Nurses Can’t Afford to Neglect Self-Care – DailyNurse

Dec 31, 2021 | Blog, Coronavirus, Health & Wellness, News, Research, Self-Care
It has almost nothing to do with aromatherapy, candles, or even yoga.
As a nurse, you probably respond to the myriads of articles and social media posts on “self-care” with a dubious shrug. Authors of lifestyle content often imply that self-care is a specifically female pursuit—one that is synonymous with “self-pampering.” So, the 20th-century images of women lolling in bed nibbling on chocolates have been replaced with stock photos of women soaking in rose-petal baths, getting manicures, and serenely smiling through avocado facial masks.
It can be glorious to pamper oneself, but nurses struggling to combine 12-hour shifts with family obligations during a global pandemic—while paying off monstrous student loans—may feel they have more urgent priorities. Being urged to set aside some “me time” for journaling or dabbling in essential oils, though, is self-care through a marketer’s lens. Psychologists, nurse scientists, and other health practitioners have very different definitions of self-care, and studies that show it is no mere indulgence.
This is awesome, but it is not self-care.
The World Health Organization’s definition might surprise some wellness influencers: “Self-care is a broad concept which also encompasses hygiene (general and personal); nutrition (type and quality of food eaten); lifestyle (sporting activities, leisure, etc.); environmental factors (living conditions, social habits, etc.); socioeconomic factors (income level, cultural beliefs, etc.); and self-medication.”
In its most minimal form, you advise patients to engage in self-care when you tell them why they need to take medications as prescribed, eat more vegetables, exercise, and floss their teeth. Nothing indulgent here, because at bottom self-care is simply an essential component of preventive care. So, as a starting point, at the very least you should practice what you preach. Not only for the sake of credibility; when you practice self-care, you function better.
And as a nurse, you will find that self-care can speed your recovery—or even help you avert—the most common occupational hazards that afflict nurses. Basic self-care practices can make you a less attractive target for the most common nursing woes.
Stress: The APA offers some useful advice on handling workplace stress, but this year, almost any health worker should consider therapy as well. A good therapist is much more than a nonjudgemental sounding board; s/he can teach you to heed and acknowledge your emotions as you navigate both workplace and personal relationships. Therapy won’t prevent you from experiencing stress, of course, but it can give you some formidable tools to increase your resilience and ability to cope.
Musculoskeletal injuries from lifting and maneuvering heavy burdens: Studies conducted over the past 10 years suggest that stretching exercises and moderate resistance training can reduce the likelihood of injuries. Regular exercise and proper orthopedic shoes will help your feet and the rest of your body when you have to stand for endless periods. However, if you are trying to avoid injuries, yoga might not be an ideal choice of exercise program.
Needlesticks and other sharps injuries: No amount of self-care will give you Luke Cage-like super-durability, but super-spy Jason Bourne has some helpful advice: “sleep is a weapon.” One excellent way to prevent accidents of all types is to practice decent sleep hygiene. When you are well-rested, you are more alert, your response time is faster, you’ll be better coordinated, and at much less risk of making dangerous mistakes.
The approach to self-care for nurses has changed dramatically since Covid-19 hit. And, the mounting staffing crisis makes it clear that self-care practices should be part of every nurse’s toolbox. The ANA positions self-care as a means of attaining and sustaining nursing excellence:
Avocado slices might possibly help reduce undereye puffiness, but bona fide self-care can ward off compassion fatigue, help you manage your resources when “crisis standards of care” are the order of the day, perform your tasks with accuracy, and make it easier to communicate and connect with co-workers and patients. Which makes the job more satisfying—especially as it can improve health outcomes. In a caring profession, following a proper self-care routine can make a world of difference.
Don’t try to do everything at once—even taking aim at one health goal is better than nothing, and it’s much more doable. Pick an area for improvement, like sleep hygiene, diet, exercise, regular physicals, podiatric care, or mental health support. In setting priorities, identify the greatest stresses you face from your job. Consider the issues that afflict you most on a daily basis, long-term problems that wear you down, resentments, anything that makes it harder to keep your head in the game.
Making changes usually is more effective when done incrementally, so don’t drive yourself crazy with New Year Resolutions. If lack of sleep is your greatest foe, try to start by taking 15-minute breaks a few times a week to shut your eyes and relax. Feet killing you? Make an appointment with a podiatrist now—and follow their advice. If your bugbear is workplace and/or family stress, take advantage of one of the few positive effects of the pandemic: you don’t even have to leave home now to see a therapist, so what’s stopping you?.
Once you begin, play it by ear. Self-care is both a professional and personal investment. And after a month of healthy eating, better rest, or CBT, go ahead and reward yourself with some actual pampering. Find time to stand in a meditative pose or joyfully leap on a picturesque beach, play computer games, or nibble chocolates while reading celebrity gossip; a little silliness might be a healthy prescription after two years in a non-stop pandemic.
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