Have you ever noticed how many altruistic nurses there are out there in the world or even just in your own community? I’ll bet you dollars to stale breakroom donuts that you’re one of them. It seems as though it’s an inseparable quality inherent in most health care providers. Altruism is a great personality trait to have in many instances. It keeps the compassion in our work evident. It fearlessly upholds our love for our fellow beings and gives us every day heroes to keep our hope in humanity strong. It was likely a driving force that helped move you and many others toward a career in nursing. But once there, have you also noticed how it can be the very detriment to the longevity of it?

By the very selflessness of altruism, one begins to see how it fosters an acceptance of self-neglect and can ultimately wear a nurse down. Don’t let the best of you end up ushering you out of your hard-earned career. After all, if we wish to give our patients and colleagues the best of us, we cannot give from an empty medicine cup. The daily energy depletion from all forms of stress in nursing adds up quickly. You need to be on your toes for yourself, just as you are with your patients or administrative duties. The environments most nurses work in do not support self-care by the very nature of the total demands, so you will have to come forward and be a champion for yourself in all of this.

The good news is that pendulum can come back to center with an empowering consciousness shift. Nurses can certainly thrive while honoring their own needs within their career. Let me show you how by offering a few strategies that will go a long way in keeping you healthy in mind, body, and spirit within your exceedingly high stress career.

Start with the Basics

What follows here serves as a caring reminder, because, let’s face it, we could write the book on this stuff. But there’s something about those whirlwind work hours that somehow make us forget ourselves. Think of me as your best friend reminding you of how important you are.

1. Make time to stay hydrated and make time for the restroom.

Drink plenty of water prior, during, and after your shift. Find a water bottle that makes you tickled in your favorite color or whimsical design. Sponge Bob Square Pants themed? Go for it! The days of nurses holding their bladders for 8-12 hours needs to stop, seriously, today! Check in with yourself hourly and take the 2-3 minutes to visit the porcelain sanctuary when needed. Your bladder matters, you matter.

2. Meal plan in advance of your work week so there is no repeated wasted energy with what and when to eat.

Try not to tell yourself “you’ll figure it out as you go along.” This tends to put yourself last once again and you may not ever come up in queue. Choose high quality foods that are portable and nutrient dense; you are a powerhouse during your shifts and your food choices need to support that. Nix the sugar; it will unplug you faster than anything else. And for the love of all things healing, don’t resort to mutterings when a coworker makes a decision toward self-care. This is not a luxury. Learn sooner than later, that basic self-care in nursing is a priority and a necessity. Being part of an amazing team is great and part of that is respecting individual sovereignty and decisions made for self-preservation within the context of the demands. Support each other always and bring back the normalization of taking a break and having a meal during a work shift. If you are in a position where basic needs are not being honored; it isn’t the right place for you or any human being. Make moves to move on.

3. Lastly, blissful sleep.

So important as you know, but elusive to 50% of Americans. Many nurses have a difficult time forgetting what goes on during their shifts and with the unrelenting demands, many nurses leave fearing they haven’t covered all the bases and the mental list goes on and on until the rooster starts to crow. Add into the mix pre-shift anxiety with nonstop adrenaline surges and you’re dealing with a perfect storm.

Despite all of the bombardment, you’ll need to navigate your way to serenity shores in order to get an optimal eight hours. Being fully functional and keeping your immune system in tip-top shape is non-negotiable. Therefore, quality sleep is an unbreakable deal you need to make with yourself. Commit to remove your mind from the work environment the minute you physically walk out of the door at the end of your shift. Instead, consider taking a walk out in nature; watch a great comedy movie; enjoy being with family, a friend, or pet; express your creative flair with adult coloring books, engage in hobbies; or develop new ones including cooking, photography, knitting, or reading. You get the idea. Just know that if work thoughts start to invade your off time space, kick it down the yard lines like an NFL player, take a deep cleansing breath, and refocus on those things that you love and make life enjoyable. Unwind with healthy options that do not affect sleep quality, such as alcohol or caffeinated beverages. One hour before turning in, disengage from all electronics. Lower lights can ease you into a pre-bed ritual, which can include a bath to help you ramp down. Try augmenting the water with non-toxic bath salts with a couple of drops of an essential oil to the water. Explore unwinding scents such as Lavender, Ylang Ylang, and Bergamot for yourself. Perhaps some light and relevant reading? I recommend A Good Night’s Sleep written by Dr. Brian Luke Seaward.

Relaxation, Breathing, and Movement Will Save You

It’s true, you’ve certainly learned it in nursing school: the ABC’s every living creature needs. When the body, mind, and spirit are in a relaxed state, fully circulating with unrestricted movement, healing and restoration occurs. Instead of bolting out of bed like you’ve been released from the gate at the Kentucky Derby, allow for some time upon awakening to ease into your day. If you arrive to your post amped up on stress you are less likely to be able to easily handle the ensuing compounding stress. Begin and end your day with a variety of options that include meditation/prayer, positive affirmations, guided imagery, and some gentle stretching. Take a couple of initial deep breaths and remember that you are a living, sentient being in need of oxygen. Remind yourself throughout the day to take some deep breaths and shake off all of that shallow breathing.

Import a few yoga moves before getting out of bed, after a shift, and before sleep. These are easy peasy and can be done by almost any exhausted nurse in need of recharging:

  • Before leaving your bed, try Supine Bound Angle Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana) and Supine Spinal Twist Pose (Supta Matsyendrasana).
  • Need to silence your barking dogs after a harrowing shift? Move to a modified Waterfall Pose (Viparita Karani). It really is enough to lie flat on your back with your legs resting up on a wall.
  • Before heading into your next shift, which we all know is like going into battle, take a moment to engage in the Warrior Pose (Virabhadrasana), which will leave your battery juiced up and grounded.

Check out Google Images or Youtube.com for visuals of these elementary and manageable moves. At the very least, you’ll have fun with the names of the yoga poses rolling off of your tongue.

Guided Imagery is Your New Friend

Guided imagery needs to be in every nurses’ stress management repertoire. By going within using custom scripts for relaxation, we can develop a healthy baseline with more resiliency moving through stress and aid in resetting cortisol and adrenaline. This is not only a useful tool for ourselves but can be used in coaching patients through pain, fear, and anxiety. It’s a great way to be there for yourself and your patients in a meaningful way. I recommend anything offered by the forerunner in guided imagery, Belleruth Naparstek. Visit www.healthjourneys.com to learn more.

There are numerous ways that nurses can avoid becoming collateral damage from the stress in their professional environments. Nurses need to explore what pieces of this puzzle work for them personally. Small positive incremental changes add up to create life-affirming routines that navigate away from career-crushing burnout. I’ve provided a starting point. Keeping with internal and didactic wisdom can be there as daily reminders. Sticky notes on your bathroom mirror help as well. Namaste.

Mary Magdalene Jarowski, RN, BS, CHPN, CFCN
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