Importance of Self-Care For Nurses
Today’s nurses face a physically and emotionally demanding career, with long hours, intense challenges, sometimes difficult patients, constant decision-making, and increasing patient loads. Their days are spent caring for a variety of patient needs, often sacrificing their own needs. However, sacrificing one’s own needs to care for others can lead to significant problems for the nurse, the patients, and the clinic or hospital.
The American Nurses Association Code of Ethics addresses self-care, stating in the fifth tenet: “The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsiblity to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to continue personal and professional growth.” This means that while nurses are often so busy caring for others, they also need to make taking care of themselves a priority.
The Cost of a Lack of Self-Care
Nursing requires constant decision-making and action, often with life or death consequences. Patients depend on nurses to be attentive and on top of their game even when the nurse is sick, hungry, tired, or overwhelmed. While nurses are instrumental in helping sick patients regain their health, it is often their own health that is at risk. The consequences of chronically overworked and overstressed nurses are steep, including burnout, the development of anxiety and depression, physical pain and injuries, and substance abuse.
An estimated 18% of nurses leave their first jobs within a year of being licensed and over half of nurses consider leaving the field due to burnout and lack of job satisfaction. In many hospitals and clinics, there is a significant nursing shortage, leading to longer hours and increased patient loads for the nurses on staff. Burnout can lead to emotional or physical exhaustion, a low sense of personal accomplishment and self-worth, and a disdain for the job. If untreated, symptoms can compound over time, leading to depression or other mental health issues and the nurse leaving his or her job.
Anxiety and Depression
The risk of mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, tend to be higher among nurses than in the general population. Not only are nurses often overworked and deal with high levels of stress, but many are routinely exposed to traumatic situations, such as the death of a patient, gruesome injuries, or abuse from an angry patient.
A 2012 survey of registered nurses in North Carolina found that over 70% of nurses experienced significant physical pain, often from spending long hours on their feet, moving patients, or other job-related tasks. Many nurses that experience pain do not see their physician for the pain, attempting to continue to work through it. This, however, can have repercussions for the patient, as a nurse in pain may struggle to keep an unsteady patient from falling or they may struggle with keeping up with their patient care.
Chronic pain can also lead to self-medication with opioids or other drugs. Chronic physical pain, combined with easy access to narcotics, contributes to a 10% rate of substance abuse among nurses, with over half of those reporting misusing opioids or other pain medicines.
Easy Ways to Incorporate Self-Care
For many nurses, the thought of adding anything else to an already packed schedule of work and family responsibilities might seem overwhelming. However, self-care is an important part of nursing. Below are some easy ways to add self-care to your busy routine.
Many nurses report hectic work schedules that don’t allow for sitting down for healthy meals. As a result, they often rely on quick convenience foods and snacks that can be eaten in a minute or two. Planning ahead and packing nutrition-filled snacks, such as fruits, cut raw veggies, and sunflower seeds can give you the energy and vitamins you need for long and stressful shifts. Small containers of greek yogurt, packs of string cheese, a hardboiled egg, a cup of edamame, some turkey rollups, or a dish of hummus and celery are great quick and easy snack ideas for busy nurses that you can nibble on throughout your shift.
Seeking Medical and Mental Health Treatment
Too often, nurses are so busy caring for their patients that they often neglect their own mental and physical healthcare. Schedule time at least once a year to visit your doctor for a full physical and to address any physical pain or symptoms you’re experiencing. If you are dealing with anxiety, depression, trauma, or substance abuse, it is important to seek treatment for these, including rehab if necessary. Holistic rehab centers help people learn about self care through meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and other holistic therapies that are good for the soul, which can also help you integrate self-care into your daily routine.
Stress Reduction Practices
Learning to reduce and cope with stress, both on the job and in your personal life, is another key component of self-care. There are many ways to help reduce stress, including meditation, tai chi, yoga, listening to your favorite music, taking a hike or walk outside in the woods, or journaling before or after each shift.
When you’re on the job, incorporating deep breathing exercises can help you maintain composure during stressful situations. These can be done anywhere at any time and only take a few minutes!
However you choose to incorporate self-care, putting yourself first is one of the most important steps you can do as a nurse. When you take care of yourself, your body, mind, and spirit will be ready to take on any challenges you face on the job, making you a more attentive, calm, composed, and skilled caregiver and nurse.
What are some ways you take care of yourself to prevent burnout?