Luxury chocolate pralines arranged on table
HealthJanuary 07, 2021

Chocolates and tissues: Remembering not to pour from an empty cup

By: Lenore Cortez, MSN, RNC
I am pretty certain that most renowned educators are good because they are able to keep their cool even in trying times. To say that the last seven months have been trying would be an understatement.

Dealing with a pandemic, trying to keep our students safe, moving classes from face-to-face to online and back again, on top of all that we normally do as nurse educators, is stressful. Yet, we do what is necessary to keep our students on track towards their goals of becoming RNs.

As we reach the end of another semester, we realize that being a nurse and an educator is a double-edged sword. We are really good at helping everyone else succeed. According to Ross et al. (2017), nurses teach others about the importance of leading a healthy life including eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly and reducing stress, but they are not good at translating that knowledge to their own self-care. Now add on top of that being an educator of nursing students. We preach to our students to stay organized, take breaks from studying and get plenty of sleep. How many nurse educators can attest to doing the same? Again, we are not being very good examples if we are not practicing what we preach.

Self-care is self-love

Since becoming an educator, I am always looking for new ways to teach my students. I want the classroom, be it face-to-face or online, to be a stimulating place where students are allowed to express themselves. We all learn from one another, myself included. I don’t know how many times I have learned some very interesting points from my students. I pride myself on creating a nurturing learning environment. This takes a lot of time and research, looking for new ways of teaching the same concept I have taught in previous semesters.

Despite my total love for this career, there are times that I just lack the energy to grade one more paper, have one more student meeting, or create one more assignment. In those moments I have found that I am simply empty. I need to recharge and focus on myself. As I get older, I realize that it is okay to take a break. We all need to have a bit of down-time to refresh and move forward once again.

Self-care is just that…taking time to unwind at the end of the day (or in the middle of a particularly busy day). Believe me, it is difficult at times to stop what we are doing and take a break instead of completing “just one more” task. It takes listening to that little voice inside your head. You know the one that sometimes nags at you to take a deep breath when you are trying to calmly explain the directions for an assignment for the third time within the same class, even when you are sure that the students have not fully read your step-by-step instructions?

Self-care is caring enough about yourself to listen to your own advice and take the stairs instead of the elevator. It is eating a salad for lunch instead of joining everyone else for burgers and fries. It is following that urge for a nap and sinking into a deep sleep that your body is craving at that moment. Self-care is learning to love yourself and put your needs first. Self-care is self-love. You deserve it!

Nurse educators caring for each other

Being in a profession that is helping to mold young adult learners means that we each have a responsibility to present ourselves in a manner that lends respect to others. We are in a leadership role. Beyond caring for our students, we must be mindful to help create an environment of care for each other. Nurse leaders can perform a workplace environmental assessment to determine any changes that need to take place in order to reduce stress, workload or opportunities for improvement of already established healthy living options. Although Ross et al. (2017) discusses the changes that can be made by nurses in the hospital environment, I propose that we use our nursing skills to look at our educational environments. What health-related resources are available to staff? Forming exercise groups with incentives for reaching certain goals is a great way to encourage healthy behavior. Providing a variety of healthy food options on campus will allow educators to walk to that site instead of hopping into the car and driving to the local take out. Investing time and energy in creating a healthy work environment is well worth the effort as it helps reduce stress, shows concern for employees and reduces turnover. Basically, it shows that the health of its educators is important.

Creating relationships with our work peers is another important part of stress reduction. Social support can have a positive effect on increasing an individual’s likelihood of adopting healthy behaviors. Social isolation can lead to unhealthy choices. Think about how Covid-19 has increased the amount of time we are spending away from others. This may mean that we have to motivate ourselves to exercise, as we may feel we can no longer safely meet our workout buddy at the gym. What options can we devise to keep motivating one another, especially if we cannot physically be present?

It is okay to admit that we are stressed. It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to say “no” if we just don’t have anything left to pour from the cup. Feeling these emotions means we are human. If we notice that a peer seems out of sorts we can ask how we can help them. Research shows that helping others can have positive health benefits to the person doing the helping (Poulin, et al., 2013). The act of helping is a “stress buffer” that protects the helper from some of the physical effects of stress. So even if we are unable to have the same type of social-connectedness that we had prior to Covid-19 we can still connect with others in very meaningful ways. Offer to help a peer with grading. Instead of sending an e-mail, set up an online meeting to discuss what you might otherwise have met in person to discuss. Seeing your peer in front of you on the computer screen is the next best thing to sitting with them in the same room, sharing ideas. Initiate a Fitbit challenge with a group of co-workers. Whoever hits the step goal first wins a prize that the group has already chosen for this challenge. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Use the same sense of creativity that you put into your classroom on the relationships you have with your peers. They will appreciate it and you will feel much better after spending some virtual time filling your cup.

Missed parts 1 and 2 of chocolates and tissues? Read part 1: Overcoming faculty and student stress in nursing school and part 2: Beginning to eliminate the stigma of mental illness now.

Lenore Cortez, MSN, RNC
Nursing Education Author, Wolters Kluwer Health
  1. Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American Journal of Public Health, 103(9), 1649–1655. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2012.300876
  2. Ross, A., Bevans, M., Brooks, A. T., Gibbons, S., & Wallen, G. R. (2017). Nurses and health-promoting behaviors: Knowledge may not translate into self-care. AORN Journal, 105(3), 267–275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aorn.2016.12.018
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