5 Important Self-Care Tips For Nurses

All jobs bear some level of stress — however, nursing is undoubtedly at the top of the list as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has worsened job burnout, mental health and staff shortages during peak patient hospitalizations.

An August 2021 report by the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL) found that 75% of nurses list their emotional health as a significant challenge amid the pandemic — nearly 25% higher than the previous year.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, another 2020 survey found that 68% of nurses put a patient’s health and safety above their own, despite the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics for Nurses mandating all nurses adopt a self-care regimen.

As nursing becomes one of the most coveted professions — 194,500 openings are projected annually by 2030 — dealing with job burnout is more critical than ever. Here are five important self-care tips for nurses.

1. Add Self-Care to Your Calendar

A calendar is a nurse’s best tool for setting aside time for self-care. Penciling in “me time” to focus on your mental health is necessary and well-deserved.

Look at your schedule and make an effort to work no more than nine hours per shift, demanding breaks and limited overtime when you can. You might also consider requesting time off to recharge, perhaps on an extended weekend getaway or the spa.

If you’re worried about how taking a few days for your mental health might affect your fellow nurses, ask around in advance if doing so would impede their work.

2. Practice Saying “No”

Depending on who you are, setting boundaries for yourself might empower you or make you feel slightly uncomfortable. For nurses especially, saying “no” often feels out of the question.

Yet, people are incapable of doing everything, despite society’s perception of nurses’ superpowers. Learning to say no when your plate is already full is important for improving your mental health.

For example, a three-month screening from June to September 2020 found that 49% of respondents felt most stressed from heavy or increased workloads. Considering cases of disease and death have skyrocketed in recent years, prolonged feelings of burnout and tension could lead to a decline in physical and emotional health, disrupted sleep and poor work performance.

3. Start A New Hobby

On your days off, take up a new hobby or try something new, like a class or new recipe, that sparks joy and relaxes you. There are endless possibilities, including:

  • Painting and pottery
  • Writing and journaling
  • Dancing
  • Cooking classes
  • Gardening
  • Photography
  • Scrapbooking
  • Meditation and yoga

Group activities are also a great way to socialize with other people outside work. Going to sports events with friends, attending gatherings or volunteering for an important cause beyond your profession — such as cleaning up local parks or visiting shelter animals — can make you feel happier.

Research suggests that petting a dog or cat for just 10 minutes significantly decreases cortisol levels and reduces anxiety.

4. Unplug

Society tends to have trouble disconnecting from their phones and computers — however, unplugging can help you unwind from a stressful day.

Try turning off your phone when you leave work and limit how much television you watch at night. Wanting to know what’s happening in the world is normal, but news about the pandemic, war and social injustices is likely to elevate your worry. In a survey by MattressAdvisor.com, 57% of Americans can’t watch the evening news because it affects their sleep.

Instead, read a good book or concentrate on your physical health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 43% of American adults exercise for stress management — of this, 62% say walking is the most effective method for boosting their mood and reducing anxiety.

Rather than coming home and flipping on the television, turn your phone on silent mode and put on your walking shoes for a stroll.

5. Speak To A Therapist

Speaking to a therapist when practicing self-care can help improve your quality of life and make you better at your job.

Following the height of COVID-19, you may feel traumatized by what you witnessed or endured. A recent study showed that 53.9% of nurses feel intense helplessness, compassion and sadness around the death of a patient.

Research demonstrates the effectiveness of speaking to a professional about your feelings, anxiety and traumas. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association states that 75% of therapy patients see improvements in their emotional well-being. They also tend to take fewer sick days and boost their job satisfaction.

Implement A Self-Care Routine To Beat Job Burnout

Self-care is essential for maintaining positive mental health, especially since nursing is emotionally and physically taxing. How do you expect to show up for your patients if you don’t take care of yourself first? Start small with your self-care routine until you’re comfortable making yourself the priority.

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