Why Self-Care is So Important for Nurses

It is no surprise that nursing is a highly stressful job that can truly take a toll on an individual. The stress, anxiety, and fatigue that often accompany the occupation can have a heavy impact on the nurse in many ways. Many nurses are often so consumed with caring for their patients that they forget to care for themselves. They fail to utilize self-care practices despite their necessity. Practicing self-care can enable nurses to minimize their stress, improve their overall health, and live a happier life while doing a meaningful, caring job that not many people can do.

In a study conducted by The American Nurses Association, there is an urgent need for today's nurses to improve their health, particularly in physical activity, rest, safety, nutrition, and overall quality of life. 70% of the nurses surveyed for this study said they always put their patients' health, safety, and wellness far above their own. While simultaneously, 77% of nurses conveyed that they were at a "significant risk level" for workplace stress.

So how can nurses begin to prioritize themselves? With self-care! Below, we will take a deep dive into all things self-care and why it is so crucial for nurses to take advantage of it!

 

What is Self-Care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as "what individuals do for themselves to initiate and maintain health and to prevent and manage illness. It consists of a variety of concepts, including hygiene (general and personal), health and nutrition (type and quality of food eaten), lifestyle (physical activities, leisure, etc.), environmental factors (living conditions, socialization, etc.), socio-economic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.) and self-medication". 

Self-care is incredibly important for all employees in any industry. Still, nurses should be responsible for avoiding caregiver burnout (which is much more common than one may think). Nursing is an incredibly complex, stressful, and strenuous profession; and can be traumatic at times. If one does not care for themselves adequately, they cannot care for their patients adequately.

Self-care is so essential for nurses that it is mandatory in the code of ethics. The fifth clause of the American Nurses Association's Code of Ethics notes that the same respect nurses showcase to their patients should always extend to oneself as well. These duties include but are not limited to:

  • The promotion of health and safety.
  • The preservation of character and integrity.
  • Maintaining competence.
  • Continuously growing both personally and professionally.

 

Why Is Self-Care So Important for Nurses?

 

Self-Care is a Stress Management Technique

Self-care is a simple way to alleviate some of the stress associated with the profession. One cannot deplete themselves entirely and then expect to give more to their patients; a deficit and burnout will be inevitable. 

 

Nurses need to minimize or at least maintain low levels of stress. If nurses are caring for patients when not in the best mental states, patients and their care will suffer. In another study by the American Journal of Nursing that surveyed 2500 registered nurses, 18% have experienced or were actively experiencing depression. 

 

Self-Care Promotes Better Patient Care Quality and Safety

There is an apparent reciprocal relationship between personal and professional development. If one does not feel good about themselves internally, their professional quality will not suffice. Particularly for nurses, if one compliments the other and is satisfactory, a higher quality of care will be provided to patients. Self-care should be a mandatory, highly prioritized responsibility for yourselves as nurses, for your colleagues, and of course, your patients. 

 

Ways to Practice Self-Care for Nurses

Below are a few ways to help guide you on your self-care journey.

Relaxed woman with cucumber on her eyes

Mental Self-Care

Finding intellectually stimulating things is a great way to practice mental self-care. Intellectual self-care allows nurses to enhance their workplace confidence and stimulate their minds as they work in such an ever-changing environment. Additionally, it will enable nurses to learn about subjects outside of their work environment and take a break from the often medicinal, caretaker-heavy role they take on every day. 

On-the-Job
  • Read a book on your break.
  • Attend training courses or classes
  • Mentor a student and teach others about everything you love about your job.
  • Complete a course that dives deep into an area of the profession that you want to explore further (Perhaps a course from INCA like our Cannabis Nurse - CannyNurse™ Certificate Program)
At Home
  • Listen to a podcast or an audiobook (this can be a mentally stimulating activity while also allowing you to decompress)
  • Go to museums, galleries, or do something that brings you joy
  • Read a new book or re-read your favorite one
  • Do a crossword puzzle or other mentally stimulating game
  • Sudoku
  • Complete a jigsaw puzzle 

Physical Self-Care

Nursing is a very physically demanding and active profession. However, this does not mean the requirements of a healthy lifestyle. The CDC recommends 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic activity for adults, such as brisk walking, one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or some combination of the two. It is important to move several major muscle groups as well. While this can sound slightly daunting and unmanageable when one has such a busy schedule, nurses must set aside time to focus on their physical well-being and self-care, which can also reduce stress.

