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Taking Care of the Caregiver: Self-Care for Nurses

You have been on your feet for 12 hours or more delivering the best care you can to your patients. It’s what you love, it’s what you are trained for, and it’s what you are called to do. Then why do you feel so defeated? Why do some days feel like you just can’t do it anymore? Most likely it is because you have poured yourself out until you were empty and have neglected to fill yourself back up. You need to deliver some of that expert care to yourself.

Practicing self-care is so important for nurses. Nursing professor Cynthia A. Blum writes, “While provision of holistic care is a hallmark of competent nursing practice, holistic activities centered on self are less prevalent for nurses.” (Online Journal of Issues in Nursing) The bottom line is, if you love being a nurse and want to continue in your career, self-care is essential.

Self-Care is Not Selfish

The most common reason for neglecting self-care is that it feels selfish. With so much going on in your professional and personal life, it feels selfish to take time just for yourself. However, it is not a selfish act, especially if you work in one of the most stressful careers in the United States. The benefits of self-care reach into all areas of your life, including your home and career. When you take time for yourself, you will be able to give more to others. Taking even a small amount of time to refresh and refocus reaps great rewards.

Why is Self-Care for Nurses So Important?

If you google the terms “stress in nursing,” “nurse stress,” or “nurse burnout,” you will find thousands of articles, surveys, and studies. This just shows how prevalent a problem stress and burnout is for nurses. A 2014 survey published on Nurses.com found that “nurses in the U.S. experience extreme levels of stress and lack of sleep, and that 12-hour shifts, night shifts, poor diets and heavy workloads are some of the key contributors to the high stress levels.” Not only does this stress, lack of sleep, and poor nutrition affect nurses personally, but it also affects the care they are able to deliver.

Nurses strive to give their patients care that is top-notch. One significant way to ensure that this happens is for nurses to remember themselves. When nurses take time to focus on self-care, they are helping relieve stress and potential burnout, which allows them to continue to serve their patients to the best of their ability. Less stress equals better health and mood, which will benefit all areas of your life.

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Daily Focus on Self-Care

Ideally, you need to set aside time daily for self-care. Sometimes it may only be 10 minutes. Some days you may have an hour to yourself. Find what works for you. What calms you? What healthy habits help you relieve stress? A few minutes of quiet could be all you need to help you revive and tackle the rest of your day.

The Top Four Areas of Self-care for Nurses

There are many different ways to focus on self-care. The following areas are important to focus on when addressing self-care:

  1. Healthy diet – Even though it can be difficult in the nursing profession, eating right is a necessity for good health. Healthy foods that increase and sustain energy are a must for nurses. Have a plan and stick to it. You will thank yourself later on when you avoid a sugar crash from the vending machine choice you made when you were “hangry.”
  2. Exercise – Nurses are on their feet most of the day; however, focused exercise is still necessary. A good aerobic workout a couple of times a week helps increase stamina and reduce stress. Core strength is often overlooked, but an extremely important part of self-care for nurses with all of the lifting and moving nurses do. Pilates and yoga are also excellent stress reducers and good for joints and flexibility.
  3. Quiet time – With the constant activity that surrounds nurses, it is so important to take some time to be quiet. Even if all you can grab is a few minutes here and there, take the time to relax, breathe, process, and refocus.
  4. Fun! – Do something outside of work that you love. While it is important to fulfill responsibilities, take time to do something you find fun. What is something you really love to do? Schedule a time and do it! Being in the moment and enjoying a hobby is a great way to reset your mind and feel refreshed.

Apply What You Know

Nurses spend their lives gaining and applying their knowledge in their profession. Use that knowledge on yourself. If one of your patients was overly stressed, what would you recommend? You can dedicate yourself to a job you love, provide for and spend time with your family, and achieve your personal goals without becoming burned out. When you are at your best, your patients and family members will notice. Take the time to be a better version of yourself. You deserve it!