Work Life Balancing Hacks for the Busy Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists (OTs) dedicate their lives to serving and helping patients during critical, and often stressful, times of need. They observe. They evaluate. They motivate. They challenge. They coach. And they persevere.
Again, and again, and again.
But what happens when work and life balance start to swing out of synch? For some OTs, the idea of balance seems laughable, because they’re so busy giving their all and meeting ever-increasing workplace demands. Do heroes really have time to find balance?
But it’s worthwhile to pause and consider: A healthy, reasonably balanced OT is a) better able to perform his or her duties over the long haul, and b) a great example to his or her patients.
While these simple behaviors may not change the circumstances OTs deal with, they can assist with strengthening an OT in practical ways that allow OTs to face their challenges with greater vitality long-term.
So, here are some simple hacks that can counter some of the burdensome effects of OTs’ biggest day-to-day stressors.
Stressors: Productivity Requirements and Paperwork
Productivity requirements exists in nearly every OT setting and drive the pace of your workload day in and day out. Many – if not all OTs – deal with productivity requirements that are at least 70-80 percent, with some reporting productivity requirements as high as 89 percent.
The targets are challenging when you add in all the required paperwork, and necessary activities that may be considered “unbillable time.”
Documentation such as assessments that justify treatment, daily logs and evaluations for insurance add tedious, time-consuming activity to high productivity requirements.
In an article called “Is Occupational Therapy Stressful,” Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L writes, “It really can feel like you’re a factory worker running from patient to patient with no bladder-emptying time.”
Balance Hack: FOCUS ON INPUT – Carefully Manage Fuel Intake
Yes, it seems a little silly to tell health professionals about diet; and no, eating and drinking properly won’t change your productivity requirements. But managing your biofuel is especially critical to ongoing performance and avoiding spikes and crashes in energy.
When life is crazy busy, we all tend to eat for convenience: fast, cheap, readily available foods and drinks that don’t offer balanced, wholistic nutrition. And our mental and physical capacities reap what we sow.
You already know how food and hydration impact the body, so let’s skip to the nitty gritty: if you’re struggling to consistently eat healthy foods, then you need to make it a priority and plan better.
Treat yourself like you’re your own patient: What is wrong? How can it be fixed?
Simple solutions include meal planning, packing snacks and drinking plenty of water from morning until night.
Taking a bathroom break is a normal human behavior, and if you feel like there isn’t enough time to do that, it’s all the more important to prioritize it. Pausing to intake and output good sustenance is massively important to long-term health, energy and vitality. If you struggle with this, remember: What would you tell a patient in your situation?
Water consumption is especially important. Starting each day with a glass jump starts your internal systems and wakes up your body from the inside out. Some dieticians recommend drinking half your body weight in ounces per day. You can easily add lemon, fruit or vegetables to infuse flavor and beneficial nutrients.
“One way to make sure you are properly hydrated is to check your urine,” advises the Cleveland Clinic. “If it's clear, pale or straw-colored, it's okay. If it's darker than that, keep drinking!”
Stressors: Physical Demand, Workplace Drama and Challenging Patients
While each stressor here is vastly different in experience, they share the common effect of placing too much burden on our physical, mental and emotional capacities. Each of theses stressors produce a type of pain within us, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Balance Hack: FOCUS ON OUTPUT – External Expression
Dealing with the pain produced at work – be it a bad back or a bad attitude – caused by too much strain is key to maintaining wellness. The underlying idea is that OTs need to express their stresses and burdens externally, so as to expel some of the negative impact.
This expression may manifest itself in exercise, prayer and meditation, journaling, creative projects, talking with a friend or a variety of other mechanisms. What should be avoided is using unhealthy forms of expression like over-drinking, self-medicating, binging habits and toxic relational behavior towards others.
For many of us, this is challenging and extremely personal. After a long, hard day, we may not want to push ourselves to directly deal with our biggest stresses. We may have to challenge ourselves to accomplish a healthy activity, rather than ignoring the pain points. But again, imagine if you were a patient: how would you advise coping? Probably in an honest, safe and constructive manner.