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Enhancing Well-Being: Self-Care for Nurses

February 9, 2024

Self-care must be of utmost importance for medical professionals like nurses to be able to maintain the quality of care that they give their patients, prevent compassion fatigue and nurse burnout, reduce their stress levels due to working long hours, keep their health issues at bay, and overall significantly improve their physical health and mental health.

In this article, we will talk about self-care for nurses -- steps such as deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, gratitude journaling, moderate exercise, and sleeping techniques to help medical professionals better perform at their jobs and take a much-needed breather. We will also tackle the ways nurses can exercise different types of care not only for themselves but for the people around them as well.

What's Self-Care? Understanding Self-Care for Nurses

Most professionals in the medical field, like nurses, caregivers, and doctors, might have some trouble understanding how to incorporate self-care into their daily routines, given that their norm is fast-paced, quick, efficient, and on-the-go, but this doesn't take away from the fact that's important to understand in order to start making some positive life changes in their day to day lives and in the long run, their overall health.

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." In other words, self-care generally 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 compassion fatigue and nurse burnout, as well as other physical conditions that are often associated with nursing.

The Importance of Nurse Self-Care

As the famous American nurse Virginia Henderson puts it, “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.”

Nursing can be a physically and emotionally demanding job, especially if caring and compassion aren't second nature to a nurse professional. However, nursing truly demands extended empathy and help for their patients in order to help them heal and recover, as well as treat - or at least manage - their illnesses. But with rising demands and an underwhelming supply of nurses in the medical field, most existing nurses are exhausted, burned out, and overworked to the point 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 and chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. Furthermore, nurses who are going through the psychological and emotional consequences of constant exhaustion and no self-care at all may suffer from depression, stress, and anxiety and are actually more likely to make medication errors and other mistakes involving their patients. This proves that self-care is important not only for nurses’ well-being but also for the sake of their patients.

A photo containing text explaining why nurses should observe self-care practices.

Self-Care for Nurses: What Must Be Done

There are many areas of self-care that all nurses should pay attention to. After all, it's important to relax, recharge, and unplug from a fast-paced, demanding environment. But self-care goes beyond the little pleasures in life - it requires intentionality and consistency, squeezing them into your daily routine. And with that being said, we have 10 tips for nurses and even just medical professionals in general.

Practice Mental Self-Care

Taking care of your mental health means practicing activities that can stimulate their minds creatively, like doing your favorite hobbies - be it sketching, reading a book or crocheting - or well-known intentional self-care activities like meditation and positive self-talk. If you manage to free up some time, then turn off your phone, unplug, and take some alone time to spend it doing the things that bring you joy, like going shopping, crafting, enjoying a nice walk on your own, visiting the hairdresser, or having a spa session.

Read More: 10 Sleep Tips For Healthcare Workers To Get A Good Night's Sleep

Stay Physically Active

Bodies must be well taken care of as well - nurses should take time to move their bodies in a setting different from work. Nurses can either briskly walk at a park or around their neighbourhoods or do Pilates, Lagree, or CrossFit in a studio with their other friends. If they are into dancing or jogging, then they can incorporate that into their weekly routine as well. However, if they find physical activities like working out too exhausting then they can just do stretches on an exercise mat or using a treadmill for a slow walk.

Eat Nutritious Meals

Nurses must also prioritize consuming a healthy diet due to its significant impact on their overall well-being and ability to provide optimal patient care. A nutritious diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats is needed in order to maintain their energy levels during their shifts, as well as their mental alertness. Adequate nutrition also supports the immune system, reducing their susceptibility to illness and enhancing their ability to combat infection in a high-risk environment like a clinic or hospital.

Prioritize Quality Sleep

Adequate rest plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health and well-being, allowing nurses to perform at their best. Quality sleep enhances cognitive functioning, improving alertness and decision-making abilities during high-pressure situations. Additionally, it strengthens the immune system, reducing the risk of infections and potential exposure to contagious illnesses in the healthcare setting.

Seek Emotional Support

Constantly witnessing pain, suffering, and even death can take a toll on their mental well-being. Seeking emotional support provides nurses with an outlet to express their concerns, fears, and anxieties in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Taking care of their emotions means making time for entertainment, such as going to concerts and movies, listening to happy music, doing things that make them genuinely laugh (playing with their kids, spending time with their friends), and any other activity that has no other purpose than enjoyment.

Set Boundaries

As healthcare professionals, nurses often face numerous demands that can impact their physical and emotional well-being. By establishing clear boundaries, nurses not only protect themselves but also ensure the delivery of high-quality patient care. Setting boundaries allows nurses to define their roles and responsibilities, preventing burnout, compassion fatigue, and other ethical dilemmas. In addition to that, nurses must also set limits on the level of emotional involvement with patients to prevent blurred lines between personal and professional relationships.

Take Regular Breaks

In the highly demanding healthcare environment, nurses are often subjected to high levels of stress, fatigue, and burnout. By taking regular breaks, nurses can effectively recharge both physically and mentally. These breaks provide an opportunity to rest, relax, and restore energy levels, which are essential for maintaining optimum performance and concentration throughout the workday. Moreover, breaks offer nurses a chance to reflect on their practice and assess the quality of care they provide to patients.

Practice Reflection and Gratitude

Spirituality can play a huge part in keeping a healthy mental and emotional balance. Nurses, if they have time, may practice reflection and gratitude through spirituality. To be connected with God, to spend time with their loved ones, and to just enjoy solitude, nurses can try reflecting or being grateful for their lives and their jobs to put them in a calmer and happier headspace.

Related: Healthy Eating Habits Recommended For Nurses

‍Utilize Stress Reduction Techniques

Looking after their health is vital to maintaining 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.

Read More: Strategies for Prioritizing Mental Health and Well-Being for Canadian Nurses

Join Supportive Communities

Like many workers in the field of healthcare, they 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.

Related: Positive and Negative Impacts of Social Media

A list summarizing some self-care tips for nurses.

How Self-Care Leads to Wellness

Self-care helps a lot to manage stress, experience more emotional stability, better relate with others with empathy and compassion, and live a happier life. With the tips said above, 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, and 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.

Find a nurturing work environment as a nurse through Caring Support.

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About The Author
Kate Piamonte
Content Writer

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