Throughout my nursing career, I’ve often heard the term “self-care,” but have had a hard time reconciling the concept of focusing on my personal health and well-being with working long hours caring for others and juggling other daily duties and expectations.
As a previously practicing nurse, I understand how difficult it can be for caregivers to prioritize their own physical and mental wellness. Burnout was prevalent in the nursing industry prior to 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the need for frontline workers to focus on improving their mental and physical health. Compassion fatigue, increased workload, and insufficient staffing has caused many nurses to leave the healthcare industry – to the detriment of doctors and patients. Add a pandemic to the mix and it’s basically impossible, which is evident by the mass burnout and exodus of caregivers in the healthcare industry. As the old saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. With that said, the impact the pandemic had on the overall health and wellness of our society, especially those on the frontlines, exacerbated the need for better mental and physical care for all. Individuals and employers must both be accountable for prioritizing nurses’ health and well-being and keep them at the bedside.
In my current role as Director of Education, Research and Design at Elsevier, my focus has shifted from patient care to student care, providing education for practicing nurses, as well as incoming and current nursing students. My team and I are passionate about championing positive change to create a more comfortable and healthier working environment for current and future nurses. So, to all my current and soon-to-be nurses in the trenches, please give yourself grace and take care of your mind and body. During this month of celebrating nurses, I hope to leave you with some helpful tips to take better care of yourselves, and in turn, take better care of your patients.
Keep reading to learn four self-care tips that have helped me, and can easily be implemented into a 12-hour nursing shift:
Schedule Time for Yourself
It’s easy to say you’ll make time for self-care but it’s not always easy to do. While it may feel odd to block out time on your calendar for yourself each week, I highly recommend it as it will not only keep you accountable but also help establish regular healthy habits. Research shows it takes anywhere from 18 to 154 days to establish a new habit, and if you don’t regularly practice self-care, you may need a daily or weekly reminder to help get you started. Daily self-care activities may include reading, exercising, meditating, or painting. Giving your mind a break will not only make you feel better but will also result in better care for your patients. bett
Treat Yourself to a “Wellness Day”
The definition of self-care is up for individual interpretation. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, so it’s good to try a variety of activities until you find what works best for you. When I schedule a “wellness day,” I like to incorporate a special treat that I normally wouldn’t do, like getting a massage, going to a spa, or getting my nails done. If going to a salon or spa isn’t your thing, you can DIY a wellness day at home. Don’t set an alarm and wake up naturally, treat yourself to a special breakfast, binge that new Netflix series you’ve been eyeing, spend the day reading, work in the yard, or light some candles and soak in the tub. Whatever your preferred method of relaxation, take the day to do nothing but de-stress and recharge.
Starting Your Day Right
There is something rejuvenating about starting your day with a mindfulness exercise. Put aside at least 15 minutes each morning to set your intentions for the day and center yourself. A couple of my favorite mindfulness activities include:
Meditating: Meditating has helped me learn to be more patient and understanding with myself and others, while also helping me feel ready for the day’s tasks. The sense of calm meditation has brought to my life has been so beneficial, especially during high-stress days.
Journaling: As a nurse, you’re bound to have a tough shift that’s hard to shake. Journaling your experience and how it made you feel can help relieve tension and stress, act as a safe space for you to share your thoughts, and help you reflect on and process feelings.
Yoga/Stretching: Yoga is a powerful mindfulness exercise that can help relieve tension and stress by moving all the bad stuff out of your body. You don’t have to be an expert yogi as there are moves for every level. The great thing about yoga is you can practice with a class, do it at home, and even do some positions at work. Alternatively, stretching is another great way to get blood flowing and release tension.
Nursing is a physically demanding job. Being on your feet most of the day and providing various levels of patient care takes a toll on your body. Make sure you’re staying active and building up your strength and stamina throughout the week by doing 30 minutes of weight training or going on a long walk with some inclines at least three times a week. And, if you walk at a faster than normal pace three times a week for 30 minutes, you’re prolonging your life by 24%! Maintaining a regular workout can help increase your mental, emotional, and physical health.
No matter how you choose to define it, self-care is essential for nurses working in high-pressure, high-stress environments. While most nurses I know love what they do, I’ve seen the job quickly take a toll. Nurses must embrace self-care to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health so they can continue to act as the backbone of the healthcare industry, caring for their patients and offering a sense of comfort, support, and hope. During this month of celebrating nurses, I hope to both share my appreciation to all nurses and leave you with a friendly reminder to be to take better care of yourselves, and in turn, take better care of your patients.
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