It’s a fact: Nurses are caretakers, but do they take care of themselves? Nope. That’s probably why we see the high numbers of nurses with depression, anxiety, burnout, and fatigue. Ultimately, that leads them to leave the bedside or the nursing profession altogether.
Maybe you’ve been seeing the term “self-care” a lot recently but aren’t totally sure what it means. Basically, it relates to ways to take care of your time, your body, and your health, which is essential if you’re to remain strong enough to take on whatever life throws at you.
It may be especially difficult for nurses to think of “looking after number one” in terms of taking care of yourself. But remember that when you take care of your own needs, your patients will benefit, and ultimately, so will your family and other loved ones.
It’s like what flight attendants say in their airline pre-flight safety speech—“put on your own oxygen mask on before attempting to assist others”—in case of an emergency. The same safety strategy applies to self-care. It takes the most consistent and conscientious acts of kindness to self before you’re rested enough to handle the crushing patient load you sometimes must carry.
What exact type of act constitutes self-care will vary from nurse to nurse. Each individual has to try to wrap his or her mind around this slippery concept, but know that you’re not the only one to struggle with something so seemingly simple. A Swedish massage with warm, scented lotion may stress you out while a sweaty, muddy mountain-bike ride may make you feel positively pampered.
How do you know where to begin your self-care efforts?
Choose an area of life that will make the biggest impact: Weight-bearing exercise, healthy eating, managing stress, getting more shut-eye, connecting to your values and dreams, etc.
Then try to determine what self-care activities would be rewarding as well as pleasurable. Psychologists at the University of Plymouth in England found that there is a “pleasure zone” or life satisfaction we experience when regularly engaging in those activities that combine reward and pleasure.
Here are some common examples which hit the sweet spot: Volunteering, praying, meditating, time with children, cooking, exercising, socializing, reading, Internet use, and outdoor activities.
Compare those items to the two most often-cited activities that are neither pleasurable nor rewarding: Shopping and commuting. (For most of us, these are two of the top time drains, too.)
Unfortunately, it’s usually not possible to radically change your schedule or commitments to pump up self-care—though if you can swing a shift change or house move for a shorter commute, more power to you! For the rest of us, we can get the best results from being creative and exploring simple ways to create positive new routines for a happier, healthier life.
But try not to become frustrated or disappointed with yourself if you sometimes aren’t able to get off the hamster-wheel and achieve some work-life balance. Self-care is all about taking positive and sustainable action and shouldn’t cause you more anxiety or require you to upend your life, either.