On-the-Job
  • Take a walk during your lunch break (outside whenever possible)
  • Park further away to maximize walking
  • Take the stairs when you can
  • Pack your own healthy lunch instead of buying
  • Limit sitting when doing any paperwork
  • Invest in high-quality insoles in your shoes
At Home
  • Plan out your meals for the week and meal prep
  • Purchase healthy snacks and keep them in view 
  • Pre-cut any fruits and vegetables, so they are more convenient if you are on the go
  • Experiment with a variety of exercises and find one that you enjoy
  • Indulge with a massage
  • Take a nap (Even a 30-minute power nap has beneficial effects)
  • Try to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night

Emotional Self-Care

Nursing is an emotionally depleting profession. You often form connections with patients whose health may deteriorate even when you and your medical team are trying your absolute best. For many reasons, emotions are often in play for nurses. Having an outlet for all of these emotions (whether good or bad) is an essential part of the job.

On-the-Job
  • Be proud of yourself and praise your success (big or small)
  • Praise your coworkers as well.
  • Practice and emphasize kindness
  • Find joy in each workday and find something that makes you happy during your breaks from caregiving (talking to someone close to you, watching a funny video, listening to music, getting some fresh air, and seeing the sunshine)
At Home
  • Create plans and have things to look forward to
  • Communicate with your friends and family regularly 
  • Listen to uplifting music or inspirational podcasts
  • Journal-write down anything and everything, including your feelings
  • Plan your next vacation (no matter when it might be)
  • Watch your favorite movie or tv show that makes you smile
  • Indulge in your favorite hobbies or try to find some new ones

Spiritual Self-Care

You don't have to be religious to indulge in spiritual self-care. It can include connecting deeper in your faith or connecting to your inner-self. The point is that you are practicing peace and trying to locate it within yourself. 

On-the-Job
  • Meditate
  • Take regular deep breaths
  • Eat lunch outside and connect with nature
At Home
  • Try yoga (and also meditation)
  • Log entries into a gratitude journal
  • Volunteer
  • Join clubs or organizations
  • Practice deep breathing regularly 

Social Self-Care

While sometimes, after a long or hard day, we just want to be alone, socialization is a critical part of a healthy lifestyle. By nature, humans are social creatures and thrive on interacting with others. Positive interactions can help craft a positive life.

On-the-Job
  • Eat lunch with your coworkers
  • Talk about things that aren't work
  • Celebrate achievements together-birthdays, weddings, babies, etc.
At Home
  • Communicate with your loved ones regularly 
  • Make plans (movies, dinner, anything that you can look forward to and will bring you joy)
  • Spend time with your family or loved ones

Professional Self-Care

Your professional persona is an essential part of your identity, so staying organized and feeling good about yourself is crucial. It keeps your workweek calmer. Nurses should make sure they give themselves the same level of respect that they offer to their patients. Here are a few ways you can practice professional self-care. 

  • Clean your scrubs, treat yourself to a new pair and make sure they look presentable
  • Clean out your work bag(s)
  • Listen to your mind and body and take a break when you feel like you need one
  • Manifest-write out your goals and how you plan to achieve them
  • Help your coworkers when they need it or look like they could use a caring hand

Self-care is essential within the nursing profession. When a nurse take the time to care for themselves, they can begin to take even better care of their patients. Remember that even just a few minutes out of your day to do something that brings you joy or peace can be incredibly beneficial to yourself and your vital position as a nurse. 

I am a 2021 graduate from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. I received my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology with minors in Sociology and Childhood Studies. Outside of my work as a writer, I love to travel! I would say that my greatest adventure so far has been backpacking through Italy and Greece in July 2021 with my best friend. I love writing (not just for work) but specifically, music and poetry, playing piano and guitar, and I love being a homebody at times, binging tv shows with my cats.

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