Insights for High Stress Professions
Triage Your Self Care
You know you need to maintain your equipment so it functions properly and helps you get the job done, but here’s the thing; you are your most valuable piece of equipment. You are your biggest asset. To protect and maximize your ability to perform, to handle stress, to think critically, you must do things to maintain yourself, your wellness, and your performance.
Self care, recovery, recharging, resetting are all terms to refer to ways you take care of yourself to maintain your performance, composure, energy, resilience, and bandwidth. These are broad categories of strategies that can include anything from breathing exercises to binge watching tv to setting boundaries to exercise to massages to therapy to vacation time.
Most of these are preventative maintenance strategies, the things you do on a regular basis to help you reset and recharge to meet the regular challenges you face; to maintain your resilience and wellness. This can include eating healthy food, getting good sleep, having hobbies, going to therapy, regular meditation practice, exercise, etc.
We use acute care strategies we use when we are sick. We change our expectations for what we can get done, we use different resources. We take cold medicine, prioritize rest, and perhaps seek medical care; we give ourselves permission to not go at full speed.
We should also have acute care strategies for when we are stressed or overwhelmed, when our resilience is being tested. In these situations, we often put our head down and try to keep expecting normal, high levels of performance, leading to higher stress and burnout and lower performance.
To maintain the level of performance we want in our lives, to avoid burnout, to keep stress manageable, we need to preventative maintenance strategies AND acute care strategies. And we need to know the right strategies to use based on what we are facing. Triaging your self care is determining whether you need acute care or preventative maintenance.
Triaging Your Self Care
Triage is a medical term used to assign degrees of urgency. When you have multiple people needing care, you quickly assess each person and provide care to the most urgent injury first. This is especially important when resources (time, bandwidth, supplies, people) are scarce.
When you are ramped up, when you are depleted, when your focus or motivation is low, when you’ve had.a.day, when you’re not at your best, you need to prioritize strategies that you can do when your bandwidth is low. Strategies that have the most impact and gain the most traction. Acute care strategies.
Signs You Need Acute Care Strategies
Acute Care Plans
Acute care strategies are what help you the most in that moment. These are the strategies that have the most impact with the least effort. Knowing you need acute care strategies includes adjusting your expectations of yourself. Think of it as combining turning your phone on power save mode and using a lightning cable. Let’s explore ways we put ourselves on powersave mode:
Something is Better Than Nothing
When we’re overloaded or depleted, we may not have the time or energy to get the “full doses” of preventative maintenance strategies. Micro doses are micro practices that may not have the same impact or desired results as full doses, but still move the needle on our wellness. Something is better than nothing; maybe we want to do 20 minutes of meditation, but can only manage 2 minutes. Two minutes of meditation is better than 0 minutes of meditation. A 10 minute walk is better than no walk or run.
Change Your To Do List
Not everything on your to do list needs done.
In How to Keep House While Drowning, KC Davis shares an analogy for looking at care tasks (chores, self care tasks, i.e. all the things that need done on a regular basis). Each care task has a minimum level of done, which is based on what you need to function. She describes this as the cake. The cake for clean floors means there’s a clear path through the house that is free of debris and tripping hazards. Then there’s a level of doneness that creates comfort, which she describes as the frosting. The frosting for clean floors may be that there’s space play (so a large area of the floor is clear of debris, hazards, and dust. Then there's a level of doneness that creates happiness or peace, this is the cherry. The cherry for the floors may be all the floors are clean and mopped.
If your bandwidth is low, you need to preserve and allocate it carefully. This means changing what done looks like for the things on your to do list. Do the minimum functional level for each item on your list. Then reassess your bandwidth. If you have bandwidth remaining, you can do the minimum level for some tasks you delayed, you can use that bandwidth to add frosting or cherries, or you can use that bandwidth to do other high yield recovery strategies.
Giving Yourself Grace
If you know someone is struggling, you tend to work with them and reassess what they can do with their limited bandwidth. We tend to not give ourselves the same grace. Your best is a moving target. Your best when you’re at 95% is much different than your best when you’re at 55%.
If you’re sick and you’re at 55%, you adjust your expectations of yourself, and you use sick care strategies to help restore wellness. If you’re not sick, but you’re overloaded; your bandwidth is at 55%, you need to adjust your expectations of yourself and what you can get done, and use acute care strategies to help restore your wellness, performance, and resilience. Resilience isn’t about staying strong all the time. It’s about prioritizing your energy for what's needed, and replenishing it when it’s low.
When you’re doing everything you can in that moment, give yourself grace, and keep going. Don’t give up or think you’re a failure because the strategies aren’t supercharging your batteries. You may only be able to manage micro doses of recovery right now, because that’s all you have the bandwidth for, right now. Something is better than nothing, and traction can take time. Triage and prioritize acute care strategies until your bandwidth is restored.
Minimum Effective Dose (MED) Self Care Videos
First Responder Resources
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