Guard yourself

5 strategies for guarding yourself in a demanding healthcare environment

Christina Omlor

Healthcare is an industry like no other. Whilst it’s incredibly rewarding at times, it can also be very difficult, with long hours, demanding patients and life-changing decisions to be made. So it’s easy to see why healthcare professionals are prone to becoming overwhelmed, overloaded and exhausted. But, there are some ways to guard yourself and your mental wellbeing, here are 5 strategies to help you.

How you can guard yourself in a demanding environment

Learn how to shield yourself 

Learning how to visualize a shield to protect yourself will help you in all kinds of situations. Whether you’re dealing with a particularly difficult patient, a colleague who saps all your energy or a number of toxic people in a waiting room. This technique will help you to shut out toxic energy and guard yourself from absorbing the stress of testing situations. The minute you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed, you can just put up your shield. You can do this by taking some deep breaths and visualizing a shield of white light which surrounds you and blocks out the negative energy. Once you’ve visualized the shield, focus on feeling centered and happy behind it. Shielding yourself in this way will help you to focus on your own needs and help you to navigate and guard yourself in challenging situations. 

Define and express your needs 

Although working in healthcare often means you’re expected to think of others’ needs above your own, it’s really important not to lose sight of your own needs. In fact, knowing, understanding and expressing your needs is a really strong form of self-protection. So, next time you feel pressured to skip your lunch break or feel unable to open up about your emotions, tell your colleagues and your supervisor what you need. If you don’t look after yourself, then how can you expect to look after others day in and day out? If you feel like something is wrong, or you’re struggling, it’s likely your colleagues are too. It’s good for everyone if you speak up. 

Workload is astronomical and not realistic.” – Anonymous employer review at Genesis Healthcare 

Set boundaries 

If you work in a demanding patient-facing role, then you probably know how difficult it can be to avoid absorbing all of the stress from your surroundings. Hospitals, healthcare centers and clinics can be really noisy and overwhelming. Hence it’s important to try to set boundaries for yourself. If you have a desk then try to protect your space with plants or personal photos. If you have a break room, then create a psychological barrier between that room and the rest of the hospital by asking your supervisor if you can put some tape down in the doorway to physically mark the boundary between safe space and workplace. Since you’re now going to express your needs, you could also ask your colleagues not to talk to you in the break room or specify what you need to make your breaks more relaxed and meaningful. And, if you’re on your feet all day, then try to take small moments here and there to breathe deeply before rushing into every new situation. By creating boundaries, however small, you’ll be able to feel more in control and distinguish between ‘go-time’ and ‘break time.’

Set clear limits with toxic people

Similar to creating psychological boundaries between places, you should also try to set clear limits with toxic people. It’s totally OK to say “no” whenever you need to. And you don’t even have to validate it by saying “no, because…” as people should get that no means no, you don’t have to keep explaining yourself. While you’re at it, stop saying “sorry…” too! If you’re having trouble with a toxic or abusive patient, then try to limit the time you spend with them, or coordinate their care with your other colleagues so that no one of you has to deal with them by yourself and take a look at our tips for dealing with them.

Leadership constantly tells employees they are not doing well enough.” – Anonymous employer review at United Healthcare

Be aware of empathy overload 

Working in healthcare requires a lot of empathy. But, there’s a big difference between empathizing with your patients and absorbing all of their emotions and stress. If you feel that you’re constantly taking on the stress of your patients in an unhealthy way then you need to learn how to avoid empathy overload. One great way to do this is to inhale lavender oil, or another essential oil that you find calming. You can also put a few drops on your temples or wrists. If you can, try to spend some time in nature every day as this is a great way to reset and reflect. You should also try to think of ways that you can manage your time so that you’re not rushing from patient to patient, which is easier said than done, we know! But this also applies to your free time, try not to overload yourself and remember that there’s no shame in cancelling plans when you need to take some time for yourself. In fact, if you’re in need of some “me-time” take a look at our 11 great ways to unwind.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Practice self-compassion and make sure that you don’t beat yourself up. In a fast-paced industry like healthcare, it’s all too easy to beat yourself up, instead focus on the things you do well everyday and tell yourself that you’re doing the best you can. If it all gets too much, it’s also completely OK to quit and look for a job that suits you better. 


Here at kununu, we’re on a mission to make the world of work more transparent. So, we want to know what it’s like to work for your employer. Do you feel able to express your needs? Or do you feel pressured into working in an overly stressful environment? Let us know in a review on kununu and help other healthcare professionals find the most compassionate employers for them.