Skip to Main content

TLC for the ICU: Self-Care Strategies for Critical Care and Allied Health Professionals

July 31, 2023 Posted by Remede in Blog
Two women doing face masks as self-care

It’s no secret that the work of critical care nursing and allied health professionals is demanding. These clinicians are healthcare’s backbone, a fact that was especially evident in their selfless commitment to the front lines during a global pandemic. Providing essential care to patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and other high-intensity environments is not for everyone. The inherently high-stress nature of this work takes a toll on emotional and physical wellbeing and too often leads to burnout in healthcare.   

Common stressors and pressure include long hours, high patient acuity, and the need to make critical decisions under intense circumstances. The physical and emotional toll of working in these environments can be significant and lead to exhaustion, burnout, and decreased job satisfaction. For these reasons among others, it’s crucial for professionals in these roles to prioritize self-care to build resilience, ensure their wellbeing, and maintain the top-quality care they provide. 

In this article, we’ll look into:   

  • The challenges faced by critical care and allied health professionals  
  • The potential impact of prolonged exposure to high-intensity environments 
  • Practical self-care strategies for critical care professionals

Come along as we explore how professionals in these roles can better navigate the demands of their work and sustain their wellbeing.  

Navigating the Demands of Critical Care: Unique Stressors and Pressures

Critical care nursing and allied health professionals face myriad unique stressors and pressures in their roles. From intense patient acuity to the fast-paced and high-stakes nature of their work, these professionals are constantly confronted with challenging situations that require their utmost attention, and expertise and grace under pressure.  

In the critical care setting, professionals are often exposed to emotionally charged scenarios, witnessing the suffering of patients and their families. They must maintain composure and deliver care with empathy and compassion, even in the face of difficult decisions or devastating outcomes. The weight of these experiences can take a toll on emotional wellbeing and contribute to compassion fatigue, which can show up like: 

  • Persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or irritability 
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions 
  • Insomnia or disturbed sleep patterns 
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities 
  • Increased susceptibility to illness and decreased immune function 
  • Relationship strain personally and professionally 
  • Thoughts of quitting or career dissatisfaction   

Furthermore, the unpredictable nature of critical care means uncertainty is the norm as is the need to make split-second decisions. The pressure to provide timely and accurate interventions, manage complex equipment, and coordinate with interdisciplinary teams adds another layer of complexity. These clinicians must continually adapt to changing circumstances—often for 12 hours or more in a shift—which also continually disrupts their sleep patterns and overall work-life balance.   

Prolonged Exposure: The Impact on Wellbeing

Prolonged exposure to high-intensity environments in critical care can have a profound impact on the clinician’s wellbeing. The chronic stress coupled with the emotional demands of the job can lead to physical and mental exhaustion, burnout and decreased job satisfaction. The relentless pace and intense workloads can leave professionals feeling overwhelmed and struggling to find the time let alone the energy for self-care. 

Moreover, the potential for moral distress and ethical dilemmas further exacerbates critical care challenges. The difficult decisions they must make such as end-of-life care or resource allocation can have a lasting emotional impact and create a sense of moral burden. Without proper support and effective strategies in place, professionals may find it difficult to cope with these challenges. As stress increases, resilience runs thing. And this is a dangerous and unsustainable state for any healthcare professional.  

But what are the most effective and proactive strategies allied health and critical care professionals can take to mitigate burnout in healthcare? 

Next, we’ll explore practical approaches allied health and critical care professionals can implement as soon as today to support their personal wellbeing, empowering them to thrive in their roles and deliver exceptional care to their patients.  

Are You a Critical Care or Allied Health Professional? This Section Is for You.

Strategy #1 – Promoting Physical Wellbeing

In the high-stakes world of critical care, taking care of your physical wellbeing is paramount. The demanding nature of this work requires that you be in top form—both mentally and physically. This is where incorporating a movement practice with your lifestyle plays a lead role. 

