Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers anyone could take on. It’s fulfilling, challenging, and something that you will thrive in if you have the right personality and you’re an incredibly caring person.
Yet, it is exactly this caring nature combined with the physical and mental exertion that nursing takes that can lead to burnout if you’re not careful.
All too often, nurses put every bit of themselves into their jobs, taking care of other people at all times, and they neglect their own self-care.
Self-care, however, is crucial. If you don’t look after your own needs and ensure you are fit and well (mentally, emotionally, and physically), then it will become harder and harder for you to take good care of your patients.
A job that you loved can become one that is more and more difficult to deal with every day.
Remembering to take care of yourself when there are so many other people to care for might be a challenge, but it’s one that, once you manage it, you will certainly see the benefits for you, your patients, and your colleagues.
Of course, finding the time and understanding just how to practice self-care may not be easy, but it is possible; read on to find out more.
1. How to Make Time for Self-care
Before we can look into exactly how to practice self-care and what it really means for a nurse, we should think about how to make time for it.
Nurses are always busy, and their long shifts, which can include nights, weekends, and public holidays, mean that it’s not always easy to find some time for themselves, especially when they also have a family to take care of and errands to run, and even more so when they are studying for higher qualifications such as an FNP.
However, if you can make time for yourself, you’ll feel healthier, happier, and you’ll be better at caregiving in general since you won’t be so tired or overburdened.
As well as this, it will give you something to look forward to so that even after the longest shift, you’ll have something to be pleased about.
The best way to begin is to schedule one self-care act every month. This should be a bigger event, something like a spa day or a day that you spend in bed without having to do any chores or tasks.
You might even book yourself onto a fitness class or onto an art course for the day. You’ll know what makes you happiest and what is going to help you the most.
Do this every month, and you will always have something exciting and enjoyable to look forward to.
Whatever it is, don’t rearrange it or put it to one side if you feel you should be working or doing something else; this is one thing you must do for yourself above any other chores.
As well as this, you should think of one thing you can do each day that soothes you and makes you feel good. This might be watching the sunrise or sitting outside with a favorite beverage, whatever the weather.
It could be reading a chapter of a book or listening to a podcast. Make sure that, whatever it is, you have the time to do it, even if it’s just five or 10 minutes (which should always be possible to find).
2. Mental Self-care
There are a number of different elements to self-care, and one of these that you should think about is mental health self-care. There are so many ways to do this, and it is going to depend on what you’re interested in.
For some, taking care of your mental health means entirely shutting the outside world out for a little while, perhaps by meditating or practicing mindfulness.
Others will want to give themselves some mental self-care by exploring new facets of their work, often by taking a higher qualification such as an FNP.
This can be done online, so you can do a little each day to keep your mind active and your self-care ongoing.
It’s good to try to practice self-care at various points in the day if you can.
When you’re at work, mental self-care might amount to chatting with colleagues, taking the time to drink a cup of coffee and stop moving for a moment, reading a nursing journal, or even being a mentor for someone else.
At home, where there is no nursing to be done, you might study online as mentioned above, or perhaps you’ll do a crossword or other puzzle.
You can go out too, and simply enjoying a walk in the fresh air can do wonders for your mental health.
If you can combine with a visit to a museum or art gallery, or even a trip to see friends, you really are helping yourself hugely.
3. Physical Self-care
Your physical health needs to be considered just as much as your mental and emotional health needs do, but it’s one of the easiest elements of caring for yourself to neglect.
If you’re busy and you don’t have time for a proper lunch, grabbing a chocolate bar is a quick way to boost your energy, for example, but it’s not a healthy one.
Drinking too much coffee, not drinking enough water, and generally not exercising when you know you should all become habits that nurses fall into not because they want to, but because they are rushed and have a lot of work.
It’s just an easier way to manage.
However, being physically healthy when you’re a nurse will help you and your patients greatly.
If you’re fitter, you’re more able to get to patients quickly when they need your help, plus you’ll be able to move them more easily (although this should always be done in the way you’ve been trained to) because you’re physically stronger due to your healthy diet and exercise regime.
There are some small goals you can set yourself each day to ensure you are getting enough exercise and eating better.
Although nothing will make up for a dedicated workout or exercise routine, adding these smaller tasks into your day will certainly help. For example, when you have a lunch break, go for a walk.
