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Why Self-Care Is Vital for Your Nursing Career

Self-care for nurses may include exercise or meditation
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 working nurses experience many stressors that contribute to the need for self-care.

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing 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.
  • Violence.

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

According to, one reason self-care for nurses is so important is that “to truly care for others, nurses must be ‘intentionally present’ to be ‘centered and able to use all senses’ at all interactions.”

A 2012 survey of 2,500 registered nurses in North Carolina found 71 percent of them experienced musculoskeletal pain and 18 percent 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 article 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.

Self-Care for Nurses

Three of the most important suggestions when it comes to self-care are eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly and practicing stress-reduction techniques.


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.


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:

  • Hobbies.
  • Breathing exercises.
  • Laughter.
  • Music.
  • Massage or spa therapies.
  • Meditation.
  • Mental imagery or visualization.
  • Pet therapy.
  • Tai chi or Qigong.
  • Writing in a journal.

If you have a family, get them involved. If you have young children, get help with child care — be it from your partner, another family member or a hired babysitter.

Other Self-Care

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 practice many people find helpful is a gratitude or appreciation practice. 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 UT Arlington online BSN program.


Bilyk, J. (2015, February 14). Tips for self-care.

Blum, C. (2014, September). Practicing Self-Care for Nurses: A Nursing Program Initiative. ANA Online Journal of Issues in Nursing

Letvak, SA, Ruhm, CJ, Gupta, SN. (2012, February). Nurses’ presenteeism and its effects on self-reported quality of care and costs. US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health

How much physical activity do adults need? (2015). Centers for Disease Control an Prevention

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