Regular exercise not only improves your physical fitness—it also releases endorphins, reducing stress and promoting overall wellbeing. Make it a point to engage in activities you enjoy, whether it’s going for a jog, practicing yoga, or taking a dance class. Physical activity should be fun, first and foremost, ensure that it becomes a part of your routine. Building physical and mental resilience outside of the care setting means more resilience at work, too.  

Obviously, fueling the body with nutritious food helps provide the energy necessary to sustain you during long shifts. Incorporate whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins for immune support and overall health. Perfection is not required. Try to get 80% of your food from nutritious sources and use the other 20% for food that you enjoy but that it’s as nutrition dense. And when it comes to hydration, take your weight and divide it in half—that’s how many ounces of water you should drink during the day (and even more if you sweat!).   

Taking regular breaks during your shifts is also vital for physical wellbeing. Use these breaks to rest, hydrate, and nourish yourself. Stepping away from your work for a few minutes allows you to recharge and maintain your focus and energy throughout the day. By prioritizing your physical wellbeing, you not only take care of yourself but also ensure that you can provide the best possible care to your patients.  

Strategy #2 – Prioritizing Mental and Emotional Self-Care

Practicing mindfulness techniques goes a long way towards cultivating self-care for its plethora of benefits—even beyond mental and emotional. Mindfulness helps you stay present and centered, even during challenging moments. Grounding exercises such as focusing on your breath or using your senses to anchor yourself in the present can help you maintain a sense of calm and clarity. Guided meditation or mindfulness apps, like Calm or Headspace, can provide valuable resources to support your mental and emotional wellbeing. These practices allow you to cultivate self-awareness, manage stress, and navigate the intense emotions that can arise in your work. 

Seeking support is also a must for maintaining your mental and emotional wellbeing. It’s so important to have outlets to process your emotions and alleviate the weight of this work. Connect with trusted colleagues, friends, or mentors who can offer understanding and empathy. Engage in reflective conversations to share experiences, seek advice, and gain perspective. Professional counselors or therapists can also provide valuable support in navigating the unique challenges you face.  

Remember, asking for help is a sign of strength—not weakness. Prioritizing your mental and emotional wellbeing allows you to sustain your resilience and continue delivering compassionate care to your patients. 

Strategy #3 – Setting Boundaries and Prioritizing Personal Time

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential for preventing burnout and preserving your wellbeing in the critical care environment. One effective strategy is to set clear boundaries between your work and personal life. Identify specific times when you are “off-duty” and prioritize those moments for rest, relaxation, and engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment. Whether it’s spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, or simply savoring the small, seemingly insignificant moments of your day to day, carving out personal time allows you to recharge and rejuvenate. 

Avoid excessive overtime and learn to delegate tasks when possible. Everyone has only so much bandwidth and capacity, and it’s not possible (nor healthy) to be available at all times. To mitigate the expectation of 24/7/365 availability, practice assertiveness in communicating your boundaries and negotiating workload expectations with your team. By setting clear expectations and boundaries, you create space for self-care and prevent work from encroaching on your personal life. 

Remember, practicing self-care is not selfish. Taking care of yourself allows you to show up as your best self both personally and professionally. By setting boundaries and prioritizing personal time, you’re cultivating a work-life balance that supports your long-term resilience and enables you to continue providing exceptional care to your patients.

Let Remede Be Your Remedy to Burnout in Healthcare

By incorporating these strategies—promoting physical wellbeing, prioritizing mental and emotional self-care, and setting boundaries—critical care and allied health professionals like you can navigate the challenges you face and thrive at work and in life. 

If you’re looking for career opportunities that prioritize self-care and work-life balance, consider partnering with Remede. We understand the importance of supporting healthcare professionals in their wellbeing and can help you find a role that aligns with your values and needs.  

Contact us today to explore the possibilities and take the next step towards a fulfilling, balanced, and burnout-free healthcare career.