Integrating work with life as a mindset
With mindfulness and flexibility, you can fine-tune your personal work-life balance to overcome some of the stress you may shoulder as a woman in nonprofit healthcare. In particular, women in the workforce who are raising children or taking care of elder relatives can struggle to get it all done between the demands of their work and family.1 According to a recent worldwide study of 13,000 people, the “sandwich generation”—women aged 35 to 49 with responsibilities for taking care of children and elderly parents—showed the highest rates of stress: 87% said they were stressed at work and 64% said they felt they were in an “always on” work environment.2 According to Medscape’s 2019 report, 44% of physicians reported feeling burned out–the shakeout was 50% of female physicians reported feeling burned out, compared to 39% of male physicians.3
Burnout—or the loss of emotional, mental and physical energy due to continued job-related stress—is a real problem. According to Melissa DeCapua, DNP, PMHNP, and author of the Modern Nurse blog, “Compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and burnout are very real conditions that can afflict health care providers.”4
The good news–these conditions aren’t inevitable. Don’t think about balancing work with life like a seesaw where one side must yield to the other. Instead, think about incorporating the two together. There are many strategies for getting yourself into a positive headspace. Here are three: practicing mindfulness at work and home, maintaining social connections, and taking satisfying breaks.
Burnout—or the loss of emotional, mental and physical energy due to continued job-related stress—is a real problem.
1. Practice mindfulness
Knowing what to expect from nonprofit work means you’ll need to keep a close watch on how you allocate your resources. Advocating for yourself is part of managing your finances as a healthcare worker, but it’s also important to support your own need for downtime, too. Make sure you have enough time left over in the week for personal care, exercise and your family. We’ve all heard of “self-care.” For you that could mean making time for the gym, cooking healthy meals or meditation, thus making you a more mindful healthcare employee.
Creating a weekly or monthly schedule and making a personal commitment to stick to it, such as making dates for yoga practice or dinner with your extended family, can help. You can also set aside time each day for mindful reflection, even if it’s only a few minutes. “I have found that practicing mindfulness is key to being a resilient healthcare provider. The daily push/pull of stress and joys can leave us on a roller coaster of emotion. Mindfulness balances the ups and downs,” says Beth Smolko, a certified physician assistant and director-at-large for the American Academy of PAs.5
2. Prioritize relationships
Your work will affect you, your family and your friends—and vice versa. Making and sticking to a plan for maintaining relationships is important for mindful balance in healthcare. Although varied schedules and availability are common in the healthcare field, scheduling regular activities with others can overcome this hurdle. How about a weekly game night with friends or a once-a-month date night at your favorite restaurant? Some strategies include attending support groups, working with a life coach or career mentor, and networking.
If you start feeling isolated, it’s time to make a bigger effort to reach out. Your friends, a partner or a sibling could all be valiant cheerleaders or sounding boards to help support you when you make time to spend together. The benefits of relying on extended family were highlighted in a 2017 study at St. Cloud State University that asked eight professional women about work-life balance.6
“Extended family will be the people who are always going to be there for you,” said Hannah, one of those interviewed for the St. Cloud project. With friendships, be creative and “piggyback” other commitments or opportunities together—that’s when you combine family activities, volunteerism, social activities, sporting and other events with friends.7
“We have made great friendships through our kid’s sports. When your free time is very limited, it’s really convenient to see the same people all the time that you have so much in common with,” said Nancy, another interviewee for the St. Cloud project.8 “Double-dipping” is another way to describe using one priority to satisfy multiple commitments—for example, jogging with your significant other is both exercise and relationship time.
3. Take a bite-sized sabbatical when needed
Sometimes, you need to take a break to restore your energy. Sabbaticals need not be long or costly, found physician Christina J. Valentine, co-leader of The Global Human Milk Research Platform and associate visiting professor of Pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati. “For me, that [break] has always been going to the beach, going on walks, runs that are more in nature. Then my ability to tolerate my workload was improved when I would come back. And they don’t have to be long breaks, but any bit helps,” Valentine said.9 She readily admits that her career has taken a lot of patience and perseverance.
Remember, your career is a marathon not a sprint, so if your work-life balance gets thrown out of whack, be prepared to take a step back and get back to nature, or at least go outside for some fresh air. You could even take a mental health day once a month.10
What you can do right now
You can’t help anyone to your best abilities if you’re feeling tired and burned out. Intentionally set aside some “you” time. As Modern Nurse blogger DeCapua said: “Prevention [of fatigue and burnout] is key. Develop a strong social support system, find a unique hobby, practice good sleep hygiene, exercise daily, and eat a healthy diet. Taking a well-deserved vacation can help, too.”11 Be your own best friend and ally by creating and sticking to a healthy work-life balance for yourself, ultimately increasing your happiness and potentially prolonging your career in nonprofit healthcare.