Why self-care should matter to healthcare workers

  • The Self-Care Matters resources
  • PCA Chair Professor Meera Agar
    PCA Chair Professor Meera Agar
  • Self care plan video screen capture
Palliative Care Australia

Under the best of circumstances, healthcare professionals operate in a high-pressure environment; patients' lives and well-being often depend on their work, which can create a heavy burden over time. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated such pressure, leading to increased risks of depression and burn-out.

While workplaces attempt to curb this pressure, many healthcare professionals turn to their own resources to improve their well-being by choosing self-care. However, it is often easier said than done to develop an efficient, fulfilling self-care routine while juggling other priorities. Last year Palliative Care Australia (PCA) stepped in to fill that resource gap, launching online self–care resources called Self-Care Matters. These resources address worker fatigue; offering practical step-by-step guidance to help individuals create their own self-care plan and put it into practice. Given their online nature, the resources are accessible for anyone who needs them, including in rural, regional and remote Australia.

PCA Chair Professor Meera Agar is a firm believer in self-care. She says it is more important than ever and is vital to our ability to function as productive members of the community.

"When you take a moment for yourself to re-centre your energies and to focus on your emotional needs, you allow yourself to take better care of others. As care providers, we need to acknowledge that, over time, caring for others can take a toll on all of us and that we need to take the time to care for ourselves. We also need to connect with our loved ones. Therefore, it is essential to have a self-care plan and to stick to it as much as possible," said Meera.

Designed by internationally-recognised self-care researcher, Dr Jason Mills, Self-Care Matters is a comprehensive, evidence-based resource created to foster self-care in individual and team contexts, including practical tools that highlight self-care as fundamental to caring well for others.

Self-care is for everybody

Jason says the Self-Care Matters resources can be used by anyone, including doctors, nurses, social workers, allied health professionals, aged care staff, pastoral care workers and volunteers.

"From my research with people working in the field of palliative care, it's clear that holistic well-being and quality of life are essential for everyone—of course those receiving care, but also those providing and enabling it.

"Self-care is highly relational to those around us, and we all have the same human vulnerability and potential for suffering. In the same way that Dame Cicely Saunders' elucidation of 'total pain' clarifies the need for total care; self-care, then, can be best understood as an important conduit to the promotion of holistic well-being and quality of life for everyone in the palliative care community, whatever their role may be.

"It's more important than ever to open up conversations about how to look after our emotional, physical and mental well-being – and back that up with practical and achievable plans to put this into practice," he said.

The Self-Care Matters resources are available free of charge via PCA's website and include:

  • information about the importance of self-care, understanding self-care, practising self-care and planning for self-care
  • short videos featuring well-known clinical and non-clinical experts in the palliative care sector, sharing their insights on self-care
  • guided meditation audio clips
  • writeable PDF self-care planning tool for users to complete at their own pace.

View the Self-Care Matters resources, including the downloadable Self-Care Matters planning tool, which is designed to assist you in reflecting on, and planning for, your self-care. Dr Mills and palliative care nurse practitioner and PCA clinical advisor Kate Reed-Cox demonstrate in this online video how to create an effective self-care plan and answer some frequently asked questions about the planning tool.

In December, PCA also developed the online Self-Care Matters (Aged Care) resource to assist all aged care workers in residential facilities or community settings with practising self-care to support the quality and sustainability of the care they provide to older Australians.  While it builds from the general Self-Care Matters resource, this version explores self-care within aged care's critical context, where palliative and end-of-life care are increasingly vital. It gives voice to the unique perspectives of experienced aged care providers.

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