A winter storm is raging outside. My driveway is coated in ice. I can't walk on my sidewalk without slipping and sliding. And the forecast is only predicting it will get worse.
So why am I feeling guilty about putting my health and safety first by taking the day off of work? Are my patients going to die if I'm not at the hospital? Is my department going to survive without me there? Am I going to get in trouble or be looked at differently for calling off at 6am? These are the questions I'm repeatedly asking myself this morning instead of going back to bed and trying to enjoy sleeping in on an unexpected day off.
As I wrote in my last post, I have some anxiety that lives with me. This morning it is RAGING out of control as I am thinking in circles. Now, not everyone in health care struggles with anxiety. But I think a lot of us struggle with how we prioritize our lives when our entire day is spent putting the needs of our patients above our own.
When I took time off work last year for my mental health, one of my group therapists showed a video during class about a philosophy professor filling up a jar. Maybe you've seen this video. He first puts as many rocks into the jar as he can and asks his class if the jar is full. They respond with a resounding "yes." He then puts smaller pebbles into the jar and shakes it around until they occupy the spaces between the rocks. He again asks his class if it is full and they repeat, "yes." Lastly, he pours some sand into the jar. It easily fills every crevice between the pebbles and the rocks. Here's the link to the video if you want to watch it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwjgkVAwUEo
As you watch the video, you'll see that this is a metaphor, with the jar representing our lives, the rocks representing the most important things in our lives like family and our health, the pebbles representing things that are moderately important like work and hobbies, and the sand representing less important things like watching TV and using social media.
When I watched this video for the first time, I felt absolutely SHOCKED to see that work was only represented as a pebble instead of a rock. How can my job that I've worked so hard for be so insignificant? I spent 5 years in college preparing for grad school. I spent even more years in grad school preparing to be a PT. I studied for months to pass an exam to get my license, then spent weeks applying to jobs to find the right position. I spent almost an entire decade of my life preparing for my career, and now this video is going to tell me it's only a small pebble???
This perspective was a game changer for me. Part of the reason I had been struggling so much with my mental health was because I had so many work pebbles in my jar that I had no room for my rocks. I was having difficulty participating in any of my relationships, and I wasn't giving myself proper hygiene or nutrition. My rocks - my family and my health - had no room to fit into the jar because I had filled it up with less significant pebbles and sand first.
I metaphorically emptied my jar while I was taking time off, and I started over. I first put in my rock that represents my husband and my dog (my family), and then I put in my rock that represents my well being. I made my work fit into a single pebble and put it in AFTER I filled up with rocks.
For those of us in healthcare, I think this concept is SO important to internalize. What we do for work is critical to the well being of others. We're seeing staffing shortages in our hospitals across the nation due to healthcare workers feeling burned out. So yes, it's critical that we continue to do our best at our jobs to provide skilled care to others. But once our 8- or 12- or 36-hour shifts are over, it's even more crucial that we let our work go and focus on ourselves and our families. What we do OUTSIDE of work is critical to our own wellbeing, and it helps to prevent or minimize burnout over time.
I was recently given an opportunity to change my work schedule to work a few less hours. I gladly accepted it and soon I'll have one day off every two weeks. It doesn't seem like much, but this will give me a day off that I can use in whatever way I need. Whether I'm using it for therapy appointments, doctor appointments, veterinary appointments, seeing a friend, taking my dog to the dog park, or just spending a lazy day at home, I think this will vastly improve my quality of life.
This morning, the rock/pebble/sand video calmed my anxiety and reassured me that I am doing the right thing by putting myself and my safety ahead of my job. I honestly felt that it wasn't safe for me to be on the icy roads in my little Ford Focus, knowing that it's only going to get worse throughout the day. I can feel confident in my decision and move on from it to actually enjoy my day of PTO.
Try this at home:
Grab a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Draw a large rectangle on one half of the paper. On the other half of the paper, write down things that are important to you and help to give your life fulfillment and meaning. Separate these into 3 categories from most important to least important. Draw your "rocks" inside your jar, filling up most of your space with the most important things in your life. Next, draw your "pebbles" inside the jar with the moderately important things. And lastly, shade in your sand, writing in the least important things. Put this somewhere that you can see it regularly and use it to help guide your difficult decisions.
I thought about including a photo of my first attempt at this from when I completed it in my group therapy session last year. After looking closely, it's pretty personal and specific and I've decided to keep it private instead of sharing it publicly. Please feel free to reach out! I'd love to hear how yours turned out! :)