Medical and behavioral health providers and staff are versed in the unique challenges our military culture places on clients. These professionals are known as experts in their fields and knowledgeable in ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle through prioritizing self-care, which includes every domain of people's lives. Options for self-care are frequently recommended to clients, and easily overlooked for providers to practice during their hectic schedules of caring for others during the day.

This year's Social Work Month theme is "Social Workers: Leaders. Advocates. Champions." In celebration of the hundreds of healthcare professionals, it's time to recognize the hard work invested in caring for others, and take note of possible discrepancies between what is advised to clients and what is practiced by providers and staff.

Madigan Army Medical Center and its network of Army facilities across Washington and California serve more than 100,000 patients, which can amount to an overwhelming number of clinical hours spent focused on every task except self-care. Most providers know taking time for one's self through simple tasks can improve one's focus, mood, attitude, and overall health. This begs the question: How do you apply self-care to prevent personal and professional burnout?

If your answer was not one you would accept from a client, then it may be helpful to reflect on some ways to incorporate self-care into your seemingly nonstop workdays.

Identifying the need

While every person can benefit from placing conscious focus on improving his or her daily functioning, it is easy to overlook. Nevertheless, it's important not to ignore signs that your body is wearing low and needs a recharge, such as headaches, fatigue, irritability, decreased ability to empathize with clients or others, indigestion or stomach pains, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping, and increases in eating, drinking alcohol, or smoking.

Self-care strategies

Self-care looks different for each person, but there are a few keys that are helpful to most everyone. These might include staying hydrated, getting adequate rest, and spending some time each day exercising or being active. Below are some suggestions for brief activities that could be incorporated into a chaotic schedule.

At work, you can check-in periodically to identify your emotions and energy level using the T2 Mood Tracker App, eat lunch away from your desk (outside, if possible), eat healthy snacks, take short breaks to stretch, plan walks with coworkers, ask for help or delegate tasks when possible, and say "no" when you're taking on too much.

At home, you can spend time talking with friends or family, prepare healthy meals and snacks the night before, keep a gratitude journal, perform exercises while watching a television show, read something you enjoy, use your vacation days, follow a guided meditation (like those found in the Virtual Hope Box or Breathe2Relax App), practice mindfulness exercises in which you focus on your senses (using the T2: Mindfulness Coach App), add self-compassion to your inner voice, and try a new hobby or pick-up an old one.

It's not about rigidly insisting that a self-care checklist is accomplished every day. However, by continually reevaluating where your focus is and what things you have done to take care of your own physical and mental wellbeing, each person can begin to make strides toward improving health. Practicing self-care helps prevent burnout and could feasibly improve morale among clinics, when made a priority.

As we reflect this month, we challenge all providers to examine how they are leaders demonstrating healthy habits in their fields or clinics. We hope you advocate self-care for yourselves and coworkers as passionately as you always have for your clients. And we look forward to seeing the champions of provider self-care step into roles where they are not only mindful of themselves, but encouraging others to do the same.