The Importance of Self-Care for Nurses and How to Practice It

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5 Self-Care Strategies for Nurses | Walden University

When it comes to the healthcare and medical industry, nurses have a significant part to play. Nursing professionals are involved with caring for individuals, families, and communities in a plethora of settings. Responsibilities can vary from assessing and advising patients to administering medication and preparing patients for surgical procedures. Whatever your role in this diverse field is, you need to make sure you are looking after number one. After all, how can you provide excellent patient care if you’re not 100 percent yourself?

Statistics prove that nurses are one of the most trusted groups of professionals in the United States, and qualified nurses often have a salary to reflect this. However, being a nurse goes way beyond the paycheck. Nurses can have a profound impact on the lives of others, and they make a considerable difference to the world. Without nursing professionals, the quality of patient care would reduce, in clinical settings the re-admittance rate would increase, and life expectancy would be lower. With so much resting on the shoulders of nurses, you need to make sure you incorporate self-care practices in your everyday life. Here is a comprehensive guide about the importance of self-care, and a few top tips to help you focus on your own wellbeing.

What is Self-Care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes self-care as the capability of a person to “promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability without the support of a healthcare provider.” According to the WHO, this encompasses factors such as the socio-economics, hygiene, lifestyle, nutrition, and environment of a person. With a demanding role that involves high-pressure tasks and that revolves around caring for others, it’s easy for nursing professionals to forget to practice self-care. Unfortunately, without personal care nurses can experience negative side effects to their mental, physical, and emotional health.

Self-Care and Nursing

No matter who you are and what you do, self-care should always be factored into your daily routine. For nurses, neglecting personal care can lead to stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can have a negative impact on emotional and mental health, and these negative feelings can lead to physical exhaustion, chronic fatigue, and depression. Not to mention, high stress levels have been linked to certain health conditions and chronic diseases. When adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, build up in your bloodstream, your immune system will suffer greatly. With an impacted immune system, you are more likely to experience conditions such as hyperinsulinemia, arteriosclerosis, hyperglycemia, and hypertension. Unfortunately, these issues can have an impact on your general health and wellbeing, and could negatively affect both your professional and personal life.

Without the ability to implement self-care, you have an increased probability of leading an unhealthy lifestyle and experiencing burn out. Nurses with good self-care skills and have honed their stress management techniques are better equipped to deal with the unpredictable issues that life throws at them.

What Can Good Self-Care Skills Help You Achieve?

There are many ways in which practicing good self-care can benefit both yourself and everyone around you; for example:

Excellent Patient Care Delivery and Outcome

Besides a healthier lifestyle, practicing good personal care can help you deliver better patient care and achieve excellent outcomes. Healthy nurses who look after themselves are generally more effective during work hours. They are more aware of their surroundings, they are happier to do their job, and they have the motivation to gain the best outcome for their patients. Nurses who incorporate healthy personal care habits in their daily life will notice a positive difference in care delivery and outcome.

Compassion and Empathy for Others

Having compassion for others, being empathetic, and having the urge to care for patients are usually innate characteristics for most nurses. Practicing good self-care and feeling well in all aspects of your life will improve your capacity to feel compassion and empathy for others. First and foremost, nurses need to have compassion for themselves so that they have more to give to their patients down the line.

Make Mental Health a Priority

With a duty of care to a large number of patients, unpredictable shifts, and long hours, many nursing professionals find juggling a hectic work schedule with home life commitments incredibly difficult. Once a shift finishes, it might be tempting to find a quick and simple meal to eat then simply sleep until the next shift begins. Although it is vital to rest up in between shift work, it is equally important to look after your mental health by implementing self-care practices. Self-care has different meanings to different people. It can include playing an instrument, reading a book, or catching up with old friends over lunch, and incorporates the following principles:

Create Boundaries

Whatever your method of relaxing and looking after your mental health is, it is essential that you strike the perfect work–life balance to fit everything in. You can begin by creating work boundaries. Try to keep work in the workplace and clear your thoughts of work-related matters once you get home. You can do this by practicing good time management. For instance, if you are sucker for staying late long after your shift finishes, try to break this bad habit immediately. Picking up overtime occasionally is fine—but working super-long hours every night can take its toll on your mental health. If your colleagues have become accustomed to you working late all the time, don’t be afraid to say “no.” At the end of the day, you need time to rest as much as they do.

Do Activities You’re Passionate About Outside of Work Hours

Everyone can enrich their lives by doing an activity that they are passionate about. No matter how much you love your job, having an outlet outside of work will give you the opportunity to vent any negative energy and emotions you may feel. Hobbies and pastimes give people an outlet to focus their energy on. They engage the brain and can elevate a person’s quality of life; not to mention they can also help increase overall productivity. Setting your mind to a task you love can help reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can help stop you experiencing burnout. Hobbies can include physical exercise such as swimming and cycling. However, they can also include mental activities such as painting and journaling.

