Especially in times of crisis, it’s all too easy to put ourselves on the back burner. We can be so busy with all the additional tasks and responsibilities that we get home and collapse into bed, only to get up 4-5 hours later and do it all over again. If we do this day after day, we run in sympathetic overdrive, our hearts pounding, body tight, ready and in action all our waking hours.
Unfortunately, running on empty only wears us down. All the stress worsens our ability to make good decisions and maintain calm. It erodes our ability to lead effectively. And right now, you simply can’t afford to put yourself at risk. Not for yourself, not for those you lead, and not for your family. The oxygen mask analogy is an apt one: if you don’t invest in your own care, your efforts to support others will fail. It’s that simple.
You’re probably thinking: how can I possibly take time to care for myself with everything going on? With all the demands of this crisis, there isn’t a spare moment in the day. Here are two important strategies:
First, getting enough sleep is critically important. I’ve coached many physician leaders who boastfully talk about catching up on email or doing meeting planning at 4 AM. Unfortunately, though, inadequate sleep has many adverse short-and long-term effects, from lost productivity to poor temper to cognitive impairment. A few things you can do to get the rest you need are putting your devices in another room, setting and sticking to a bedtime, and avoiding late-day caffeine.
Second, think about what typically fills your tank. This could be exercising, listening to your favorite music, reading a book, being outside in nature, working in your garden, watching TV, spending time with friends or family. Even if you can’t spend as much time as you’d like on these, you can still give yourself a small dose of the activities that fill your tank. Doing so will help ensure that you have what you need to meet all the demands.