Finding the Time for Self-Care

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    As nurses and healthcare providers, time for ourselves often comes in scant quantities. Patients and our own family's needs frequently take center stage because we are so good at putting others and their needs first that our needs simply get lost in the shuffle of our lives. But there’s a cost to pay for this perpetual dysfunction. Here are 4 strategies for getting those moments of self-care into your life as a busy nurse.

    Finding the Time for Self-Care

    “You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” –Eleanor Brown

    As nurses and healthcare providers, time for ourselves often comes in scant quantities. Patients and our own family's needs frequently take center stage because we are so good at putting others and their needs first that our needs simply get lost in the shuffle of our lives. But there’s a cost to pay for this perpetual dysfunction.

    In caring for our patients, our homes and families -- with the endless cleaning, cooking, errands, etc., -- attending classes and training, and preparing mentally for our next shift, it feels like we're constantly at work. Without “filling up our vessel” as the above quote states, we risk our health, happiness, feelings of self-worth and self-esteem and unwittingly prime the pump for nurse burnout. We need time to decompress and facilitate our own healing, if we are going to give adequate care to anyone else. Taking care of ourselves makes us better caregivers for others, and quite simply, we’ll be happier and experience more satisfaction in our careers and personal lives when we put self-care practices into place.

    Here are some strategies for getting those moments of self-care into your life as a busy nurse:

    1) Advocate for Yourself

    Nurses are natural advocates for their patients, so turn that service towards yourself. Figure out what your needs are for better self-care and prescribe them for yourself. What favorite activities do you LOVE to do, but haven't done in a while? Look through the newspaper for activities or events that you would like to attend, but haven't in awhile. Make a list of all the places you've wanted to see or activities you'd want to do if you had a three-day weekend. Your list is your starting point for the self-care appointments you will place on your calendar.

    2) Follow the 1:1:1 Rule

    One thing a day. One thing a week. One thing a month. Look at your week and plan your self-care rituals. Set them as appointments on your calendar. The daily rituals can be short 10-15 minutes or whatever you can work in. Some days are busier than others. For a weekly ritual, set aside a longer period of time. The same with the monthly appointment, and look at doing something really big once a year. Plan out self-care rituals for a month and then take a look at the calendar. Look at all the time you've made yourself a priority! Feels kind of good, doesn't it? Now the trick will be to keep your appointments!

    3) Remember Self-care Doesn't Have to Mean Self-Only Care

    Many people, not just nurses, think self-care rituals need to have a selfish benefit of only yourself benefiting from the ritual. A self-care ritual can bring peace of mind and reduce stress. I have a friend that detests unorganized closets and to her, even though she is not the only person in her house that benefits from an organized closet, it certainly decreases her stress when she can reach for something in the closet and not have 10 things fall down on top of her. Closet organizing is a favorite self-care ritual that she also sees as an indulgence, because she gets to do it alone with her favorite music blaring away and no one interrupts her or they know they'll be forced to help (not really, but it's that little threat that ensures she has all that time to herself). Another nurse I know likes to take Sunday afternoons to make a breakfast baked good and a few family meals for the week ahead, so she doesn't have to think about dinner or breakfast during her work week. "At least I know we're eating healthy most of the time and that I won't be tempted to order a pizza on the way home or stop at McDonald's for breakfast because I'm pinched for time. Peace of mind is what I get, and I’ll take that any day.”

    4) Know That Little Things Count if They Matter to You

    If it’s tough planning the everyday self-care rituals, know that even giving into a pet peeve counts as self-care if it lowers your stress level. A nurse friend of mine detests when her nail polish is chipped. She can wear her hair up in a messy bun or leave the house happily without makeup, but chipped nail polish aggravates her. “It just reminds me of all those girls in high school that would run around with chipped polish for days and weeks or they’d sit in class and pick half of it off and then wear it half picked off for days. Just don’t wear it if you can’t keep it up.” To her, taking a couple minutes to take off old chippy nail polish is a stress reliever and one of her easy methods of self-care. For others, it may be not to leave one dirty dish in the sink before retiring for the night, setting the timer on the coffeemaker, packing a lunch the night before. The little daily rituals are self-care that don’t even have to be scheduled. They just have to be noted and appreciated as filling up the vessel in order to care for others too.

