Why is self-care in nursing so important? This is a good question, but it’s hard to answer without first knowing just what self-care actually is. Self-care is anything you do for yourself that will benefit you (perhaps over and above other people) emotionally, physically, or spiritually. It’s something that everyone needs to practice more, particularly because the 21st century just seems to be go, go, go without much of a chance to stop and think or take some time to relax.
However, although it is something that we all have to do from time to time, it is perhaps more crucial than ever for nurses to practice self-care. This is because nurses spend their entire working lives (and possibly their personal lives) taking care of other people. This leaves little time to take care of themselves, and this can lead to many problems, including burnout. Burnout occurs when someone is too physically and mentally drained to continue their work and must take time out. It can be so distressing that it means they are out of work for many weeks or months, and in some cases, they don’t return to the job they were doing at all because it affected them so much. It’s clear to see how this would apply to nurses. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. Nurses work hard and their jobs are supremely difficult, but good self-care can prevent burnout.
What are the reasons that self-care is so important for nurses? We’ve explained some of them below.
Self-Care Is Mandated By The ANA Code Of Ethics
If we start with the most obvious, even if it’s potentially the most important point (as you’ll see as we go on with this list), self-care is important for nurses because it is actually mandated by the American Nurses’ Association (ANA) code of ethics. To paraphrase the code, it states that it is the nurse’s duty to take care of everyone, and that includes themselves. So a nurse must practice self-care just as much as they practice the care of their patients.
It has been included in the code of ethics to show that it is something that is understood and that a lack of self-care can have highly detrimental results on every aspect of nursing care and healthcare in general. It if is something that the body taking care of nursing and ensuring nurses are happy and healthy in their work has noted, then it makes sense that the lack of self-care is potentially a widespread problem.
As a nurse, if you are told to take time for yourself, you should do it.
Self-Care Helps With Stress Management
Nursing is a stressful job. No matter how much you might like it, there is stress involved every day when you work as a nurse. This could be the stress of having to work shifts, of being incredibly busy, or perhaps it’s the stress that comes with emotional turmoil; patients will be very sick in your care, and they might die. This will be hard to deal with and could easily cause a nurse to become stressed –, and this would lead to burnout which, as we know, must be avoided at all costs.
When you practice good self-care as a nurse, you’ll be able to reduce your stress and manage it better, helping you do more in your work and stay as emotionally and mentally healthy as possible.
If you simply continue to do your job without taking any time to yourself, whether it’s a fifteen-minute walk around the block or in your local park, a chance to read or listen to music, or perhaps a hobby you enjoy – self-care can be anything that gives you a chance to relax and unwind – you’ll become less and less helpful to your patients and colleagues and more and more unwell in yourself. Eventually, this will mean you can no longer work, and you might even become a patient yourself.
Self-Care Helps You Stay Compassionate
There are a number of traits that a good nurse should have in order to do their job well and to enjoy what they are doing. One of these traits is compassion. Compassion is when you are concerned about other people’s wellbeing and health and want to do what you can to help them feel better. It’s clearly an important personality trait that all nurses need to have.
The issue is that, over time, compassion can wane. This is due to exhaustion as well as the fact that, with many years (or even months in some cases) of experience behind them, nurses have essentially seen and heard it all. This can make it hard to be compassionate with every new patient, even if the patient themselves has never been in hospital before. If you practice self-care as a nurse, it will be much easier to remain compassionate and empathetic to your patients, and ensure they are treated correctly.
Remember, compassion is a hugely important character trait of a good nurse, but this does not just mean compassion towards your patients; it should mean compassion towards yourself as well. The more you can do to stay healthy and happy – the more self-care you can include in your life. In other words, it will be easier to be compassionate to other people.
Self-Care Means Better Patient Care
When you are good at self-care, you’ll be better at patient care. This is an important fact to bear in mind and will help you be a better nurse and a healthier, happier person in general.
When you are exhausted, whether you are on the verge of burnout or not, you’ll potentially be so tired that patient care starts to suffer. You won’t mean it because, as a nurse, your patients come first (which is why you’re so tired in the first place), but it is certainly something that can easily happen and might even happen without you noticing it. Slowly but surely, you will slow down in your work, and you’ll help fewer patients, and everything will start to build up, making you feel even worse.
