At its core, nursing is all about caring for others. It’s what we learned in nursing school, and it’s what we focus on every day at work, whether you’re a nurse at a hospital, rehab facility, clinic, school, or medical office. However, nurses sometimes neglect taking care of themselves because they are so focused on others. Self-health is vital, according to Fumi Ogunsemore, founder of Valley of Joy Homecare and Valley of Joy Medical Staffing.
Unfortunately, when nurses struggle with mental health issues, they may be even more likely to neglect what they are feeling. Sadly, there is still a stigma around mental illness in our culture that may prevent anyone, even a nurse, from seeking the help they need.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the issue of mental health awareness to the forefront. A survey by Nursing CE Central found that many nurses are experiencing burnout, which is the top reason they are leaving the profession. They blame low staffing, emotional and physical exhaustion, and large workloads as defining factors.
Only about 5% of nurses who alerted supervisors about growing burnout in their workplace saw any meaningful efforts to address the problem, according to the survey. That’s why it’s vital for nurses to practice self-care. We must take care of ourselves before helping others.
Seasonal Depression Is a Real Concern
While anyone, including nurses, can struggle with depression at any given time, more people may deal with issues in the winter due to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Also known by its abbreviation, SAD, this disorder commonly occurs during the winter, when the lack of sunlight seems to make people – mostly women – feel sad and listless.
SAD is a recurring depression with a seasonal pattern, and The National Institutes of Health (NIH) suggests it may be underreported and underdiagnosed.
The NIH also notes that nurses and other health care professionals who work shifts and don’t see a lot of sunlight may be at particular risk of SAD. If you suffer from “the winter blues”, your first step of self-care should be to see a doctor about it. Several treatments are available, including medications, light therapy, increased Vitamin D, and counseling.
Self-Care for Nurses
You don’t need a diagnosis of SAD for self-care to be necessary, however. Nursing is a stressful, high-pressure job, and the pandemic has made things worse. A survey by Nursing Times shows that 84% of nurses were feeling more anxious and stressed than they were before the pandemic.
Stress can wear on us, both physically and mentally. Taking care of ourselves will benefit us, both physically and emotionally, enabling us to better care for our patients.
Some aspects of self-care are self-evident, but when you’re overworked, you may simply skip them. For example, you know you should eat healthy foods, but you don’t take breaks to eat at work because of a high patient load caused by understaffing. You need adequate sleep, but you lie awake at night, stressing about work.
The obvious steps you should take to improve your physical and emotional health should be in addressing the following tips and incorporating them into your daily schedules:
- Eat healthy food.
- Get enough sleep.
- Exercise regularly.
- Spend time with family and friends.
Many self-care steps focus mostly on your body, such as getting the right nutrients. But finding ways to take care of your mental well-being will also make it easier to do your job, Nurse Education Today suggests.
Additionally, below are some steps to reduce your stress levels and improve your outlook:
- Practice kind self-talk. Do you talk to yourself harshly when you make a mistake? Show yourself a little compassion. When you commit an error or have difficulty completing a task, talk kindly to yourself and be empathetic, treating yourself the same way you’d treat a friend or patient.
- Deal with uncertainty. Lack of control makes us feel anxious and uncomfortable, but you need to learn to deal with uncertainty in stressful circumstances. First, you need to become aware of how ambiguity affects you. Don’t deny your feelings of fear or sadness; accept how you feel. Then focus on what you can do and how you can effectively respond to the situation. In other words, try to be resilient.
- Regulate your emotions. As nurses, we’re empathetic and compassionate people. But being overly empathetic and compassionate can lead to burnout. Practice self-awareness about your emotions; try to maintain a distinction between your patient’s suffering and your own feelings to avoid personal distress.
- Practice mindfulness techniques. Deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness can all be calming and restorative. Mindfulness involves being quiet, remaining calm, and focusing on being present in the moment.
Learning these skills and making them habits will take effort, but you will be rewarded with better physical and mental health.
About Fumi Ogunsemore
Fume Ogunsemore is CEO and owner of Valley of Joy Home Care and Valley of Joy Medical Staffing. The companies have placed hundreds of nurses across the country, working alongside large healthcare facilities to ensure adequate staffing. For more about their services, please visit http://www.valleyofjoyhomecare.com/