Nurses have a responsibility to take care of themselves. Remember when the flight attendant instructs parents to use their oxygen mask BEFORE they help their child? Same mentality applies to nurses and their health. Taking care of yourself is vital to maintaining your ability to function at peak performance and be present for your patients.
When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands release the hormone cortisol. This hormone plays a role in glucose metabolism, storage of fat, blood pressure, immune response, and inflammation. Cortisol places the body into the sympathetic pathway of “fight or flight”. This is helpful at times, but in our westernized society, we rarely need that kind of nervous system response. The other complicating factor is that many of us continue to fuel this pathway with stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine. This places us into the cycle of chronic stress.
Does the following scenario sound familiar? Your alarm goes off after you stayed up too late, you feel stress because you don’t want to be late and you have a lot to do. You have a cup of coffee, tea, and/or a cigarette to get yourself going after the initial jolt of stress that pulled you out of bed. You drive through traffic, stressing about the time and other drivers. You multitask while you eat, if you eat at all. You arrive to work, and pick up on the tension and stress of the previous shift trying to hurry to finish up their work. Your day is filled with situations requiring heightened awareness and physical stamina, both things that require Cortisol. The end of your day is really not the end. You have to rush home to pick up kids from school, make dinner, or run errands. Maybe you have a parent that requires assistance from you before you even get to head home. You have had coffee and sugar throughout your day to keep your energy levels high. You fall into bed, wanting a moment to chill, so you watch tv or read later than you should. The cycle then begins again the next day. On your one or two days off, you try to fit in all of the things you perceive as left out during the work week. This creates its own stress.
The parasympathetic nervous system is important to your health. It is what drives digestion, sleep, metabolism, and healing. How often is it running your body? It should be the major system functioning throughout your 24 hours. This has been lost in our modern society. How can you get back to health? The first way is to be aware. Just like any other addiction, awareness is the first step. Start small. Try being aware of your breath. Don’t get out of bed until you have taken 10 slow deep breaths. Sing in the shower. This is a great stress reliever, and works the diaphragm, requiring deep breathing. Take deep breaths while you are at stoplights. Be sure to slow down and focus while you are eating. Don’t watch tv or have heated discussions while eating. Chew your food well. Make a decision to go to bed on time at least two nights a week. Consider making time in your schedule to take yoga, meditation, or massage. Exercise to lose the weight placed around your middle by the cortisol. Cut back on the caffeine and stop smoking. These may sound impossible, but small steps will take you far.
You are worth it.