This could all be prevented by taking some time to be by yourself and not do anything or do something that has nothing to do with your job or other people. Self-care is very simple, and it doesn’t even have to take long, but it can make a world of difference to you and everyone around you.
Now that you know how important self-care is and why nurses need to practice it, we’ll discuss the different types of self-care and how to ensure you get what you need from your downtime.
Mental self-care can be extremely useful for nurses in terms of their health and careers. It will allow you to expand your knowledge in nursing or in any other subject (remember, your self-care is personal to you, and if you want to study something for your own interest that is not linked to your career, you should do so – learning is self-care in any capacity) and to gain more confidence in your work or personal life which will enable you to work better.
This kind ofself-care could include applying to earn your PhD in nursing online, for example, which would enhance your career, allow you to take better care of your patients, and give you something specific to take time out to do. Alternatively, you might decide that reading medical, or nursing journals would allow you to relax and unwind, or perhaps watch nursing experts on YouTube explaining a new idea or simply talking about nursing. You might join a committee or communicate on a forum. Or maybe you want to leave nursing at work and do something else like a puzzle, reading a book, or going to a museum. These are all great ways to practice mental self-care, and there are many more.
You might think that because nursing is such a physical job and you’re always on your feet, moving around, you don’t have to practice any physical self-care. However, although you move when you’re a nurse, that’s not the same as mindfully exercising and focusing on that health aspect. Therefore, it’s best if you can make some time for physical self-care over and above whatever you do at work.
This might sound impossible and as though it would make you even more tired, but it can be done, and in fact, due to the chemicals released when you exercise, it can actually make you feel more alert. Some ideas for physical self-care include using stairs instead of the elevator, bringing a packed lunch to work instead of buying takeout, parking further away from your workplace and walking, following workout videos, meal planning, and getting enough sleep.
Nursing is an emotionally challenging job. As a nurse, you’ll be compassionate as we’ve mentioned above, and that means you’ll feel the pain (at least emotionally) that your patients are going through. You’ll have to help them in their final days or help them get over a trauma. You’ll need to be there to comfort family members too. It’s a lot, and it’s no wonder that nurses can feel emotionally drained often.
This is why it is a good idea to consider some self-care specifically designed to help your emotions regulate better. This could mean taking the time to think of all the positives that happened during the day, no matter how small. It could mean praising yourself or others for a job well done. It certainly means finding a way to express your emotions, whether that’s talking to a therapist or family member or finding an outlet in art, cooking, or physical activity.
You must also give yourself permission to let your emotions out. Don’t do this in front of your patients, but don’t keep everything inside – this will lead to problems. Let things out when you have someone to talk to or have a moment to yourself. It will, strangely enough, make you feel better.
You don’t have to be religious to practice spiritual self-care, although if you are, that will give you a good idea of where to begin with, this idea. Spiritual self-care can be done in a variety of different ways, and all of them add up to a feeling of calm which makes the job of nursing an easier (although still not easy, of course) one to deal with.
You could go to your place of worship and find spiritual self-care there, but you could also start to consider practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is the process of being in the moment and forgetting the past and the future, if only for a short while. This will allow you to appreciate everything you have and everything that happened right at that moment, giving you an increased sense of comfort, peace, and understanding.
Just going outside can be a form of spiritual self-care as well. Nature is very calming, and whether you go for a walk (so are practicing physical self-care as well) or you stand and take deep breaths of fresh air, it will all help. Or perhaps you want to try yoga or Pilates – again. You can combine the physical and spiritual self-care types and feel much better afterward.
Even if you are introverted, being with other people from time to time is good for you. As a nurse, you’re with people all the time, as it’s a big part of the job, but simply being with people is different from being social, and it might benefit your self-care efforts to do a little more than simply working with someone.
For example, when you’re at work, you might talk to colleagues about their home life, their families, and their hobbies. Not only will this help you know more about them, but it will help them with their own self-care, as they can stop thinking about work for a moment and focus on something else. Perhaps you could choose to eat lunch with someone rather than by yourself, or always make sure you celebrate birthdays at work in some way.
Being social out of work is something we should all do more of, even if we feel tired. If you’re absolutely exhausted, a phone call to a loved one is a good compromise. Going out with friends to see a movie or get something to eat is another great way to practice social self-care.