If you’ve been on an airplane, you know that during an emergency, you’re required to put your oxygen mask on before you assist anyone else with theirs. Why? Because if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone else!
This is particularly true for nurses, who spend a significant amount of time caring for other people, and especially now, when the needs of patients are so high. If nurses don’t take time to put on their own “oxygen mask,” it’s only a matter of time until they burn out.
This is where self-care comes in.
Self-care is a skill like any other; it must be learned and practiced. In our culture, taking time to care for yourself is often considered selfish, while giving to the point of exhaustion is celebrated. Anyone who has experienced burnout will tell you how damaging that thinking can be. To excel, nurses have to override cultural messages and give themselves the care and attention they deserve. In the end, they and their patients will feel the difference.
Not sure where to start? Try one of these tried-and-true self-care ideas:
There’s nothing like endorphins to boost your physical and mental health. These “feel-good” hormones are designed to relieve anxiety, lift your mood, and improve sleep – and all it takes to make them is a little activity! Just 20-30 minutes of moderate daily exercise can lift your endorphin levels and positively shift your brain chemistry. In 2022, exercise is doable virtually anywhere, whether it’s in a gym-based Zumba class, a run in the park, or a yoga session in the comfort of your living room. So find something you love and give yourself the gift of exercise. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
Why meditate? The real question is, why not? Meditation, when done consistently, has been proven to lower stress and restore a sense of peace, calm, and balance. It also helps with focus and patience, allowing you to stay present and mindful throughout the day. In a high-stress job like nursing, these skills are invaluable. Throw in the added benefits of better sleep, chronic pain relief, and lower blood pressure, and meditation is something close to magic.
To start, look online for guided meditations or apps like Headspace and Calm. You can also set a timer for 5 minutes and simply sit quietly. You might be surprised at how quickly you see a change – at home and at work.
Just like children at school need recess, adults also need breaks. Take advantage of break time at work, and once a month, give yourself a “break day” to do something you love and recharge. This is a day to treat yourself: book a massage, take a nap or a yoga class, or visit a museum. Whatever it is that brings you joy and centers you, give yourself permission to do it.
In a virtual world, we often underestimate the importance of in-person relationships. Whether it be with family or close friends, we all need to connect with the people who are important to us. This brings balance to our lives and helps us feel seen and supported. Studies have even found that when women spend time together, they produce Oxytocin, also known as the “love drug” that increases a sense of well-being and connection. Don’t wait until a crisis hits to reach out; make personal connections a regular practice. Gather regularly with loved ones, invite friends for a meal, and take bonding time with your “people” whenever possible. With a strong personal support network, your professional life will thrive.
In the high-stress world of nursing, make sure your “oxygen mask” is fastened and secure with a solid regimen of self-care. It won’t only make you a better nurse; it will help you become your best self.