First published in The OT Magazine July/August
Words by Katie Margetts
The core fundamental root of occupational therapy is enabling function to promote optimum wellbeing. Yet so many occupational therapists themselves are functioning for longer hours, meeting higher demands and tipping into the burnout zone, resulting in detrimental effects on their own wellbeing. So, can we continue to pour from an empty cup? Now is the time for OTs to lead by example and give true value to self care for ourselves as individuals and as a profession in order to be resilient and to support others. Finding optimum wellness is all about adapting and let’s face it, we are excellent at that!
Small adaptions to simple lifestyle changes can make hugely positive impacts on wellbeing.
So, here’s how to get started, begin by gradually introducing new healthy habits into your daily life ensuring it becomes routine.
Mindfulness is about reconnecting to our bodies and mind by living in the present moment. Practicing mindfulness develops good mental and physical health by lowering anxiety, reducing depression and reducing fatigue. To get started there are apps that you can download such as Calm and Headspace. For those wanting less screen time try Mindfulness Moments ‘MiMo’ cards for practical mindfulness.
Sleep it off
Lack of sleep can affect cognition, heart, muscle and bone health as well as emotional wellness. Poor sleep has a knock-on effect on appetite and eating habits. Go back to basics, ensure your room is dark, a good temperature for you, don’t look at screens for at least an hour before bed and reduce caffeine after lunchtime, watch out for those hidden caffeinated drinks. For extra help with sleep try a progressive body scan relaxation (there are lots of free ones out there to download), listen to relaxing music and drink herbal teas, Pukka Herbs ‘Night Time’ is my tried and tested favourite. And as with most things routine is key.
Invest in yourself, set aside some time and a little budget to book in for some complementary therapy, my preference is Reflexology. No matter how little time, or how low the budget is, make a swap, instead of that new top or those coffees to-go try saving £1 a day, by the end of the month you will have enough in your pot to pay for a treatment. You will soon notice aches and pains easing, your mood lifting and your wellness improving.
Keep on moving
Make regular exercise your goal by planning it into your day, set the alarm 10 minutes earlier or while the kids are at their clubs do a class at the same time. OTs are susceptible to repetitive stress injury, back problems, muscle fatigue, weight gain or the opposite, low BMI. The physical problems are equaled by emotional stress and low mood. Exercise is essential for good natural wellness. The trick is to find something that works for you, swimming, yoga, tai chi and dog walking are low impact relaxing ways to exercise.
Eat more veggies and fruit and drink more water and herbal teas. Try keeping a food diary for a week and then reflecting on it in order to plan changes you wish to make. Full disclosure, when I kept a food diary I was shocked by my sugar intake, and now make a conscience effort to monitor it. Get to know where your food has derived from and if you eat meat get to know about the welfare of that animal who is soon to enter your digestive system. Try new foods, such as lentils, pulses, spices, grains, nuts and herbs. Look for inspiration from food bloggers such as Deliciously Ella. Bring it back to basics and get cooking, use the freezer for batches of soups, meals and straight to blend shakes. You will be surprised how much money you can save and the health benefits of having a packed lunch and healthy snacks at the ready. Give vegan Mondays and veggie Thursdays a try, vegan is the new black for a very good reason, the diet is proven to enhance health and longevity.
Reconnecting with nature emerges the senses in goodness. Clean fresh air, sunlight, natural aroma’s and calming colours are just some of the benefits of being outside. In Japan a practice backed up with huge academic research called shinrin-yoku which translates to ‘forest bathing’ is considered a vital part of wellness. Forest bathing includes spending time in a natural forest or woodland, calmly walking or meditating in order to reap the benefits of strengthened immunity, lowered blood pressure and vast healing properties, improved sleep, better cognition, inner calmness and overall feelings of happiness. Keep some wellies and a raincoat in the car boot to take opportunities to walk or sit amongst nature during mid-morning or lunch breaks.
So, whether you need to switch off your cortisol stress hormone or protect that achy lumbar spine now is the time to adopt self care, not as an indulgence but for basic respect for our bodies, mind and soul. Self care is not just about two weeks away laying horizontal around a pool, but instead about developing healthy habits and routines in order to maintain personal wellness and resilience. The relationship we hold within ourselves is mirrored with relationships we have with others, just as the energy we put into ourselves is the energy that we radiate out.
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