As the saying goes, “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.” For nurses, this could not be truer. Nursing is a demanding career, requiring both physical and emotional stamina. Prioritizing your personal health is imperative so that you have the energy and strength to care for patients. Therefore, it is critical to identify several self-care strategies and incorporate those into your daily routine.
Why Is Self-Care Important?
Self-care for nurses is important because it promotes individual health and wellness, offering an outlet for stress and creating a better work-life balance. Since nursing relies on shift work — weekends, nights, and on-call rotations — sleep deprivation is a problem for many. A 2014 Journal of Nursing Administration study, Sleep Deprivation and Error in Nurses Who Work the Night Shift, found that 56 percent of night shift nurses reported symptoms of sleep deprivation and were more likely to make patient errors. Self-care strategies can minimize the occurrence of sleep deprivation and the negative effects on patients.
Some self-care techniques provide ways for nurses to disconnect from work-related stress and channel it into a positive outlet. A 2012 study published in Clinical Nurse Specialist found that nurses experienced depression at twice the rate of the general public. With the amount of physical and emotional stress that nurses are under, having a way to process negative thoughts and feelings is instrumental in fighting depression. Depression not only affects your well-being, but also your interactions with coworkers and the quality of patient care.
Self-Care Strategies for Nurses
To keep stress and depression at bay and maintain your physical health, try implementing one or more of these self-care strategies:
While this may seem obvious, staying hydrated is often a challenge for nurses. To combat dehydration, take small sips of water throughout your shift. Consider investing in an insulated tumbler to keep beverages at the preferred temperature.
Take Restroom Breaks
When you are busy with patients, it can be easy to overlook your own needs. Making time for restroom breaks throughout your shift is important, though. A few two-minute trips to the restroom can prevent unnecessary and painful urinary tract and bladder infections.
Plan Healthy Meals and Snacks
As a nurse, you may be burning through calories faster than you think. You will need to frequently refresh your energy reserves so make sure you have healthy meals and snacks readily available. Avoid relying on foods and drinks that contain high levels of caffeine and sugar. Instead, select nutritious foods that are portable and require minimal preparation.
Choose Exercise You Enjoy
Stamina and strength are necessary to perform your job duties properly, and exercise can help. Find an exercise you enjoy — whether it is walking, swimming, cycling or yoga — and do it at least a few times a week. Some employers offer discounted gym memberships or even hold fitness classes on campus, so try out a few different exercises and find what works best for you.
Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment
Even if you are not working the night shift, creating a relaxing sleep environment can ensure you get the rest you need. Room-darkening curtains, eye masks, ear plugs and noise machines can be helpful options.
Keep in Touch With Family and Friends
Shift work and on-call assignments can wreak havoc on your personal life. While it may be tempting to pass on an outing with friends or family, maintaining these relationships can do wonders for your emotional health. Though you can’t say yes to every invitation, strive to meet up with others outside of work at least once a week.
Meditation techniques, like deep breathing and guided imagery, can be instrumental in relieving stress and refocusing on the present. With a growing number of smartphone apps as well as meditation videos designed solely for nurses, finding a suitable format and style has never been easier.
How to Incorporate Self-Care
While the self-care strategies listed above can help nurses reduce stress and improve overall health and wellness, incorporating them into a busy schedule can prove challenging. Starting with small goals can lead to greater progress down the road. For example, set a goal to exercise just twice per week for 10 minutes each time. After one month, increase to three times per week, slowly extending the length of the exercise session.
In addition, adding self-care techniques to your calendar can increase your chances of sticking with it. Consider setting a standing weekly lunch date with your best friend, downloading a meditation app that automatically sends daily guided imagery prompts, or joining a fitness class with a coworker who will keep you accountable.
Nursing is a rewarding career that demands both physical and emotional strength. Incorporating self-care strategies into your schedule can reduce stress and minimize negative health effects, improving your overall wellness and work-life balance.
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