Nurses are crucial figures in clinical settings, as they often work directly with patients to provide treatments and other kinds of support. As a result, it’s important for nurses to prioritize their own self-care, as without nurses, there are many other people who will fail to receive the care they need. Understanding what self-care means and how to take proper care of yourself while attending to others can help you avoid burnout. In this article, we explore various ways you can engage in self-care during and after work to keep yourself feeling your best.

Why is self-care important for nurses?

It’s important for all people, in all kinds of professions, to practice self-care, as this helps you avoid sick days and promotes feelings of wellbeing. For nurses in particular, self-care needs to form a part of your routine, as it’s a particularly physically, emotionally and mentally demanding job. Nursing also involves looking after others, so it’s important to support your own mental and physical wellbeing so that you can continue to provide care for those that depend on you. Following the COVID-19 crisis, there’s a huge demand for nurses, and they need to practice self-care now more than ever to avoid burnout and fatigue.

Even nurses who don’t work directly with patients need to understand the basics of self-care, such as nurse educators, for example. These are nurses who work behind the scenes and may hold qualifications like an MSN in nursing education from an institution such as Spring Arbor University. These nurses teach future nurses, so it’s vital for them to understand how to prioritize self-care and how to communicate their knowledge to others. Doing so can spread and normalize ideas about self-care for nurses, leading to happier, more effective medical professionals.

What is burnout?

Paying close attention to your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs is essential primarily because it helps you avoid burnout. Burnout is characterized as immense feelings of stress and exhaustion, leading to an inability to carry out your responsibilities and handle certain situations. While it’s not a recognized medical condition in itself, it’s a very real phenomenon that can lead to a whole host of problems, both personal and professional. It occurs disproportionally in professionals with stressful jobs, like nurses, so taking adequate measures to avoid burnout is essential to maintain optimal health and wellbeing. 

Self-care for nurses: How to prioritize your wellbeing

Because nurses are typically responsible for the wellbeing of others, if they don’t prioritize their own wellbeing, their patients can also be at risk. This means it’s essential for nurses to know how to look after themselves, even when caring for others. Here are some ideas you can implement to promote your mental, emotional and physical health during and after work:

·         Fulfill your nutritional requirements

We’re all familiar with the old adage “you are what you eat”, and it’s certainly true that what we put in our bodies has an effect on how we feel. Eating a nutritionally balanced diet is important for nurses, as it helps you maintain your energy levels, a healthy weight and potentially avoid sickness. Relying on food and drink products high in processed sugar, such as energy drinks, can be a bad long-term solution. This can cause your energy levels to crash during your shift and leave you feeling dependent on such things for energy.

Eating a nutritionally complete and balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, meat and fish can help you feel good physically and mentally. Consider bringing packed lunches of pre-prepared nutritious meals or do what you can to avoid junk food. Also, always remember to drink enough water during your shifts to avoid dehydration, which can also contribute to feeling tired. There’s also evidence to suggest that healthy eating can actually help you cope with stress, as foods containing polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fats and certain vegetables, can help your body regulate cortisol.

·         Exercise and rest

Getting into good routines that include both exercise and rest can help you maintain your physical and mental health. The benefits of exercise are widely documented, and it’s been shown time and time again to contribute not only to your physical health, but to your mental health too. Regular exercise can help you feel happier, healthier, more energized and more cognitively sharp, all of which helps you perform more effectively as a nurse. While you may be pressed for time due to your busy schedule, try to complete at least some exercise each day, such as 15 minutes of skipping.

Taking breaks, getting enough rest and forming proper sleeping habits are also essential components of self-care. This means taking your scheduled breaks, sitting down to rest your legs when you can and getting into a sleeping routine with a minimum of 8 hours sleep each night. Rest is vital to maintain the energy and focus required to perform well as a nurse. Try to go to sleep at the same time each night when you can and wake up at the same time each morning. If you work nights, be sure to catch up on your sleep during the day.

·         Immediately address injuries and illnesses

If you suffer an injury or feel unwell at work, you may feel compelled to ignore it for the perceived benefit of your patients. The truth is, ignoring these things can exacerbate the issue, which causes bigger problems down the line. As such, it’s essential to seek help immediately or to notify someone if you get injured or feel a sickness coming on. Ignoring an injury can make it worse, which could lead to you needing more time off than you would have if you sought help straight away.

In terms of sickness, it’s imperative that you notify someone and stay at home if necessary, as ignoring sickness can potentially put vulnerable patients at risk, as they may have compromised immune systems. Addressing all manners of ailments can help you keep yourself in the best possible shape, ensuring you’re ready and able to take care of patients.

·         Take care of your mental health

All the above activities can contribute to your mental health, such as eating healthily and getting enough exercise, so it’s important to implement all this advice and not just pick and choose what’s convenient. Some self-care activities are specific to your mental health and can help you reduce stress and promote good cognitive function. Burnout affects both the body and mind, so it’s important to look after both equally and acknowledge their interdependence. Activities like mindfulness meditation are excellent for reducing stress and promoting feelings of subjective wellbeing. This website has some helpful resources on how to get started with mindfulness.

If you feel particularly stressed while at work, you can practice some breathing exercises to calm yourself down. If you’re facing a particularly stressful situation, try taking some deep breaths to relax your mind and counteract your adrenaline response. One exercise that can help with stress and anxiety is box breathing. This involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, exhaling for four seconds and holding your breath out for four seconds. This technique can slow your heart rate and make you feel calmer.

·         Tend to your social needs

Not having enough time to spend with friends and loved ones can leave us feeling emotionally depleted as social creatures. We need to dedicate some time to socializing or we risk depriving ourselves of this important aspect of life. Nurses are quite lucky in that they often form close bonds with those they work with, helping them to fulfill their social needs. But it’s also important to spend time with family and friends outside of work, as a busy schedule can sometimes take away from your family time.

It’s important to use your emotional support systems and reach out to family, friends and colleagues whenever you need to. While nurses spend their days caring for others, it’s essential that they don’t neglect their own care needs. Use your time off to spend quality time with the ones you love, and try your best to form positive, mutually caring relationships with the nurses you work with. This can promote wellbeing throughout your workplace and contribute to a happier, healthier environment.

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