Create Space to Relax

Your home should be a sanctuary where you can retreat to and recoup after a long day. However, not everyone can find peace and quiet at home. Designating a space in which to relax at home (or outside of the home) is incredibly important. This is especially crucial for nurses with shifts that end at unpredictable times. Whether you designate the corner of your bedroom or the unused loft as your personal space, make sure it is clear of clutter and used for relaxation purposes only. Nurses with cramped living spaces and large households can also find solace in the local park or at a quiet coffee shop.

Never Lose Sight of Your Professional Goals

Do you remember what motivated you to become a nurse? Many nursing students began their journey with aspirations to become effective nursing professionals who can provide the best patient care possible. Some might have had ambitions to grow into leadership positions or to branch out into specialist areas later on in their career. If this sounds familiar, then you should refocus your energy on your career goals. Pursuing work objectives and hitting your professional targets is uplifting for the soul and can give your overall wellbeing a boost. Not to mention, having professional goals to work towards can help you stay motivated as a nurse. All working professionals risk feeling stuck in a rut after a few years in their job. Aiming for that promotion or exploring different avenues in your field can help your day-to-day work life feel more varied. Keep the following points in mind to help focus on your professional goals:

Keep Learning

Nursing is a competitive field and as a nursing professional, you probably already know that your job requires lifelong learning. Even if you are content with your current role, the field is ever-changing and so you need to stay clued up about the latest innovations and advancements in the healthcare industry.

Go Further with Education

Nursing professionals looking to branch out can do so with further education. For example, registered nurses can obtain an advanced degree to become advanced practice registered nurses, and they can even specialize further with more specialist programs. For example, AGACNP certificate programs are an excellent way for nurse practitioners to broaden their scope of practice and become certified to provide specialist care to adults with acute illnesses.

Establish an Efficient Social Support System

The very nature of a nurse’s job is to look after others, and nursing professionals play an integral role in a patient’s support network. In the same way a patient requires various healthcare professionals for optimum health and wellness, nurses also need an efficient social support system in order to thrive. Having a group of people you can rely on in hard times can help reduce stress and help you keep a level head when life gets tough. Ensure you have adequate social support in the following ways:

Maintain Good Communication at Home

With a busy work schedule, it is easy to let communication slip at home. Unfortunately, this can lead to miscommunications, unhealthy relationships, and resentment. Your household should always be aware of your day-to-day routine, and you should make it a priority to inform them about last minute changes to your schedule. By keeping them updated, you reduce the risk of alienating the ones you love. Furthermore, keeping your family looped in will also give them a chance to identify potential problems you’re experiencing. In turn, they can offer you the support you need and help you resolve your issues.

Don’t Neglect Your Social Life

Staying connected with old friends, or meeting new ones, can keep feelings of loneliness at bay. At work, you are probably around people constantly. However, maintaining personal relationships and having meaningful conversations is completely different to making small talk with your patients and colleagues. As with the people you live with, it is a good idea to maintain good communication with friends and family. If they know what your schedule is like, they are better able to make concrete plans with you.

Establish Good Relationships at Work

In addition to open communication with family and friends, maintaining good work relations is important, too. Not only will an open dialogue help you develop a closer bond with your colleagues and superiors, it will also give them an insight into your home life, which means they will be more likely to swap shifts with you or cover you when you have commitments outside of work.

Focus on Your Physical Health

A fundamental part of your role as a nurse is to help people stay healthy and well. Take a leaf out of your own book and place your focus on your own physical health, too. Being in good shape can help nurses carry out their daily tasks more efficiently. It also helps ensure you are in the best physical condition possible, which is ideal for all aspects of your life. Make sure you do the following:

Exercise Regularly

The CDC advises adults to exercise for 150 minutes every week to stay fit and healthy. Regular exercise improves balance and flexibility, tones the muscles, and strengthens the body. In turn, the physical aspect of your job will become easier as your physique improves. Furthermore, exercise can increase stamina, reduce stress, and elevate your mood.

Be Well By Eating Well

As a nurse your schedule is probably constantly packed with chores and jobs that need doing, and it might be tempting to reach for sugary snacks to boost your energy levels and microwave meals to save time. However, these quick fixes can be terrible for your body. Instead of filling yourself up with rubbish, try to incorporate healthy food options and nourish yourself with nutritious meals instead. Meal prep and forward planning can help ensure you eat healthily during work hours. Batch cooking diverse meals, portioning them off, and then freezing them can help you eat better. Not to mention, it can also save you time and money in the long run.