Nurses and Self-care: 10 Ideas to Promote Your Physical and Mental Wellness

05/03/2021

10 tips to promote nurse wellness

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Nursing is a high-stress profession even in normal times.

That stress level skyrocketed when the coronavirus pandemic began. Nurses put on their scrubs and went to work, putting themselves at risk for exposure to COVID-19. The workload and ravages of the disease also caused a mental and physical toll. But that’s what nurses do: care for others in their most vulnerable moments—often at their own expense.

“However, nurses are also at the edge of being ‘depleted,’ making their mental health a high priority,” said Holly Wei, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, professor and assistant dean of the PhD Program at the University of Louisville School of Nursing. Wei recently led a study published in Critical Care Nurse (CCN) about efforts to combat clinical burnout. 

Have you let your own health and well-being slip down the list of priorities you’re juggling? Consider letting Nurses Month in May be your inspiration to focus on your own needs. This year, the first week of the month is emphasizing self-care for nurses, covering both physical and mental wellness.

“Now, more than ever, it’s crucial for nurses to practice self-care,” said Donna Spivey, DNP, BSN, director of HESI content operations and a nursing leader with Elsevier Clinical Solutions. 

10 essential self-care tips for nurses

Here are some ways that you can start to rebuild and maintain your physical and mental health:

   1.  Get enough sleep.  The costs of sleep deprivation are numerous. Some research suggests that poor sleep quality leads to less productivity for nurses. But a lack of sleep can also take a toll on your body and brain. Get serious about improving the amount and quality of sleep you get at night by establishing a routine and banishing electronics from your bedroom. 

   2.  Eat a healthy diet. If you’re selecting a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins on a regular basis (with treats in moderation), you’re on the right track. But if you’re leaning heavily on fast food or prepackaged foods, which tend to be higher in sodium, sugar and saturated fats, this is a good time to make some positive changes. 

   3.  Exercise. Exercise has proven benefits for your body and for your brain. “During exercise, our body releases chemicals such as endorphins, which interact with the brain receptors, reduce pain perceptions and trigger positive feelings,” noted Wei. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults log at least 150 minutes of exercise each week, and you can break it up any way that you want. 

   4.  Practice mindfulness. Taking a few moments to breathe deeply and focus all your attention on the present moment in a non-judgmental way can have numerous benefits. And it doesn’t take much time. “Nursing is a high-stress profession that may be taking a toll on our nurses,” Sue Penque, PhD, RN, ANP-BC, NC-BC, NE-BC, wrote in a 2019 article for Nursing Management. “Mindfulness-based programs can help nurses develop skills to manage clinical stress and improve their health; increase overall attention, empathy, and presence with patients and families; and experience work satisfaction, serenity, decreased incidental overtime, and reduced job burnout.” 

   5.  Exercise your creative side. There is evidence that suggests participating in a creative activity can actually improve your physical and mental well-being. It may boost your immune system function, help you process trauma, improve your self-image, and help you better cope with stress. So, break out the paintbrush, the calligraphy pen, your tap shoes or whatever tools will help you express yourself and your creativity. 

   6.  Connect with others. Developing and maintaining social connections can improve your health and improve your mood, according to Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit. If you’re interested in meeting new friends, you might find like-minded folks at a book club, hiking group or volunteer opportunity, or you might feel more comfortable reconnecting with old friends.

   7.  Rely on your support network. Sometimes you just need help. And it’s okay to ask for it. If you’re at work, ask a colleague or a mentor for assistance when you need it. At home, ask a family member, a neighbor or a friend when you need an extra set of hands or just a listening ear. 

   8.  Set boundaries. Do you ever feel stretched too thin, but you’re afraid to do or say anything about it? Don’t be afraid to say “no” and establish boundaries that will allow you to maintain a better work–life balance. 

   9.  Focus on the positive. “Focus on our strengths and competence– when we are exhausted, we often focus on our limitations and lack of competence,” said Lindsey C. Blom, EdD, CMPC, executive board member for the Association of Applied Sport Psychology. “Make a list of stable strengths, keep it near us, review them when we need a reminder.” Try to see hard situations as temporary, and know that it may take awhile to retrain your brain to focus on the positive, added Wei.  

   10.  Remind yourself that it’s okay to take time for yourself. “You cannot pour from an empty cup,” as the expression goes. You can’t take care of patients or anyone else if you aren’t caring for yourself. “[Nurses] need to practice grace and give themselves permission to take that self-care,” said Spivey. 

You can even combine a couple of these nurse wellness strategies, for example, joining an exercise group of like-minded people. “The support of others is more helpful than we sometimes think,” said Blom. “It also commits us to this healthy practice and allows us to move a bit.”

Another example: yoga may be able to address your sleeping issues and your need for exercise. A 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that nurses who practiced yoga after work several times a week slept better and felt less stressed than nurses who didn’t. 

 

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