As a nurse, you spend your days caring for others in hospitals, rehab centers, in their homes, and many other places. Then you come home and may care for family members, spouses, children, and/or pets.

But when do you take time to care for yourself?

Now, before you begin saying, “I don’t have time” or “If I don’t do everything, it won’t get done,” think for a minute. You need to take the time to do special things for yourself. If you don’t take even a few minutes out of each day to care for yourself, you’ll burnout quickly.

Here are some tips for making time for taking time…

According to Susan Neville, PhD, RN, CADDCT, CDP, professor and chair of the Department of Nursing at the New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury, New York, taking time for yourself is crucial.

“Nurses are faced with a multitude of personal and work-related stresses that impact physical and emotional resilience and sustainability. Self-care strategies for nurses are important as the level and degree of stress has increased,” says Neville. “For example, the physical and psychological demands of caring for patients with complex and multiple diagnoses and comorbidities; unpredictable and challenging work environments; staffing shortages; risk for emotional burnout and fatigue; the demands of the greater patient acuity and care needs and challenges of an aging nursing workforce; increased documentation and time pressure; role conflict, and ambiguity.”

With all that going on in your career, the question becomes: “How can you not take time for you?”

Josanna Lei Enriquez, MSN, RN-BC, CNL, FACDONA, CDP, has experienced caregiver burnout firsthand from not taking care of herself. “[Caregiver burnout] made me doubt my competency as a nurse leader, and I had to step back and review my motivation for doing what I do. And I had to find ways to reignite that passion in me,” says Enriquez, who is the director of nursing services for Oak Trace, A Lifespace Community, in Downers Grove, Illinois. “I volunteered to tutor for an ESL (English as a Second Language) class and made an effort to spend time with family and friends to remind me that having a sense of balance within me is very important.”

Putting Yourself First

No matter what, it’s important for nurses to take time for themselves. “You cannot keep withdrawing money from a bank without putting money in it. That same concept applies to nurses,” says Enriquez. “We can only be effective in what we do when we invest in ourselves so we can keep growing not only professionally, but also on a personal level. Taking time for one’s self also brings a sense of fulfillment and joy to keep giving back.”

If you’re not sure how to begin taking time for yourself, Neville suggests that you start with establishing one realistic goal with a proactive, realistic plan for accomplishment. So basically, don’t suddenly decide that you’re going to do a complete 180 if you haven’t been taking any time for yourself at all. You may be setting yourself up for failure.

Neville has some tips for learning to take time for you:

  1. Develop an individual Health and Wellness Plan that includes dedicated personal time to unwind (gym, reflection, medication, hobby, etc.).
  2. Use a personal planner with specific time periods entered on days that allot personal time. For example: WED, 5-6 p.m., Gym.
  3. Do reflective journaling.
  4. Just say No!!!
  5. Schedule a personal care day or half-day.
  6. Schedule a weekly “time out” where you do not participate in or address any work activities.
  7. Develop a “walking support group” that meets at a convenient time for all members once a week after your shift.

Need some other ideas? Enriquez suggests doing little things such as: taking a 10-15 minute brisk or nature walk each day; have daily quiet time for yourself at the start of the day; call a friend and just chat; take a spa retreat (massage, mani/pedi, etc.); read an inspiring book; or just be present when you spend time alone or with others. Other small changes could be making sure to take a lunch break each day, taking a friend to lunch or dinner on the weekend or when you aren’t working, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or going to sleep 30 minutes earlier at night to give yourself more rest. “You will be surprised at how these small changes can make a difference,” she says.

By taking some time out for you, Neville says, you’ll have increased resilience and sustainability, a sense of empowerment and appreciation, and have better wellness, both physically and mentally.

“Nurses create an impact in the lives of people each day and that requires giving a part of yourself that you can never take back. We always have that superhero mentality that we just have to do it all. That can take a toll on us when we don’t find healthy ways to cope,” says Enriquez. “As a nurse, I always remind myself of this—if we are to keep saving lives, we need to start with ourselves and realize that we can’t give what we don’t have.”

Michele Wojciechowski

Michele Wojciechowski is an award-winning writer and author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.

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