Nursing is a gratifying and fulfilling career, but it can also require working long hours and experiencing some high-stress days. Nurses must take care of their mental and physical health if they are to provide their patients with a high level of care day after day.
Self-care should be practiced on some level each and every day. While it may be hard for some to make the changes needed to take better care of themselves, even small changes can have a major impact on nurses’ overall health and well-being.
In a Healthy Nurse Survey promoted in Nurse Journal, it was reported that more than 70% of nurses admit to neglecting their own health and care to take care of their patients. While on the surface that seems noble, over time, this is detrimental to the health and well-being of patients as well. When a nurse is not performing at their best, it is inevitable that the quality of care will suffer too.
Diet and exercise
When you are working long hours or have an erratic schedule, it can be difficult to eat a healthy diet unless you make a lot of effort. Snack and drink machines at hospitals and medical facilities often carry a lot of processed foods that are not the healthiest choice on a daily basis. Fast meal options often have the same problem, too much salt, sugar, and processing equal not so great for long-term health and energy levels.
Packing healthy snacks and meal options from home is a good solution, and it saves money over marked-up convenience food and restaurant take-out.
Creating meal plans for the week to eat at home can help avoid shopping for unhealthy items, panicking over what to fix for dinner, and opting for fast but unhealthy options.
While exercise may seem like too much, it is important to get at least some cardiovascular exercise every day. Nurses are on their feet a lot and move around, but that does not necessarily mean they are getting their heart rate up for long enough to contribute to good cardiovascular health.
Joining a gym and taking a fun exercise class is a great way to get some specific exercise and socialize with others. Having a scheduled class is helpful for many because it provides motivation and the support of a group of people all striving for better physical fitness.
Nurse self-care prevents healthcare mistakes.
There is only so much a person can do in a day. While working hard for a given period is inevitable in medical care, doing it all the time can lead to exhaustion and more mistakes. If a nurse is too tired, mistakes are much easier to make.
Sometimes working too hard for too long actually does more harm than good. It is important that nurses get adequate rest and breaks.
It can be very hard to relax sometimes, but it is necessary to maintain good mental and physical health. It is especially important to start winding down and relaxing as you approach your typical bedtime. For some people, relaxation may mean just reading a book or watching a show. Enjoying a favorite beverage is another way, but it is important to remember that anything with caffeine or alcohol may affect sleep patterns depending on the person.
While you may work long hours, it is important to use your time off for at least some relaxation. Not only will it benefit you, but it will positively impact friendships and other relationships you have with people.
Taking time to relax means you will be in a more positive mental state when you return to care for your patients.
Learn to ask for help.
There is a big difference between putting your workload on someone else and asking for help when you are experiencing a heavier workload than usual or are not feeling well enough to provide the level of care you are accustomed to giving your patients.
There may be larger-scale projects and duties that are best done by a team rather than just you. Delegating tasks when you are a lead nurse is something you should consider doing more often if needed. Trying to do too much by yourself and not asking for help when you need it can lead to mistakes and have an impact on the outcome of patients.
Do something nice for yourself.
Taking care of your personal appearance can do a lot for your emotional well-being. For some, this may mean going to a salon and getting their hair done occasionally.
A facial, manicure, or pedicure can provide some relaxation and downtime. If none of this sounds like your thing, then maybe you should try a professional massage to relieve stress and tension.
Know when you need to make changes and take charge of your life.
Things change, and so should you over the course of your career. Part of self-care is to realize when there is a problem or something making you desire more and to take steps toward that goal. As a nurse, there are a ton of different roles you can play in the medical world.
Many mid-career and senior-level nurses decide to pursue roles in administration, or they may decide that they want to travel and perform patient care in many different locations.
No matter where you are in your career, you may decide that you want to take it further. Earning an additional or specialized advanced degree may help you reach your goals faster. An online FNP from Walsh University can be completed while you continue to work. Family nurse practitioners often work in private practices or smaller medical facilities but may also work in a hospital setting.
Nurses are in high demand, so there is a good chance that you can find a great job no matter where you want to live.
Take care of your medical needs.
Ironically it can be easy to ignore your own medical needs when you spend all day caring for others. Nurses need to practice preventative care and get regular physicals and checkups in addition to any recommended screening and tests based on their age or preexisting health concerns.
Scheduling these visits well in advance will make it easier to fit around your work schedule.
Attending seminars and conferences is a great way to socialize within your profession and open yourself up to opportunities that might not manifest themselves otherwise. Attending virtual conferences is great, but there is nothing like going to a conference or day seminar and talking to others in person. You may even find that presenting a lecture or seminar yourself is something you would enjoy doing. This can help boost your career too.
If religion or any type of spirituality is important to you, then you need to take the time to practice your faith. For some, this may mean attending regular church services, while others may practice yoga or meditation. Practicing your faith can bring a sense of peace and help with heavy stress levels.
Some spiritual self-care may be practiced at work as well. During breaks, just taking a few minutes to meditate or pray is helpful to many nurses.
Make an effort to socialize
Some of your socialization should not be related to your work life. Even if a lot of your close friends are those you work with, it is important for all of you to sometimes socialize and not talk about work. It can take effort to learn not to talk about it, but it is for the best if you discuss other subjects, such as your family or hobbies you enjoy. How about that great book you are reading at the moment?
Of course, you should not limit your social circle to just those that you work with and your family. Having friends from all walks of life can be very helpful and provide balance in your life.
Nurses need to take great care of themselves if they want to provide the highest level of care for others. One person is only capable of so much work and stress. While you may want to keep going and going out of a feeling of obligation to patients and your family, the truth is that you can do more for them by practicing some self-care.
The earlier in their careers that nurses learn the importance of self-care, the better. Without good self-care, the risk of career burnout is much higher.
Healthcare administrators need to encourage nurses to take care of their physical and emotional well-being. If you are in administration or find yourself discussing improvements with administrators, it is not a bad idea to bring up some ways to encourage self-care in the workplace, such as improved snack food options or access to exercise equipment when not at work via gym memberships.