How to build self-care into your physician routine

Learn how to create time for self-care during busy physician schedules.

How to build self-care into your physician routine


Given the extreme challenges the COVID-19 pandemic placed on healthcare workers, it’s perhaps not surprising that physician burnout is at an all-time high. One recent study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that 62.8% of U.S. physicians had experienced a period of burnout in 2021 – up from 32.8% in 2020.

Burnout can lead to feelings of exhaustion and disengagement – or even depression – for physicians. Studies also link burnout with an increased risk of medical errors, which can negatively impact patients. In fact, research cited by the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests doctors experiencing burnout are twice as likely to make a medical error than those who aren’t feeling professional fatigue.

It’s essential, then, to seek opportunities to regroup and refresh the moment symptoms of burnout begin to surface. To do that, look for ways to carve out time for self-care within your everyday routine.

Begin the day with a moment for yourself

If possible, claim a few minutes of every morning for yourself. Use this quiet time alone to do an activity you enjoy – or that helps you become centered and ready to face the day. Consider waking just 15 to 20 minutes earlier each morning and incorporating one of these self-care steps:

  • Jot down your daily thoughts or intentions in a gratitude journal
  • Engage in a few moments of simple stretching or yoga
  • Participate in a short, guided meditation or mindfulness exercise with an app
  • Drink and enjoy a full cup of coffee or tea while it’s still hot – and when you aren’t rushing
  • Complete a crossword puzzle
  • Upgrade your morning shower experience with scented shampoos or soaps or even a waterproof speaker for listening to music


Treat yourself with kindness during the day

As busy as physician schedules can be, it’s important to set aside a few moments for self-care, even at midday. Resist the temptation to work through lunch or skip eating altogether. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is critical for overall physical and mental well-being – and it’s an act of self-care you shouldn’t overlook.

Prioritize packing a well-balanced meal from home each day or order one from your favorite take-out restaurant. If you have a favorite, filling midday meal within easy reach in your office, it will be harder to forget to stop and eat.

Think of your lunch hour as a chance to regroup and rest your mind before tackling the busy afternoon ahead. If time allows, after eating, take a moment to scroll favorite websites for a quick, positive mood boost.

Beyond your dedicated lunch break, look for other small ways throughout the workday to find moments of joy as a means of self-care. These could be simple scenarios, such as:

  • Taking time to catch up on happy personal news with a work colleague
  • Pausing briefly to look out the window and take note of the weather and outdoor views
  • Wearing a pair of comfortable shoes that provide just the right amount of support for a long day on your feet
  • Hanging a piece of your children’s artwork – or a photo of your pet – where you can see it in the office or on your rounds
  • Listening to relaxing instrumental music during short breaks between seeing patients


Find ways to unwind after your shift

It can be hard to unwind after each work shift, particularly if you have challenging patient cases weighing on your mind. But to avoid physician burnout and for your own mental well-being, you should find ways to disengage with work during your downtime.

Look for activities that truly excite and energize you. Perhaps it’s playing with your kids or taking a spin class at your local gym. Maybe it’s watching a history documentary or working on your woodworking hobby. Anything goes – so long as you feel refreshed afterward.

Prioritize opportunities to try new activities and engage with friends and family. Building and maintaining personal connections and learning new skills are proven ways to keep feelings of burnout or depression at bay.

Finally, commit to getting at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep at night as the final act of self-care each day. Doing so will help you stay well-rested and ready to face tomorrow.

And if you find yourself feeling guilty about setting aside a few moments of “me” time each day, remember that every step you take toward self-care is sure to help you be a more present, engaged and effective care provider for your patients.



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