“Think of yourself as a bank account, you can keep spending, but if you don't put something back in, you're going to end up in a serious deficit." - Wendy Mason PhD, Purdue University
My nursing instructors told us, “put on your own oxygen mask first like the flight attendants tell you.” Somewhere along the way, I forgot their advice, and an illness caused self-care to become a necessity rather than an option.
Why is self-care important for nurses?
We spend our career providing complex care, being exposed to trauma, and facing frequent ethical dilemmas. Self-care allows us to maintain our empathy and helps us prevent compassion fatigue, burnout and even PTSD. My self-care routine has evolved over the years. However, the following things have been the most impactful.
It doesn’t take long for a few breaths of fresh air, a little sunshine, or a camp-fire to lower my stress. Time spent in “green space” can reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stress, and anxiety. Some people enjoy outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, and biking, while others may prefer trips to botanical gardens and zoos. For those with kids or pets, outdoor adventures can be a great way to combine self-care and quality time. My favorite activities include camping, hiking, and visiting aquariums.
Did you know that Florence Nightingale used lavender oil to treat wounded soldiers with anxiety? Yasui Toyoko, a holistic nurse, made essential oil packets for her peers during the height of the pandemic to help them ease their stress. Some nurses will use aromatherapy by smelling a few drops of peppermint, lavender, or bergamot essential oils to improve their mood and increase energy while working. I keep fresh lavender and mint in my home office because they make gorgeous natural decor and I enjoy their beautiful smell.
3. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lights
Do you have days (or nights) when you travel to and from work in the dark? Using a seasonal affective disorder (SAD) lamp can increase natural light exposure. Natural light helps regulate our circadian rhythm and can be an effective treatment for depression, insomnia, and adjusting to sleep schedules. I use my SAD light during my morning routine. I find the light most helpful in the winter months when it is gloomy and gets dark early.
Doing something you enjoy lowers stress. Many hobbies have the added benefit of providing us with gifts or valuable things for our home. For example, gardening is relaxing, eco-friendly, and allows us to make our own food, herbs, or flowers. One of my favorite ways to disconnect is when I plan which colors and fragrances to use when making soaps. I often pair a cotton crochet washcloth with the soap to create the perfect gift. Additional hobby ideas include reading, crafts, learning a new language, sports, or putting puzzles together.
5. Spa days and pampering
A candlelit bubble bath and a cup of tea is an awesome way to relax. I enjoy making body butter, bath salts, and candles to control what goes into my products. I also love applying great smelling body oil or lotion before bed. My favorite scent is vanilla body oil because it feels and smells so luxurious! Not a fan of baths? You can try foot soaks, facials, or a manicure.
Letting go of items that I no longer use or need was an impactful experience. I took a few minutes a day for several months to declutter and organize both physical and electronic items. Now I am surrounded with useful things that I love. When I’m getting ready to host company or leave for a trip, I find it much easier to tidy or pack.
7. Learning to say no
Sometimes, self-care isn’t about what we do, it’s about what we don’t want to do. I have to admit that I’m still a work in progress with this goal. In this busy world where we are constantly available, I find it essential to prioritize time for myself. I like to unplug from technology at night and find that reading paper books and writing in journals helps me unwind before bed.
In our devotion to caring for our patients, we may mistake self-care for selfishness. But, the opposite is true. We give the best care to patients when we are healthy and rejuvenated. There are thousands of approaches to self-care, and I hope one of my activities inspires you. What is most important is finding balance, gaining perspective, and doing what works best for you.
Need more ideas? Check out this tip sheet from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association here.
AACN Advanced Critical Care. (2020). Is Aromatherapy a Critical Care Intervention?
Retrieved From: https://aacnjournals.org/aacnacconline/article-abstract/31/2/198/31034
American Psychiatric Nurses Association. (2021). Self Care Tip Sheet. Retrieved from: https://www.apna.org/files/public/APNASelfCareTipSheet.pdf
Mealer, M., Burnham, E.L., Goode, C.J., Rothbaum, B. and Moss, M. (2009). The prevalence and impact of post traumatic stress disorder and burnout syndrome in nurses. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2919801/
Purdue University Global. (2019). The Importance of Self-Care for Nurses and How to Put a Plan in Place. Retrieved From: https://www.purdueglobal.edu/blog/nursing/self-care-for-nurses/#:~:text=It%20is%20important%20for%20workers,improves%20the%20quality%20of%20care.
Psych Central (2016). What Self-Care Is -- and What It Isn't. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-self-care-is-and-what-it-isnt-2#1
Science Daily. (2018). It's official -- spending time outside is good for you. Retrieved From: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180706102842.htm
TOYOKO YASUI. (2021). Aromatherapy: A Powerful Gift from Nature for Nurse Self-Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Beginnings, 41(1), 22–23.
Brandi Jones MSN-Ed, RN-BC is a board-certified registered nurse who specializes in staff development. She writes educational content, blogs & articles. She lives with her husband and springer spaniel in Arkansas. She loves camping and tapping into her creativity in her down time. You can find her at brandijones.org