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Self-Care Considerations for Laboratory Professionals

Oct 3, 2022, 10:02 AM by Richard A. Prayson, J. Jordi Rowe, and Elizabeth E. O’Toole

The past few years have been challenging. The impact of Coronavirus on people’s personal lives as well as in the workplace has been tremendous. We all find ourselves continuing to think about how we can adjust our day-to-day lives and adapt to the changes that have occurred. The goal of this article is to consider strategies that one can use to help take better care of oneself both at work and outside the workplace.

To quote author Eleanor Brown, “Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.”

In creating a self-care routine or approach for oneself, a good place to start is with some basic rules that increase the likelihood of success in attaining your goal. A useful strategy that has been expounded upon in the literature by others is the S-M-A-R-T approach.1,2 These are five tips on what to consider with any plan or strategy you plan to implement.

  • Specific: The more specific you can be regarding your goal and the plan of action you wish to employ in realizing that goal, the better.
  • Measurable: Think about how you will monitor whether your plan is working. How will you measure your progress toward reaching your goal?
  • Achievable: Make sure that the goal you set is reasonable, realistic and potentially attainable. It does not help your confidence to set unrealistic goals that you cannot reach.
  • Relevant: Think about whether the goal you have set for yourself will actually make a difference.
  • Time-bound: Think about whether the goal can be achieved within a reasonable timeframe.

So, what kinds of goals should you think about setting for yourself that might help you with your self-care? In reality, there are myriad possibilities in this arena. The trick sometimes is just to commit—decide and commit to setting a goal or goals following the S-M-A-R-T approach and then just dive in and try it. Some goals and methods will be better suited for one person than another. Sometimes the process takes a bit of trial and error to find those strategies that work best for you, your personality, temperament, way of thinking, and circumstances. In general, finding things that can be done daily and routinely and committing to sticking to the routine are more likely to have an impact. Do not pick things that you hate. Just because everyone else may be doing something does not mean that that strategy is the right one for you. You are more likely to stick to achieving your goal if it is something that you do not hate doing. You should like to look forward to the activity, not dread it.

Try and keep things simple; the more complicated and involved the routine or practice is, the harder it will be to maintain it. One needs to plan ahead for whatever it is you aim to do and schedule in the time to do it. This is hard to do when we feel our lives are already so busy with work, taking care of family, and trying to accomplish the basic daily tasks we need to accomplish (e.g., making dinner, doing laundry, and grocery shopping among other things). One also needs to remember to remain flexible. It may be necessary to experiment a bit with how you implement a particular plan until you figure out what works best for you. On some days, it will be easier to practice self-care than others; one cannot always predict how one’s day will go, since no two days are exactly the same.

In implementing plans, one needs to give some consideration to one’s work and the laboratory environment at work. Many of us spend a significant amount of time in the laboratory and so thinking about strategies to employ in that environment that might help facilitate things is important. Six tips on strategies to consider while at work in the lab that can help positively impact self-care are as follows:3

  • Finding self-awareness. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed at work, it may be your mind’s way of telling you to slow down. Perhaps you have voluntarily taken on too much work or responsibility. For example, the volume of lab specimens in your work area has been progressively increasing and you find yourself having to skip out on breaks and lunch to just get the work done. You need to be aware of the situation and what is happening and engage in a discussion with your supervisor on what is happening so that extra needed assistance can be provided.
  • Learning how to say “no.” Sometimes it is OK to politely say no or decline additional responsibility, particularly if it is optional, and if you are already feeling too stressed or have too much on your plate. For example, your supervisor approaches your work group and asks if anyone is interested in being in charge of a particular new project. You already feel you have enough work to do and struggle to get that done on some days. In that situation, it is OK to decline or resist the temptation to assume more responsibility just because you were asked or think that somehow by accepting you are going to make a good impression on your supervisor.
  • Avoid pseudo-busyness. Be careful not to be doing things at work that do not really need to be done, just for the sake of “staying busy.” Think about what is non-essential in what you do at work and consider scratching those things off the list of tasks. For example, you have always done things a certain way. You know there is a new computer application that is available at work that can save you time for each specimen that you process for laboratory testing. You are afraid to invest a little time in learning how to use the new application and would rather continue doing things that way you have always done it even though it takes longer and sometimes you have to miss lunch because it takes longer.
  • Delegating responsibility. You do not need to do everything yourself. It is fine to let others do their job. This does not mean you should shirk your own responsibilities. For example, you are the supervisor of a small group of people in the laboratory. You have a tendency to micromanage others and worry when you are not always aware of what others are doing at all times and when they might make small decisions without consulting you. You have a tendency to want to do certain tasks yourself rather than appropriately delegate them to others. You need to let others do their jobs and not feel compelled to do everything yourself.
  • Stay in your own lane. Resist the temptation of assuming responsibility for things that are not your job and resist the temptation to compare your productivity to others. Do your work to the best of your ability and in a way that is authentically you. For example, you somehow believe that by doing more work than everyone else in the lab, you will be perceived as being more valuable and it will help your chance to get a promotion. You may not realize that in the process, you are stepping on other people’s toes and creating ill-will among yourself and your coworkers that ultimately may undermine your chances for promotion.
  • Avoid perfectionism. Some of us have a tendency to set impossibly high standards for ourselves, both at work and outside of work. Everything does not need to be perfect. Sometimes “good enough” is fine. You are a perfectionist and consequently it takes you three times longer to do your work because you have to re-review things multiple times before moving onto the next task. You need to realize that there may be certain important tasks that necessitate extra care and time, but you also need to realize that more menial tasks may not warrant unnecessary extra attention.

These six previously outlined strategies, when employed at work, are predicated on sometimes negotiating things with supervisors and coworkers, avoiding duplication of work when possible, facilitating teamwork, and understanding and accepting the responsibilities of one’s own job.

These strategies can also be applied to the things we do outside of work. They provide guidelines on how to maintain a perspective on the things that we do. Regarding strategies for self-care outside the workplace, there are a whole host of options that focus on both physical, psychological and spiritual well-being. In the list below, is a list of things to consider in these areas.4

Self-care outside the workplace

  • Exercise
  • Diet
  • Cooking
  • Sleep
  • Creating a vision board
  • Meditation
  • Organized religion
  • Going for walks
  • Journaling
  • Reading a book or magazine
  • Watching a good movie
  • Hobbies
  • Watching inspiring or educational videos
  • Unplugging from social media and email
  • Spa day
  • Take and do something fun with your vacation time
  • Community service
  • Reach out to someone you haven’t talked with in awhile to catch up
  • Say or do something nice to or for someone

Why does self-care matter? It can help alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety. It helps shore you up to weather the demands you face at work and in your life. It can help you be healthier and to be more effective in what you do. And to best help others, you need to properly take care of yourself. Be intentional about it. Keep it simple but try something. Do not be afraid to try something and to keep trying until you find something that works for you.

References

  1. O’Neill J, Cozemius A. The Power of SMART Goals: Using Goals to Improve Student Learning. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree; 2005.
  2. Grant H, Dweck CS. Clarifying achievement goals and their impact. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2003;85(3):541–53.
  3. James M. 9 Self-Care Tips for the Time-Crunched Audiologist or SLP. Leaderlive. https://leader.pubs.asha.org/do/10.1044/9-self-care-tips-for-the-time-crunched-slp/full/ Accessed 3/7/2022.
  4. Ocampo A. How to Create a Daily Self-Care Routine That You’ll Actually Stick To. Life Goals Magazine. lifegoalsmag.com/how-to-create-a-daily-self-care-routine-that-youll-actually-stick-to/ Accessed 3/7/2022.

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