Self-Care in the Hospital
During the first several years I was sick, I spent a considerable amount of time alone in the hospital. My first real admission was almost 3 weeks long, and while I was lucky enough to be near where my parents lived, they both worked full time and were only able to visit in the early evenings. This left long days, and even longer nights wide open – too much time to think, to feel, to be frustrated, emotional and lonely.
Over the past nine years, I have spent more time than I’d like to admit in-patient. While I am so lucky now that my husband is able to be with me during many days and even some evenings, I also have realized that I fare much better with a plan for any time I am on my own.
Regardless of the nature of admission, there are some things I have found to be incredibly helpful coping mechanisms and ways to perform self-care when I am able to.
Blocking out the noises
From a rudimentary perspective, one of the most important things for me while I’m in the hospital is blocking out all of the noises. Whether this is a beeping IV machine, voices in the hallway, roommates who are continually sick, or the thoughts in my own head, sound therapy is always on my mind.
I rely very heavily on music playlists, mostly using Spotify to both create and search for playlists that fit my mood or emotional needs at that moment. I think it’s important to have quick access to comforting and soothing lists for unwinding, as well as one or two with a “pump-up the jam” type feeling for times when I need to think clearly or push myself to do things like drink prep or go through an uncomfortable test. Additionally, there are several free podcasts available for streaming as well! This provides me easy access to listen to something funny or interesting without having to take time to search or spend money accessing content.
The most vital tool of self-care for me, whether or not I’m in the hospital, is the phone app Calm. This free app offers things like nature sounds, instrumental playlists for different moods, and guided imagery/meditations which you can choose for anxiety, sleep, focus, stress, relationships, self-care, resilience, and more. I relied on the app so much a few years back I upgraded to the full version, and never ever looked back.
Beyond that, I rely a lot on my tablet or laptop to entertain me and encourage me to take care of my heart and my emotional needs while my body is in turmoil.
I like to download or save my favorite movie(s), comedy specials, and/or TV show episodes so they can be accessed without needing wifi. I often put in headphones and use this to zone out while watching things that are familiar and comforting. I’m also eternally grateful for streaming subscriptions like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which enable me to watch so many things without any effort. If the hospital stay feels very long, I like to start a new show and I even feel a sense of accomplishment when I finish several episodes.
I also like to have 1-2 books stored on my Kindle app to access on my iPad or even my phone. Sometimes I struggle to focus on reading when I am in the hospital so I don’t use this tool as often, but I’ve always found books as a comfortable way to escape. At home, reading helps distract me when I don’t feel well, so picking up a book during an admission provides me with a significant level of emotional relief.
Beyond listening, watching and reading, touch is so important to me when I’m feeling anxious. Last year I bought a very soft, inexpensive blanket specifically for the hospital (meaning it’s washed in hot water after every use, and not used anywhere else). This is of ultimate comfort to me, especially if I am alone and trying to sleep. I find this very difficult based on a number of reasons including past trauma, and being able to touch/hold onto something that is mine has been so helpful.
Small things to focus on
I also keep a few small items accessible in my hospital bag, including pinch me dough (a cool adult version of playdough, coupled with aromatherapy), some rose quartz and amethyst thinking stones, and a small seashell from my favorite beach. These are things I can turn over in my hands and focus on when I am stressing out or upset.
If I have any strength and I’m able to do some basic physical care, this comes first. Sometimes, I have to ask a nurse, or a visitor to help with this, but I promise you, I find it worth it every time. When I can, I will wash my face, brush my teeth, and put on deodorant. This can make me feel like a new person! If I’m unable to get out of bed, I try to spritz myself with body spray or even linen spray just to feel a little fresher & have something pleasant to smell.
Also, towards the end of my admissions, sometimes I am able to go for a short walk down the hall. When I can, I take advantage of this for a change in scenery.
Finally, when I am in the hospital, part of self care is having someone who knows what it’s like to be able to vent to. This is where I have a major shoutout for my IBD community. Sometimes just a few texts are all it takes to feel understood.
These strategies for self-care have helped me in two different ways. First, they obviously help me both cope and pass time while I am stuck in the hospital, especially if I am by myself. More importantly, in my opinion, using these self-care strategies significantly help me transition from hospital to home and to resuming my life as soon as I am physically able. It always takes me several days to re-adjust to being home after a hospital stay, but if I did things that were good for my mind and my heart while I was trying to heal my body, I find that the resulting stress is reduced.