Nursing, by its very definition, is a profession dedicated to caring for others. It can be an intense and challenging profession in several ways — physically demanding, emotionally draining and mentally taxing. Nurses may work long hours, and they are expected to meet a wide range of patient needs and remain attentive throughout. Because nurses are so focused on patient needs, it can be easy for them to neglect their own health. However, it is important that they find a balance. This is why self-care in nursing has become a central theme in improving the health of those in the profession.
Nurses provide medical, physical and emotional support for patients. They may frequently push their own needs aside to meet the needs of their patients. The emotional highs and lows and the nearly constant decision-making can be draining both mentally and physically. Long hours, rotating shifts, understaffing and the overall physical demands of nursing only add to the stress, fatigue and potential for burnout. This may lead to increased turnover too, with an estimated 18 percent of newly-licensed nurses leaving their first job within a year.
Moreover, nurses who are fatigued or stressed are more likely to make mistakes. Fatigue and exhaustion may lead to more nurse injuries as well, especially when safe patient handling and mobility (SPHM) techniques are not carried out properly. In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that hospital workers had twice as many musculoskeletal injuries due to overexertion as workers in all categories combined. Nursing home employees sustained injuries at more than three times the average rate.
Encouraging self-care for nurses is a critical step to lowering turnover and decreasing the likelihood of adverse events. While the definitions of self-care can vary, it consists essentially of actions a nurse takes to nurture or restore the well-being of mind, body or spirit.
Self-care strategies should be simple activities that promote relaxation. They tend to be activities that are physically, mentally or spiritually based. For example, physical exercise may include yoga, stretching or running. Meditation, guided imagery, prayer or even lunch with a friend may nurture mental and spiritual health. Regardless of the chosen method, finding ways to relieve stress may be extremely beneficial for nurses. A 2015 study found significant improvements, including increased mindfulness and less emotional exhaustion, among nurses who engaged in just eight weeks of yoga.
Self-care in nursing has also garnered the attention of the American Nurses Association (ANA). The organization created a Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative to help nurses achieve improved work-life balance. A healthy nurse, according to the ANA, is “one who actively focuses on creating and maintaining a balance and synergy of physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, personal and professional well-being.” According to the ANA, self-care allows nurses to live fuller, more rewarding lives and become better nurses as well. They developed an online assessment, HealthyNurse Health Risk Appraisal that allows nurses and nursing students to evaluate their level of health and wellness and offers resources for improvement.
Employers may also provide wellness programs to help reduce stress and burnout. Research indicates that combination programs — those that incorporate the use of both self-directed and employer-directed stress relief strategies — may be the most effective long-term.
Demanding yet Rewarding Career
Nursing is a demanding yet rewarding career. Including self-care in nursing may alleviate the stress, strain and fatigue of everyday caregiving that can lead to burnout, turnover and negative patient outcomes. It also encourages nurses to strive for a proper work-life balance. Nurses who take time to reset and restore may find they are less fatigued and better able to address the needs of their patients.
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