Although nurses are trained caregivers, they sometimes forget the importance of self-care. This can lead to errors on the job, fatigue, burnout, health problems and a general disdain for life, which comes at a high cost to both patients and nurses.
Self-care for nurses starts with the awareness of personal needs and then finding ways to take care of them. Both nursing students and nursing professionals experience many stressors that require self-care and healthy coping mechanisms.
The Health Science Journal notes that occupational stressors include the following:
- Advanced care planning
- Autonomy and informed consent to treatment
- Increased paperwork
- Protecting patients' rights
- Reduced managerial support
- Factors based on role, such as lack of power, role ambiguity and role conflict
- Staffing patterns
- Surrogate decision-making
- Threats to career development and achievement
- Unpredictable and challenging workspaces
Nursing students deal with academic stress like reviews, heavy workloads and study problems. They may also be dealing with other stresses, such as balancing a job and family obligations with the coursework for their nursing program.
The Cost to Patients
RegisteredNursing.org notes the importance of self-care for nurses: "Nurses have to take care of themselves to do their jobs effectively and be the best caregiver to their patients that they can be."
BMC Nursing recalls research from 2012 that demonstrates the financial detriment caused by nursing staff who do not care for themselves. The survey of 2,500 registered nurses in North Carolina found 71% of them experienced musculoskeletal pain and 18% experienced depression. The study found that nurses who suffered from pain and depression were less present when on the job. This was "significantly associated with a higher number of patient falls, a higher number of medication errors, and lower quality-of-care scores."
These increased falls and medication errors cost an estimated $1,346 for each North Carolina RN and just under $2 billion in the United States each year. The research concludes that, "More attention must be paid to the health of the nursing workforce to positively influence the quality of patient care and patient safety and to control costs."
The Cost to Nurses
While nurses often deal with musculoskeletal pain and depression, they may endure other discomforts as well. Their personal lives and relationships may suffer. They may develop other health problems, or they may burn out and leave the nursing profession.
Three of the most important suggestions when it comes to self-care are eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and practicing stress-reduction techniques.
Diet: Seek the help of a registered dietitian or use your own nursing knowledge to develop an eating plan appropriate for you. There is no single diet that works for everyone.
Exercise: The CDC recommends a weekly exercise regimen that includes 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking), one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or some combination of the two. You also need two or more days of strength activities that work all major muscle groups.
Choose exercise activities you enjoy. Not only are you more likely to stick with them, but you also avoid the negative effects of forcing yourself to do something you dislike. There are many available options, such as walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing, yoga, Pilates, team sports, tennis and much more.
Stress-reduction techniques: Try hobbies, breathing exercises, laughter, music, massage or spa therapies, meditation, mental imagery or visualization, pet therapy, tai chi or qigong, or writing in a journal. If you have a family, get them involved. If you have young children, get help with childcare — be it from your partner, another family member or a hired babysitter.
If you enjoy socializing, make it a regular part of your life. If you are an introvert who requires solitude, let people know. Choose activities you like, not what others think you should do.
Another self-care practice involves gratitude or appreciation. Every day, write down a few things about your life that you appreciate. Focusing on the good things can change your perspective and create a sense of gratitude.
Self-care for nurses is not a luxury. It is a necessity for the health and well-being of both nurses and their patients.
Learn about The University of Texas at Arlington online Bachelor Science in Nursing (BSN) program.
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