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Self-Care Tips for Nurses: Taking Care of Yourself First

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In a profession based on caring for others, it can be hard finding the time to take care of yourself. When you’ve finally gotten off a long shift at the hospital — hours of providing room-to-room patient care — the last thing you want is to take care of anyone else —yourself included. If you add your kids into the mix, entire days can disappear without you ever considering your own wellbeing.

However, there are many reasons that you shouldn’t postpone your self-care. Without taking personal time, life can become an impossible climb, with burnout and exhaustion hitting early and hard.

Here are a few ways you can ensure you’re taking the time you need to recharge and enjoy life. You’re already great at caring for others; now it’s time to care for yourself!

Schedule Weekly “You” Time

Let’s start simple: Set aside some time for yourself every week. This “you” time doesn’t need to be an entire vacation or day off from work — even setting aside an hour or two after work can do wonders for your psyche.

However, you need to be very organized about these little breaks. Try to plan activities if you have time. These moments don’t need to be anything crazy: Just set aside time for something as simple as reading a new book with a cup of tea for an hour or two. But during this “you” time, remember these suggestions: 

  • Try to limit your distractions.
  • Avoid rescheduling or taking on household responsibilities.
  • Make sure you communicate the importance of these moments to everyone else in your life. 
  • Try to pick a time that doesn’t conflict with other predictable responsibilities.
  • Try to keep your schedule consistent so everyone else can work around it.

Remember Ongoing Self-Care

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Time off is necessary for recharging throughout the week, so nurses should also focus on ongoing self-care before, during, and after work. 

Getting a massage after a long day on your feet can help you relax both your mind and your muscles. That way, you can head into work the next day feeling refreshed and ready for anything! Grabbing a coffee every day at a local cafe or shop before work gives you a quiet moment before the chaos of work. 

Of course, all of this should be supplemented with basic personal health care as well. Get plenty of sleep every night, drink lots of water (both while you’re working and after you finish), and try to eat a healthy mix of fresh food whenever possible.

Vacations Are Lifesaving

Use your time off. 

Nursing isn’t insulated from hustle culture, with many nurses putting in extra hours and overtime whenever it’s available to get some extra money in their pockets. While the money is great in the short term, the eventual burnout and exhaustion can ruin the nursing experience for both you and your patients. 

In many cases, nursing teams create an expectation that you postpone your vacation or time off, especially if a hospital is underfunded or understaffed. Some nurses go for years without taking a day off — even when they’re sick — and that sort of lifestyle isn’t sustainable.

Even if you’re taking time for yourself every week, periodic vacations away from your regular life are just as important. If money is tight, you don’t need to plan anything too elaborate; just get a hotel for a few nights somewhere that you’ve always wanted to check out. Take your kids or your friends camping, or spend a few days exploring a state or national park.

Even taking just a few days off from work can give you a necessary mental reset. Don’t feel guilty about taking this time off, either: You worked for this time off, and you’re entitled to take it without stressing. By taking a vacation, you’re actually improving your longevity and the quality of your work.

Keep a Clean and Healthy Space

We all put off cleaning from time to time. Whether that manifests in a dirty floor or dishes in the sink, life can sometimes feel like a battle between keeping your space clean and enjoying your free time. 

However, cleanliness is a huge part of self-care. The act of cleaning itself is attributed to improved mental health, and periodically cleaning your personal space — whether that means your entire house or just the areas that you identify as “yours” — can eliminate a tremendous amount of unconscious stress.

Many nurses struggle with a lack of control over their lives. The healthcare system is notoriously chaotic, and nurses often find themselves working unpredictable schedules and dealing with difficult patients, all while feeling unappreciated by administrators and other staff. Determining the state of your personal space — i.e., cleaning — can rebuild a sense of personal control after a crazy day at work. 

Get Outside!

As a nurse, you spend the vast majority of your life inside. Hospitals are particularly sterile environments, with white walls and fluorescent lights alongside standard hospital machinery. 

While these environments are designed to ensure efficiency and hygiene during healthcare, they don’t fulfill the basic human need to connect to nature — also known as biophilia.

Getting outside calms the mind and improves physical health. Simply sitting at a park bench for a few minutes before or after your shift can lower your blood pressure and stress levels before work. Spending some vacation time in the great outdoors is also an excellent idea for nurses who are feeling overwhelmed or suffocated by their work and constant human contact.

Caring for Yourself

In a profession centered on helping others, you often put your health and wellness on the back burner. However, you can only give so much of your life to others before you need to recharge and build yourself back up.

That is the crux of self-care: taking time for yourself and no one else. Self-care can feel selfish when you’re not used to it, but it is completely necessary to avoid burnout and keep you in the profession for the long haul.

These tips can get you started down the path to a more sustainable relationship with your work. You owe your patients the best possible care, just as you owe yourself the same care and love you give those patients. Self-care allows you to fulfill both those promises!

At Nursa, we create content to help nurses build more sustainable and enjoyable careers in healthcare. For more career content, take a look at our per diem nursing blog.

Written by Calvin Henninger

Calvin Henninger is a writer currently living in Roanoke, VA. He first began his professional writing career after graduating from Valparaiso University in 2017 with a BA in Creative Writing and Political Science. He's been crafting a variety of online and print copy since then, spanning multiple fields and industries in the process. In his free time, you'll find him hiking, hammering out a piece of fiction, or trying to cook something new.

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