For most nurses, the job starts as a calling. They spend their workday doing for others, from caring for patients and comforting families to mentoring other clinical staff and working with hospital administrators. What often doesn’t get addressed is self care for nurses themselves.
For most nurses, the job starts as a calling. They spend their workday doing for others, from caring for patients and comforting families to mentoring other clinical staff and working with hospital administrators. What often doesn’t get addressed is self-care for nurses themselves.
It’s an important issue because while deeply rewarding, the profession involves many challenges. Nurses work long hours. On any given day they can find themselves in high-pressure situations that involve life or death. Little wonder that self-care for nurses has become an important issue to stop nursing burnout.
Houston Baptist University takes these issues into consideration in its nursing programs. Faculty with experience in nursing teach students the need for self-care. They learn that burnout causes not only personal problems but also impacts the effectiveness of their work.
Why Is Self-Care Important for Nurses?
The lack of self-care for nurses leads to several problems. Among the worst is becoming “unengaged” with the job, according to a recent PRC National Nursing Engagement Report. Nurses who feel unengaged often do the bare minimum required for their job, find few rewards in their work, and experience an overall ambivalence about whether their hospital succeeds.
Nurses who experience job fatigue may exhibit other concerning work habits. They include:
- Performance deficits
- Increased risk of errors
- A decline in short-term memory
- Reduced ability to learn
- Increased risk-taking behavior
- Impaired mood and communication skills
Factors that lead to nursing burnout include long hours, staffing issues, violence from patients, emotional exhaustion, body fatigue from long hours spent on their feet, and the heavy lifting the job often requires.
The Importance of Sleep
The American Nurses Association (ANA) points out that sleep ranks among one of the most important issues when it comes to self-care for nurses. Stressed from the job, many nurses experience difficulties sleeping. This, in turn, can lead to personal issues and an inability to practice mindful nursing (staying completely in the moment while on the job).
This has especially become an issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to long hours on their feet, nurses deal with stress about their own health, doing their work with limited resources, and facing more emotionally stressful situations than ever.
Getting good rest can combat these issues. Tips for good sleep include:
- Getting seven to nine hours of sleep during a 24-hour period
- Creating a comfortable, cool, and dark sleeping environment with no electronic devices or other items that can disturb your sleep
- Preparing for sleep by reading, doing gentle stretches, or meditating (but not scrolling through your phone or other devices)
- Writing a journal to express your concerns
- Giving yourself breaks each day by going outside, taking a walk, and spending time in nature
- Investing in sleep by sleeping longer on days off and sleeping more ahead of time when you expect to lose sleep
- Limiting intake of caffeine each day to prevent it from keeping you awake
Other Tips for Nurses
Beyond getting restful sleep, nurses can take other steps to reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Many of these are common approaches for anyone experiencing stress. For nurses, they can make the difference between experiencing nurse burnout and staying productive.
Eat a healthy diet. Too much sugar or processed foods can eventually lead to feeling less energetic. Staying fit by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, and low-fat meat leads to more energy during the day.
Regular exercise. Most people need about 30 minutes of exercise a day on average to keep fit and reduce the risk of health issues. Coupled with a healthy diet, regular exercise can, over time, lead to you feeling much more positive and energetic.
Meditation. Meditation for nurses can help calm the mind and keep the day’s events in perspective.
Expressive writing. This is one of many resources for nurses offered by the ANA. Writing down their thoughts can help nurses better process their feelings. Other resources offered through the ANA include virtual meetings with other nurses, a link to the Happy app where nurses can connect with others, and an “Unwind and Reset” podcast for nurses.
Whatever path they choose, self-care for nurses should become a priority. It can ease the stress of the job and help nurses perform at a high level while on duty.