If there is an aspect of their lives that nurses tend to neglect, it is self-care. However, self-care is of the utmost importance for them to be able to do their jobs in the best possible way because it allows them to be healthy and happy to be there for their patients, without compromising their own wellbeing. In this article we want to start a discussion about self-care and nurses, hoping many of them will get more acquainted with the concept and adopt some of our recommendations in their daily lives.
Many nurses, caregivers, and people, in general, might not understand the proper concept of self-care, but it is very important to know what it is all about in order to start making some positive life changes in that regard.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as "what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness." Therefore, self-care refers to any activity or practice that is intended to generate some kind of wellness.
In the case of nurses, self-care means taking the time to look after themselves to prevent the adverse effects of exhaustion and burnout that are often associated with nursing.
“The nurse is temporarily the consciousness of the unconscious, the love of life of the suicidal, the leg of the amputee, the eyes of the newly blind, a means of locomotion for the newborn, knowledge and confidence for the young mother, a voice for those too weak to speak, and so on,” Virginia Henderson.
As the words of the renowned American nurse, Virginia Henderson very well express, nurses give so much of themselves, physically and emotionally, to their patients in order to help them get through their illnesses. As a result, they are often too overwhelmed by work, exhausted and burnout, that dedicating any time to self-care seems impossible, which then leads them to develop unhealthy lifestyles.
Among the most common physical effects of lack of self-care seen in nurses are musculoskeletal pain, depression, stress, and chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Furthermore, nurses that are going through the physical and emotional consequences of constant exhaustion and no self-care at all are more likely to make medication errors and other mistakes involving their patients. This proves that self-care is not only important for nurses’ wellbeing, but also for the sake of their patients.
According to registerednursing.com, there are eight areas of self-care that all nurses should pay attention to. These are mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, personal, medical, professional, and social self-care, and each of them has its own recommendations.
To take care of their mental health, nurses should practice activities that stimulate their minds creatively (painting, reading a nice book or magazine, etc.), that relax them (meditation, positive self-talk) and that help them further develop their minds (taking a new class or hobby).
To take care of their bodies, nurses should eat clean, stay well hydrated, sleep as many hours as they can, and take time to move their bodies in a different setting than work, like practicing yoga or taking regular walks at a park or around their neighborhoods. Simple activities that make a big difference.
Taking care of their emotions means making time for entertainment (concerts, theatre, movies), listening to happy music, doing things that make them genuinely laugh (play with their kids, spend time with their friends), and any other activity that has no other purpose than enjoyment.
Practicing spirituality is essential to keep a healthy mental and emotional balance, and it is not just for people who believe in a higher power. Spirituality can also be achieved by meditation or activities like yoga. For those who practice religion, taking time for that part of themselves is very important because it keeps them connected with their God, their loved ones, and themselves.
To take care of themselves personally, nurses need to take some alone time to spend it doing the things that bring them joy like going shopping, crafting, enjoying a nice walk on their own, visiting the hairdresser, or having a spa session. Whatever their hearts desire.
Looking after their health is vital to maintain their quality of life, which means nurses should get regular health screenings, make medical appointments as needed and address any issues they may have in a timely manner. Surprisingly, this is one of the most neglected aspects of a nurse’s life, because they usually self-diagnose, improvise treatment, and move on, without really confirming what’s going on with themselves with the right medical specialist, depending on the case.
This means doing activities at work that promote professional growth and keep them connected with the reason why they decided to pursue a nursing career in the first place. Examples of this are reading a nursing journal or magazine to learn about what others in their field are doing and about the news that might benefit their work, attending training, sharing knowledge with their peers, mentoring new nurses, and much more.
Nurses, like many other busy workers, usually neglect their friendships and their relationships with family members. However, doing this has deep effects on their lives because it leads them to isolation and loneliness. That is why nurses need to nurture relationships with others outside their work, which will allow them to effectively separate their personal and professional lives and have a better life-work balance.
Finally, to summarize, it is important to understand how self-care leads to wellness in people’s lives, not only nurses’.
Self-care is a great tool to manage stress, to experience more emotional stability, to better relate with others with empathy and compassion, and to living a happier life. Self-care means looking after oneself first, before helping others, just like on an airplane, passengers are encouraged to put on their oxygen masks before helping others.
It should be noted that nurses can practice self-care even while they are at work, by doing little things like talking to their coworkers about their weekend or their kids (anything other than work), eating lunch with new nurses to get to know them, celebrating birthdays and holidays at work. These activities allow nurses to take their minds off work for a few minutes each day and remember to be a person, rather than just a caregiver to others, which in time will contribute to their overall wellness.
What about you? Do you practice any self-care activities in your daily life? Leave your thoughts and comments below.
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