of the things your primary care physician talks to you about routinely, and some new things to consider.
As always, eating well, engaging in physical exercise each day, and making sure you get sufficient rest are key in keeping your immune system strong and strengthening you emotionally. Sometimes it comes down to taking a break — from social media, the news and the demands of work.
There are many other practices, depending on what brings you joy and peace, that can help you feel more positive, and many of them are simple. These days, it’s all about building resilience, as we’ve realized that COVID-19 will be with us for an extended period of time.
This summer, Transylvania Regional Hospital (TRH) rolled out a program called Mission to Care, a messaging platform that was delivered via Aztec barcodes in May, June and July to all staff. These codes contained messages of encouragement and positivity, self-care tips and other useful resources, and the timing was perfect as we continued to navigate a new way of care provision.
We have staff members here at TRH who have put strategies into place for themselves and for our team members that are spirit-nourishing and uncomplicated. Crystal Letterman, our Administrative Manager of Clinical Operations, has great tips on how to keep stress at bay. Her work includes solving issues that impact a patient in any way, from a facility operations perspective to patient safety, and lots of collaboration with other staff from every TRH department.
“We have a process here called Standout that allows our team to do regular check-ins, and one of the things we do is talk about the importance of work/life balance strategies, as well as ask ‘What are you doing to take care of yourself?’” says Letterman. She adds that disconnecting isn’t only allowed, it’s encouraged. “It’s hard to disconnect from work for many people, but we’ve found that if one leader partners with another, for example, to trade off on covering for each other at predetermined times, it allows the person getting relieved to truly disconnect from work-related duties for a time and recover mentally and physically.”
Teams participate in daily Safety Huddles to share important information, like safety protocol updates, but these mini-meetings also enable quality connections to be shared between staff members. They can share their most loved and loathed moments of the week, and get solution-oriented feedback.
April Pryor, Program Coordinator for the Fresh Start Behavioral Health Structured Outpatient Program, says that taking the time for self-care should be viewed as the norm, and not considered a luxury. “I try to convey to my colleagues, and remember myself, that self-care isn’t selfish,” she shares. “I’ve been a therapist for many years, and those of us who are helpers professionally aren’t accustomed to venting ourselves. We’re often more comfortable listening to others and empathizing. I know how important it is not to bottle up feelings and to share them — not for anyone to fix, but to feel heard,” she says. She notes also that sharing one’s feelings on the challenging days is just as important as talking about them on the days we feel stronger, that it can lessen the feelings of isolation so prevalent now.
As someone who’s passionate about her work, Letterman explains that it’s sometimes hard to turn work off and downtime on. “Pre-COVID-19, I de-stressed by exercising at the YMCA, and even though they’ve been closed, I’ve adapted my routine and continue it at home, because it’s that important to my well-being,” she says. As for Pryor, she works at taking the advice she so often gives to others: to let thoughts and feelings out, both positive and negative. “After a colleague came to my office recently, they said that they needed to vent, but didn’t need feedback. They then asked me what was on my mind. It wasn’t first nature to share that, but I did and felt better afterward,” she says. She highlights that connection really is key to healing, something everyone who works in a hospital knows as they watch their patients recover.
Self-care looks different to each person because everyone’s source of joy is different. It might be in the garden, the gym, the pages of a book, on a yoga mat, or in the kitchen whipping up a favorite recipe. Another must is staying connected to friends and family, whether that means a socially distanced dinner on the patio or a Zoom call. However you define self-care, do make the time to fit it into your life, every day.
Michele Pilon, MS, BSN, RN, NE-BC, is the CEO and CNO of Transylvania Regional Hospital.