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HealthDecember 22, 2020

How to inspire others to take part in self-care

By: Heather Steele MSN, RN
Nurses care for others, but do we care for ourselves?

It is common knowledge that nurses are well-informed regarding the importance of health-promoting activities. We know to eat healthy, engage in physical activity, manage stress and to get eight hours of sleep just to name a few. Ironically, research shows time and time again that this wealth of knowledge does not translate into nurses caring for themselves. This can be due to a variety of reasons.

We’ve all heard overworked and underpaid, but it is more than that. There’s being asked to work on your day off, working over your shift time, nurse fatigue, patient ratios, etc. Compile this with marriages, children, financial responsibilities, etc.—the negative health consequences associated with the above is obesity, depression/anxiety, sleep troubles to rattle off a few.

The question lies how can we find the time to care for ourselves?

By caring for ourselves we can provide better care for our patients and equip new nurses with the skills to be successful long term. However, I know that as the years go by in my career as a nurse and nurse educator, I have found that my mentality of “it can wait”, is a regular statement when it refers to my own self-care.

The hard truth is that it cannot wait.

As educators, we are nurse leaders. As leaders, we have the ability to promote and encourage self-care from our students and colleagues. To be an effective leader and simultaneously be a role model in our fields we first have to examine our own work-life balance and self-care regimen. If we are not routinely engaging in stress reduction, healthy eating, exercising and/or engaging in healthy relationships, how can we effectively teach and push the importance of self-care in our profession?

As a nurse educator, I work long hours and/or late at night or on weekends, eat hastily and not always the healthiest of choices, find little time for stress reduction activities, utilize my cell phone and other devices too much and do not get enough sleep. With that being said, I am sending a highly conflicting message to my students and colleagues.

How do we make a change? We become advocates for ourselves, like we do for our students and patients. We can advocate for an outside eating area for breaks, uninterrupted breaks, healthier options for meals in the cafeteria, a quiet space for a recharge, encourage time away from devices, plants in the office and classrooms, offer access to gyms, fruit trays over cakes for birthdays, etc. This is just a start.

As an educator, something as simple as adding green plants to the classroom will improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress levels and boost a person’s mood. Now that’s something I will gladly invest in for my classroom and office! The bottom line is this: you matter too—many times a gentle reminder is all we need to refocus on caring for ourselves so we can fulfill our calling as nurses to care for others.

We owe this to ourselves, our students, our patients and our profession.

Heather Steele MSN, RN
Expert Insights Contributor for Wolters Kluwer, Nursing Education
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