Nurse turned life coach JAN AITKEN reflects on how well nurses look after themselves and offers some advice on self-care for nurses.
As nurses our job is to work with people. We do this in a huge variety of settings, working alongside many other health professionals and colleagues, delivering our professional services to a huge variety of patients/clients. Our work can be incredibly rewarding, exciting, sad, frightening, joyous and plain hard – and that could be just in a single shift!
Nursing is a very privileged occupation. We get to spend time with people when they are often at their most vulnerable and scared. We see and hear things that the rest of the community don’t see and hear. We learn about people’s lives from the inside out. Sometimes our work can be emotionally confronting. Shift work can be disruptive to our lives, our families’ lives and our sleep patterns. Sometimes the work is easy and other times it’s physically demanding – we’re on our feet constantly, we’re moving patients and equipment and there always seems to be more work than there is time. As well as being rewarding, nursing can be incredibly draining.
As nurses we are very good at looking after others and taking care of their needs, but how good are we at looking after ourselves given the complex and sometimes stressful nature of our jobs?
Don’t run on an empty tank
We’re still early on in a new year so it’s a good time to think about what we do for ourselves to recharge our batteries. Just as you can’t run a car on an empty gas tank I don’t think we can nurse and be our best if our energy tanks are constantly being drained. As I look around me, I see many colleagues who are better at giving their time, energy and care to others than they are to themselves.
So let’s make 2016 a year when we regularly do things to refuel our own energy reserves.
What can we do to care for ourselves better?
Practice self-care: Do something that you enjoy and take some time for you. This is not selfish. Ditch the guilt.
Don’t try to be super-human: Remember unattainable perfection is just that: unattainable. You don’t have to be super-human, you don’t have to be perfect and it’s okay and normal to feel, frustrated, upset and tired sometimes.
Self-compassion: Have some self-compassion. Use the skills that you have for being compassionate towards others on yourself. The empathy, concern and willingness to help you show your patients can be used for you to be kinder and more gentle toward yourself.
Try to recharge batteries: Look for small gaps of time to recharge the batteries and keep the recharging simple. Life is busy and there are many competing demands on your time and energy. Make the most of your discretionary time.
Get some fresh air: Research has shown that getting out and about in the fresh air can be incredibly good for body and soul. For many of us, our work day can be entirely inside with no natural lighting. So get outside for five, 10 or 15 minutes, it really doesn’t matter! This can be as simple as a walk in the park, pottering about your garden, walk along the beach, take the dog for a run, park further away from work or the shops and walk a little further, try out some of the tracks and parks around you, visit the local botanical garden.
Be a bit mindful: Try being a bit more mindful throughout your day. Again, keep it simple! Several times during the day take a moment to concentrate on breathing deeply and slowly, in through your nose and out through your mouth. Pay deliberate attention to what you’re doing at any given time. You might be prepping a dressing, sitting down to write notes or walking to the café for lunch. You might be on a crowded bus, or maybe you’re preparing the veggies for dinner. What can you feel, what can you hear, what’s happening around you, how are you feeling, what’s your body doing? When your mind wanders off, and it will, gently bring your focus back to the breathing and paying attention to what you’re doing. Don’t be hard on yourself for losing focus, just let it go. These moments of mini-mindfulness need only be five or six deep breaths at a time but they are wonderful for helping you become more aware, calmer, and allowing you to catch your breath.
Don’t forget your hobbies and passions: Do you have a hobby? Is there something you’re passionate about that fills your soul when you do it? Is there something that helps you to unwind and re-energise? Make a conscious effort (set a goal) to incorporate it into your schedule regularly.
Confucius said: “We all have two lives, the second begins when we realise we only have one”. Make 2016 the year that you really begin to look after the one precious life you have. Caring for ourselves doesn’t just benefit us, it benefits all those we come into contact with.
To recharge, keep it simple, do it often and enjoy it.