It’s the season to “start anew” but after another difficult year for health care leaders it’s okay if you’re struggling to manifest a positive spirit. This past year has required you to make tough decisions around the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic while simultaneously supporting your health care workers, friends, and family through guidance, understanding, and compassion. How do you ‘create calm’ while embracing what the New Year brings?

Your head and your heart need a break. We’ve pulled together a variety of resources to help you create space to breathe and recharge yourself this season. Some may take deep work, others will take just a minute or two. We hope these strategies help you embrace the changes and strengthen your resiliency for whatever trends and considerations the coming year might bring. 

1. Check in with yourself

It’s natural to mask your own feelings when you’re leading a health care workforce through a crisis. But that doesn’t make your experience any less valid—and, if you don’t take care of yourself, those feelings can add up.

“During the pandemic, our exhaustion compounds continuously so that our distress is incremental rather than instantaneous,” writer Katie Navarra explained in SHRM. “Also, because exhaustion and burnout have a negative stigma, we don’t want to admit we’re feeling them.”

So, before you can dive into self-care and create your own sense of calm, take time to assess your starting point.

The Colorado Healthcare Ethics Resource Group created a COVID-19 pandemic mental health care resource site, including a stress continuum model to help people be more self-aware about their current experience: Thriving, Surviving, Struggling, or In Crisis.

“Stress can be a path to personal growth,” wrote Jan Ascher and Fleur Tonies for McKinsey Quarterly

“The key is understanding our own stress so that we can better harness our body’s normal stress response, rather than only being subservient to it,” they explained. “Through practice, we can learn to move deliberately between an engaged state, where we’re energized, focused, creative, and productive, and a recovery state, where our brain processes events, learns, and recuperates.”

2. Get to know the four A’s of stress management

Let’s get this out of the way up front: A lot of the sources of stress you deal with at a health care organization are beyond your control and some stress management tactics might ring hollow. However, others can provide a solid framework for you to take a fresh approach to create calm with your role at work and at home.

The Mayo Clinic explained the four A’s of stress management as one of those frameworks:

  • Avoid. Identify areas of stress and, where possible, look for ways to get around them or delegate to others.
  • Alter. When you can’t change a situation, try to minimize the stress involved. For example, ask other people to make adjustments or rethink how you tackle certain responsibilities.
  • Accept. Sometimes you need to accept your current reality and move forward. Talking to others is one way to acknowledge what you feel and even identify things to do differently.
  • Adapt. Adjusting your expectations or your standards can help reduce feelings of frustration and guilt that might be burdening you.

One important theme in the Mayo Clinic’s recommendations is to set clear boundaries. If you don’t have a lot of time for a meeting, set that expectation upfront. If you need to say no to an incoming request, do so with confidence. Establishing boundaries gives you ownership over your time, which can help you feel more in control in any situation.

3. Find ways to make an escape—even if you don’t leave the office 

There are ways to add peace to your everyday routine, to make a significant and meaningful difference to the rest of your day. Here are a few ideas:

Breath deeply (diaphragmatic breathing)

Many people are shallow breathers, a habit that nudges our bodies toward a state of stress. Deep breathing, on the other hand, can have the opposite effect.

“Investigations into the physiological effects of slow breathing have uncovered significant effects on the respiratory, cardiovascular, cardiorespiratory and autonomic nervous systems,” reported one review published in Breathe.

Need help getting started? Check out these free breathing exercises to reduce stress, including a one-minute mini-meditation you can follow.

Start planning your next vacation

Everybody loves a good vacation, but productivity expert Laura Vanderkam said we often don’t give enough credit to the boost we can get just from planning our trips. 

“One study of vacationers found (no surprise) that they were happier than people who weren’t getting away, but almost all of the happiness boost happened before the vacation itself,” Vanderkam wrote in Fast Company. “When you think about the fun you’ll be having, you feel much of the same joy the experience itself will bring.” 

Add accomplishment and pleasure to your day

It’s tough to own your day and create calm when you’re depressed or anxious. Alice Boyes, PhD, a former clinical psychologist turned mental health author, suggests purposefully adding positive activities to your schedule—six times a day, ideally.

“Activities that provide a sense of mastery or accomplishment are productive, and the structure of this approach will benefit your biological rhythms and your mood,” she wrote in HBR

By scheduling one source of accomplishment and one source of pleasure every morning, afternoon, and evening, you activate positive emotions that can help shift your mindset. 

4. Consider your mindset

Researchers from the Stanford Mind & Body Lab have found that it’s possible to make the personal stress of situations like the COVID-19 pandemic work for you—and mindset is a big part of that.

“In one study of 30,000 Americans, those who had the highest levels of stress were 43 percent more likely to die only if they also believed that stress was bad for their health,” researchers Kari Leibowitz and Alia Crum wrote in the New York Times. “In contrast, those who experienced high stress but didn’t view it as harmful were the least likely to die compared to any other group in the study—including people who experienced very little stress.” 

Leibowitz and Crum suggested a three-step guide to help shift your mindset into one to create calm:

  • Step 1: Acknowledge your stress. As noted above, when you acknowledge your stress you can be thoughtful and deliberate in finding ways to deal with it.
  • Step 2: Own your stress. “We only stress about things that we care about,” the authors pointed out. When you own your stress, you can connect to the motivations and values behind it—“the things we value and treasure most.”
  • Step 3: Use your stress. Once you understand the values that are driving your stress, you can use that information to filter and prioritize the actions you can take to have the most meaningful impact. 

This holiday season, make time to recharge and reflect on another year of change, personal accomplishment, and growth. The team at Medely wishes you, your family, and your team of incredible healthcare professionals the best over this holiday season!