Although you might not have a lot of time, a quick walk for 10 to 15 minutes at a brisk pace will positively impact your health (make sure you leave time to eat, of course, and to rest).
You can also park as far away from the building as possible or get off your bus a stop early, and this could be a good spot for exercise too.
When it comes to food, not only is buying food on the way to work (or at the hospital or clinic if there is a cafeteria or restaurant) expensive, it’s also potentially bad for you, especially if you’re looking for something that’s quick to prepare because you haven’t got a lot of time.
This is why it’s best to bring food from home whenever possible.
When you prepare your evening meal (assuming it’s a healthy one, of course), you could cook an extra portion, which can then be taken to work with you.
Or, when you have more time, you could batch cook and freeze portions of food so that you can take something from the freezer to defrost and enjoy when you have your lunch break.
Planning your meals ahead of time, so you know when you’ll have extra to take to work, helps too; you might still need to buy food a few times a week, but that’s better than doing so every day.
Physical self-care extends beyond exercise and healthy eating, of course; it is also about taking care of your body so that you don’t feel pain or become too tired.
The right shoes might not seem like something you would consider to be self-care, but if you take some time to find good shoes that are comfortable and hard-wearing, and you add softer insoles to them, you’ll fare much better than if you wear cheaper shoes that don’t support your feet.
Getting enough sleep is another important part of your physical self-care, but it also extends to your emotional and mental self-care, so it’s extremely important.
The term ‘enough sleep’ is a vague one, and some people need more sleep than others, so you may need to experiment.
The right amount of sleep will leave you feeling refreshed and ready for the day (or night, if you’re a nurse on a night shift) ahead.
If you find you’re having trouble getting to sleep, you can practice even more self-care; take a relaxing bath (perhaps with some essential oils), drink some herbal tea, or fall asleep listening to a relaxing app you can download to help with exactly this problem.
4. Emotional Self-care
As a nurse, you will find you will have emotional trauma to deal with; this is part of the job, and although it’s unpleasant, there are many other rewards and benefits to being a nurse that will, for the most part, override these feelings.
When you are training to be a nurse, you will find that letting your emotions out in front of your patients is not something that helps them, and it might even make them feel worse.
Of course, being empathetic or sympathetic is absolutely necessary, but being overly emotional is going to cause worry and fear and is not part of a nurse’s job.
The problem here is that nurses tend to hold in their emotions or make light of the upsetting things they have experienced in the course of their work.
This is extremely unhealthy, and emotional self-care is so crucial when you are a nurse. There are a number of ways you can combat this issue.
Firstly, make sure you find someone you can talk to about the things that are causing you emotional issues.
This might be a colleague (after all, they will understand what you are going through), a loved one, a friend, or perhaps a therapist.
You might even find comfort in online groups, as long as you don’t give away any patient information as this must remain confidential. Talking is a great form of self-care.
There are other outlets to ensure you are letting your emotions out too. Art, music, reading a book (or writing one), baking, and so on can all make you feel better and let your emotions out so you can relax and unwind.
It’s also good to find the positive in every day.
Even if you’re feeling down or something has particularly affected you negatively, looking for just one positive thing – perhaps a time you laughed, or a bright blue sky, or anything that is pleasant and good, will show you that not every day will be all bad.
Remembering this is good for your mental health and your emotional stability.
5. Social Self-care
Social self-care isn’t something that might readily come to mind when you are looking at ways to treat yourself or make yourself feel better, but it can be a great way to help you forget about work and concentrate on things you want to do.
Essentially, social self-care is about ensuring you make enough time to enjoy your friends and family – it’s anything from a vacation to a phone call with someone you love.
Or you might even practice social self-care with a stranger.
Something as simple as asking someone how their day is or smiling at someone in the street can make you feel better, and if you can do this on your way to and from work, you’ll arrive at your workplace and your home feeling more upbeat and less stressed.
As a nurse, whether you’re still studying, you’ve gone back to school to obtain an FNP or other qualification, or you’ve been working for a long time now, your patients are always going to come first; that’s one of the most amazing things about nurses.
However, taking care of yourself, at least a little every day, is also crucial if you want to help as many people as possible and continue to do so for many years to come.