    I'd love to hear from you! What self-care rituals do you use to “fill up your vessel”? How do you unwind and recharge? Leave a comment below on how you carve out time for yourself to promote the 'life' portion of work-life balance!
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 20
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    14 Comments

  3. by   GeminiNurse29
    I work in forensics psych and noc shift. With two young children, my time is very, very limited.

    I finally bought two books that I've been meaning to read and am halfway through one of them right now. It's been so long since I read anything other than children's books. Now I have something to look forward to.
  4. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from GeminiNurse29
    I work in forensics psych and noc shift. With two young children, my time is very, very limited.

    I finally bought two books that I've been meaning to read and am halfway through one of them right now. It's been so long since I read anything other than children's books. Now I have something to look forward to.
    I hear you! Time is limited. For EVERYONE these days. Gosh, it seems like it shrinks and shrinks.

    So glad to hear that you are soon going to be able to read some books that you will enjoy. Definitely a self-care activity. And, even though I do not have children now, I wonder... are there books that are for kids but that you might like too? Meaning, I have always dreamed that if I have a child, I would start with introducing them to something like meditation or Yoga early in life. I want them to have healthy habits from as early on as possible. Now be kind, I did say I do not have children. So I am not sure if these things even exist. My point being, can we fit the self-care into the way our life is now?

    Another idea... do you drive to work? Can you listen to some type of self-care book on tape? Just trying to brainstorm some ways to fit it in since time IS limited!!

    Thanks for reading. And for your comment! Enjoy your upcoming reading!!
  5. by   GeminiNurse29
    That's a good idea, audiobooks. So tired of the same crap on the radio these days :P

    not sure about the kid stuff...my toddlers like the classics like Brown bear, goodnight moon, Dr. Seuss. They're classics but get old after the 50th time -_- thanks for the suggestions!
  6. by   Libby1987
    It's funny, the introductory line for me would have been "As moms..." Pre and post kids (my youngest is 18) nursing has not interfered with my self care but something always had to give when I was both working and raising my kids.
  7. by   The Nurse Motivator
    Just today I spent some self-care time catching up on RNFM radio. Thanks for all the wonderful pieces of wisdom and tips!
  8. by   audreysmagic
    Excellent article! I just wrote about this very issue in one of my papers for my MSN. We neglect our own needs so much because of lack of time, or worrying it's selfish, or any number of other excuses. And we shouldn't, because we're no good to anyone else if we fry ourselves to a crisp. Psych nursing, especially with kids, can be so draining (and physically demanding, if we're having a rough week with a lot of aggression codes), that I see nurses around me burning out all the time. I've been there, until I made self-care a must rather than an afterthought. Not that it always works as well in practice as theory. There are times that it isn't until I'm having a meltdown of my own that I realize I've not been walking the walk...

    My present to myself after I finish this next paper for my assessment class is going to be a book I bought that I've been waiting to read. And, in the "little things go a long way" category, in the day-to-day, a long soak with Lush bath products and a good cup of tea keeps my often-frazzled nerves in check. We've even had so many tea junkies at work that we started maintaining a stash and an electric kettle in the nursing office!
    Last edit by audreysmagic on Apr 2 : Reason: typo
  9. by   jeastridge
    Quote from GeminiNurse29
    That's a good idea, audiobooks. So tired of the same crap on the radio these days :P

    not sure about the kid stuff...my toddlers like the classics like Brown bear, goodnight moon, Dr. Seuss. They're classics but get old after the 50th time -_- thanks for the suggestions!
    Self-care while reading to kids--what a great idea! And it can happen. I have 3 grandchildren, 2 of them bi-racial. I recently bought a bunch of books that are encouraging for me and for them. I will add that "Ish" and "Dot" make me cry but tears of hope and renewed determination. So maybe order some great books for the kids. Here is the list that I recently invested it:
    - Corduroy. A classic. - The Snowy Day (really almost anything by Ezra Jack Keats)
    - The Dot
    - Ish (The Dot and Ish are my FAVORITES. The books are just outstanding, and the main character just happens to be Black.)
    - Anything from the Lola series. Lola at the Library, Lola Loves Stories. Lola Reads to Leo
    - Whose Toes Are Those?
    - Whose Knees Are These?
    - Firebird
    - Please, Baby, Please
    - Please, Puppy, Please
    - The Girl Who Got Out of Bed
    Have a great day and persevere with self-care! Joy
  10. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from The Nurse Motivator
    Just today I spent some self-care time catching up on RNFM radio. Thanks for all the wonderful pieces of wisdom and tips!
    Awesome to hear! And way to go with listening to RNFM!!! Thank you for that!
  11. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from audreysmagic
    Excellent article! I just wrote about this very issue in one of my papers for my MSN. We neglect our own needs so much because of lack of time, or worrying it's selfish, or any number of other excuses. And we shouldn't, because we're no good to anyone else if we fry ourselves to a crisp. Psych nursing, especially with kids, can be so draining (and physically demanding, if we're having a rough week with a lot of aggression codes), that I see nurses around me burning out all the time. I've been there, until I made self-care a must rather than an afterthought. Not that it always works as well in practice as theory. There are times that it isn't until I'm having a meltdown of my own that I realize I've not been walking the walk...

