Nursing is a challenging profession and a difficult field of work. A nurse is often dealing with the pain, trauma and suffering of their patients and yet can stay calm and empathetic under difficult circumstances.
However, it can be difficult to care for others if you don’t take care of yourself first. A wise adage goes, ‘to care for patients well, one must first care for themselves. Nurses need to take care of themselves first before taking care of others. That’s why promoting self-care is so vital in the lives of nurses. Practicing self-care reduces stress, improves mood and improves work performance.
When nurses engage in self-care, it allows for realistic outcomes to be measured, and promotes a healthy environment not only physically, but mentally as well.
So how do nurses practice self-care?
Perform Relaxation Techniques
Do some deep breathing exercises. According to Texas Woman’s University, deep breathing is an effective way to sneak in self-care during shifts. The body's stress response helps us confront and avoid danger, but continual stress is detrimental. Not only can it be physically tiring, but it also can cause digestive problems, premature aging and much more.
Breathing exercises counteract stress by slowing your body and heart rate. You can practice deep breathing by taking a deep breath through your nose. Hold it for a few seconds and then release the breath through your mouth. Repeat these steps for a few minutes.
You can also incorporate other relaxation activities that include breathing exercises. You can get a massage for at least an hour, do some artwork to relax your mind, listen to good music, do yoga, do mindful meditation and more.
Hydration is an imperative part of self-care. Drinking enough fluids is necessary to prevent episodes of dehydration. Many signs can signal you may be dehydrated. They include:
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dry mouth
- Extreme thirst
- No tears when crying
- Sleepiness or fatigue
Water makes up more than half of your body weight and you lose water each day. You lose water even faster when the weather is hot or very dry when you’re physically active and especially if you are not feeling well! Be sure to actively drink plenty of water to avoid becoming dehydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is a good idea to drink an average of 8 glasses of water a day but understand this can vary based on factors such as exercise and environment.
Follow a Regular Sleep Schedule
You must get around 8 hours of sleep every night. Have a regular sleep routine and try to go to bed at the same time every night. Even if you can’t fall asleep right away, get into the habit of getting into bed at a specific time and waking up at a specific time.
Avoid drinking coffee, eating chocolates, or any other type of stimulant before bedtime. Put your cellphone on silent mode or turn off your cellphone, tablet, and TV before going to sleep to avoid any noise or light interruptions during your sleep.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Go to your regular check-ups with your healthcare providers. Exercise and stay on a healthy diet. Eat clean and nutritious meals.
The CDC recommends 75–150 minutes of exercise weekly, which can be divided up into smaller segments throughout the week. You can exercise by doing some low-intensity exercises throughout the week, cardio once a week or by going on long walks.
Take Vacations and Enjoy Your Breaks
We have talked about physical health, but vacations are good for your mental health as well— after all, we’re human. Even the most dedicated nurse needs to take a step back and relax. A vacation is a good way to restart and avoid burning yourself out.
We deserve to take breaks during our shifts, and we do deserve to take our vacation days. It doesn’t matter if you are super busy or feel like you can’t stop, you probably should be taking a break! You can’t help others if you are burned out.
Seek Professional Help When Needed
If you have any personal, marital, familial, spiritual, emotional or mental health issues going on, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. If you found out you were sick, you would go to the doctor so there is no shame in seeking out professional psychiatric help. Go see a professional mental health counselor, pastor, psychiatrist, or therapist. There’s nothing wrong with asking for professional help when needed.
As a nurse, you’re trained to help others, but you can’t be the best nurse you can be if you aren’t at your best. Use these steps to practice self-care and be willing to take a step back if you feel overwhelmed. Your patients will thank you!