7 Self-Care Tips for Healthcare Travelers
Whether you are a seasoned healthcare traveler or just getting used to life on the road, a healthy lifestyle and implementing self-care practices into your daily routine can make the difference between loving life as a traveler and anxiously awaiting the conclusion of your assignment.
It is no secret that the demands healthcare professionals face while on shift can induce elevated stress levels, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the best way to ensure your body and mind are prepared to tackle each day. Eating well, regular exercise, and getting adequate rest are a great start but there are still other daily self-care practices you can easily incorporate to help manage your physical and mental health.
Begin by reading through the following tips, and then pick a few to which you can commit. It usually takes about 30 days to develop a long-term positive habit, but with minimal effort, the following will help to boost your self-care habits, despite your busy schedule.
Our bodies naturally respond to stress through a fight or flight reflex, which helps us survive perceived threats, and, as a healthcare professional, you likely experience this more frequently than the average person. Thankfully, most of us do not usually encounter hungry predators (and no, we're not talking about the co-worker who absconded with your lunch), but our bodies will still respond to the stresses of modern life in similar ways; as we face a stressful moment, we start to tense up, our breathing becomes more rapid, and our hearts beat faster.
The beauty of deep breathing exercises is that they can be done at almost any moment and serve as a quick way to get our bodies, minds, and souls back on track: special mats, music, clothing, or scenery not necessary! Follow this method for a quick rebound from stress:
- Close your eyes or focus intently on a single object
- Take a deep breath and feel your lungs fill up with oxygen
- Hold your breath for three seconds
- Slowly exhale
- Feel your body, mind, and soul begin to relax
- Repeat if needed
Contrary to popular belief, meditation doesn't require a significant time commitment. All that is necessary to realize the benefits of meditation is to allow your mind to be in a relaxed flow for a short 10 minutes.
One of the best times to do this mini meditation is before bed because it will help you focus on relaxing your mind, fostering deeper sleep. There are plenty of apps out there to try (Calm and Headspace are two of our favorites) that will guide you through each session.
Ready to begin meditating? Follow this simple formula:
- Sit comfortably in a quiet space
- Play soothing music
- Close your eyes
- Think of a calming scene
- Settle your mind by noticing your breath as you inhale and exhale
- Repeat the breaths for at least 10 minutes – if you fall asleep, consider that a bonus
The term "morning pages" was the creation of best-selling author Julia Cameron. In her book, The Artist’s Way, Ms. Cameron advises creative types to complete three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every morning. Similar to journaling, this practice can free up mental blocks. Here are a few tips for morning pages:
- Complete them first thing in the morning before you consume any other content like social media, news, or email
- Write three pages – a brain dump, if you will
- Don't worry about grammar, punctuation, or even your next sentence; write what is on your mind
This technique of writing is great for anyone; you don’t have to be a professional writer to benefit from the practice. Getting the negative or foggy thoughts out of your head and onto paper before you start your day can be extremely freeing.
We hire trainers for our bodies, why not for our minds? Give yourself the gift of professional therapy sessions for a good mental health workout. A therapist can help you focus on things that benefit positive mental health, such as how to...
- Identify and tackle any obstacles that are not serving you
- Adopt healthy coping mechanisms
- Set appropriate personal and professional boundaries
- Manage stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness
Professionally trained therapists also act as a healthy sounding board to help keep stressful events in perspective. There is no shame in working with a therapist and regular sessions can aid in focusing on the goals that strengthen your mental health.
As a healthcare traveler, we recommend connecting with a therapist who offers video or phone sessions so you can take your therapist with you when you travel to your next assignment.
Self-care isn’t only about relaxation. It can also be about stimulating your brain. New research in positive psychology shows that people who set diverse goals in activities of significant personal value can decrease stress and increase productivity ("How I Broke the Cycle of Stress," by Ashten Duncan, Scientific American, Spring 2021). This research tells us we should focus some of our time on goals outside of the typical workday.
Consider the activities that are most meaningful to you – work or personal. What can you do to improve them? Do you want to learn a new skill or focus some of your professional time on more soft-skill-related activities? Do you have the desire to continue your education? Setting goals that encourage you to think beyond your daily routine is a terrific way to build your skills and confidence, which is a great self-care routine that may be just what you need to alleviate stress.
As a nursing, therapy, or allied traveler, it’s likely that you naturally want to explore new places and meet new people. Add in a dose of creativity, and you are well on your way to scheduling creative decompression dates.
A creative decompression date uses the concept of creative therapy to help you focus on something outside of your day-to-day responsibilities. Creative therapy can take many forms but can be as simple as spending an hour in a local bookstore perusing the poetry section, cookbooks, or reading the first lines from classic novels. Writing, drama, music, dance, and visual arts are also great options; activities we don’t generally prioritize as adults but are great ways to explore something new and activate your imagination.
Regardless of your artistic talent (or lack thereof), a study published in the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association notes that less than an hour of creative activity can reduce your stress level and positively affect your mental health.