    My present to myself after I finish this next paper for my assessment class is going to be a book I bought that I've been waiting to read. And, in the "little things go a long way" category, in the day-to-day, a long soak with Lush bath products and a good cup of tea keeps my often-frazzled nerves in check. We've even had so many tea junkies at work that we started maintaining a stash and an electric kettle in the nursing office!
    This is GREAT to hear!! That you will be spending time with a book that you have been wanting to read after your paper is done. And think of it this way... the book you WANT to read is like a reward for all of the hard work you have been doing in school!! I LOVE this! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Enjoy!!
  12. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from jeastridge
    Self-care while reading to kids--what a great idea! And it can happen. I have 3 grandchildren, 2 of them bi-racial. I recently bought a bunch of books that are encouraging for me and for them. I will add that "Ish" and "Dot" make me cry but tears of hope and renewed determination. So maybe order some great books for the kids. Here is the list that I recently invested it:
    - Corduroy. A classic. - The Snowy Day (really almost anything by Ezra Jack Keats)
    - The Dot
    - Ish (The Dot and Ish are my FAVORITES. The books are just outstanding, and the main character just happens to be Black.)
    - Anything from the Lola series. Lola at the Library, Lola Loves Stories. Lola Reads to Leo
    - Whose Toes Are Those?
    - Whose Knees Are These?
    - Firebird
    - Please, Baby, Please
    - Please, Puppy, Please
    - The Girl Who Got Out of Bed
    Have a great day and persevere with self-care! Joy
    This is great feedback, thank you for sharing this list with us. I knew that there had to be books out there that could be good for the children, while inspiring the adult!! YES!!!
  13. by   LibraSunCNM
    This is nice to read. I would also add that nurses need to learn to say NO (when employers are calling asking for OT when you've got stuff planned, or just need a break), which I think is difficult for a lot of women, who are often socialized to be "nice" at all costs (not discounting male RNs, but we do know that the majority of RNs are still female). Additionally, learn to take bathroom breaks, and to prioritize meal breaks at work. It drives me absolutely bonkers when I read nurses posting here about not going to the bathroom for 12+ hours, or working at institutions where meal breaks are just not part of the norm. That's unacceptable. Yes, there are shifts that are absolutely insane, and you might not get a break, but for the most part, you should be able to take a break. And pretty much no shift is too crazy not to use the bathroom!
  14. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from LibraSunCNM
    This is nice to read. I would also add that nurses need to learn to say NO (when employers are calling asking for OT when you've got stuff planned, or just need a break), which I think is difficult for a lot of women, who are often socialized to be "nice" at all costs (not discounting male RNs, but we do know that the majority of RNs are still female). Additionally, learn to take bathroom breaks, and to prioritize meal breaks at work. It drives me absolutely bonkers when I read nurses posting here about not going to the bathroom for 12+ hours, or working at institutions where meal breaks are just not part of the norm. That's unacceptable. Yes, there are shifts that are absolutely insane, and you might not get a break, but for the most part, you should be able to take a break. And pretty much no shift is too crazy not to use the bathroom!
    AWESOME feedback! I could not agree more with your suggestions. I always say that we have a choice. We can choose to continue in a workplace that does not support us (e.g. no meal or bathroom breaks) or we can choose something different.

    So glad that you are sharing this feedback here with us so that all can see! I too am sick and tired of hearing about how a person was unable to use the bathroom. If it is that bad, then take action and do something different.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your comments!

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