As nursing professionals we take care of our patients and their families, we also care for those in our lives. Many of us are married or in a committed relationship, we may have children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews. We care about and sometimes for aging parents or grandparents. We care about and give freely to our friends, fellow church, synagogue, or temple members. But we often leave out someone very important.
Who is that very important person? You are!
As nurses we give, we care, we nurture, we educate, we push, we console and we do things for others and yet leave our own needs at the bottom of the list. Somehow our needs get usurped by everyone else's needs and there is no time left for “me”. Why do we put ourselves at the bottom of our priorities?
One theory is females are genetically and culturally made to give of themselves. We have been taught, consciously or subconsciously, that caring for our own needs is somehow selfish; that taking time for “me” robs others of the love, care and nurturing they need from us.
Nurses are anything BUT selfish! If we do not care for ourselves who is left to care for others? How can we be a role model for health when we neglect healthy habits such as diet, exercise, relaxation and sleep?
Recent studies have shown increasing numbers of nurses are overweight, smoke, don’t eat right, exhibit sleep deprivation and are exhibiting signs of nurse burn-out and compassion overload. Under stress our immune systems are lowered and make us more susceptible to illness or disease. Many cancers and autoimmune illnesses have been linked to stress and the “stress hormone” cortisol.
What can we do to change this for ourselves, our fellow nurses and our future nurses?
The first step is to realize that we should not feel guilty taking time to relax. When we release that guilt we are open to self-care and self-love. What is the added bonus? Our minds and bodies are freed and we are better able to give and nurture; ironically making us better nurses and much nicer to be around!
Once we give ourselves permission to not feel guilty we need to look deep into ourselves and basically make a care plan. What chronic conditions do you have? What genetic and environmental risk factors do you have? Do you take medications? How much do you sleep? Is your elimination pattern normal? When is the last time you had a yearly examination? If you are at high risk for breast or gynecological cancers or are past the age of 40 have you had a screening mammogram? Do you get regular pap smears? Do you perform monthly self breast exam? When is the last time you had a comprehensive set of blood work completed? Is your diet balanced?
As we examine our lifestyle the use of a guideline keeps us focused. One of my personal favorites is an assessment based on Gordon’s Functional Health Patterns. Find a format which you are comfortable with and you find the most helpful.
Look at your data as if you were your own patient. Develop a nursing care plan for the most important patient you will ever have - yourself! Analyze your data and prioritize your own nursing care.
Choose one item on your list of priorities and develop an action plan as to how to make changes. Perhaps you have a strong family history of diabetes and risk factors due to your eating habits, weight and exercise patterns. What one or two simple things can YOU change?
Perhaps start by walking 5-10 minutes every day; after a week do it twice a day; after another week do it 10-15 minutes twice a day. Build up to walking 60 minutes a day. The great news is that the benefits of exercise are cumulative. You don’t have to exercise 45-60 minutes in one long stretch divide it up and do simple things like taking the stairs, parking far away from entrances and walk. Be creative.
It takes a little less than a month (28 days) to solidify a new habit. By simply adding something new each month, you will have added 12 healthy habits to your life by the end of the year (if you used the 28 day cycle, you would have added 13 habits).
By making ourselves a priority we not only enhance our own lives, we role-model self-care to those around us, including our patients. We can show the world that it is essential to care for one’s self so we can live better lives physically, emotionally and professionally.
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I also highly recommend Dr. Jean Watson’s Website, which you can find at: