As trusted health professionals it is our responsibility, and our calling as nurses, to provide compassionate, competent care, as well as to educate our patients and clients on an important topic in today’s health and wellness landscape, which is the growing need for and a demystified presentation of what is referred to as “self-care.”
Self-Care: The Foundation for Healthy Living
Self-care has been misinterpreted by some as potentially unrealistic because it is believed that lay people do not have the knowledge required to make the best decisions for their health. However, research studies are revealing that “self-care” is the foundation for leading a happy, healthy, and purposeful life, not only for ourselves but for our families and communities and does not have to be complicated, hard to understand or require special knowledge to integrate into our lifestyle.
While there remains an emphasis in our culture on putting the needs of others before ourselves – whether it be at home, work, worship, etc. – this practiced selflessness at the expense of our well being can lead to chronic illnesses, depression, and a host of other maladies. We especially see this in what has been referred to as the “sandwich” generation which finds adults caring for their children, as well as their aging parents. Without self-care, these caregivers burn out or become ill within a relatively short space of time.
A common message during air travel is “in the event of an emergency, put on your oxygen mask first before trying to assist anyone else.” The same is true with serving others as a nurse, as a family member or community member. If we cannot take care of ourselves in a way that supports our own well-being, we are less effective in assisting or caring for others.
In the patient health education program I work at, we teach that a person’s whole health is contingent upon multiple factors in their lives – such as the physical, emotional, environmental, nutritional, and spirituality/world-view. If there is an imbalance in any or even some of these areas due to neglect or stress, it can lead to a whole array of health concerns, affecting not only us but our immediate family and social networks.
Taking the time for proper self-care is all the more important given the competitive, stress inducing nature of our culture today. An article published this past April in The New York Times reported that, according to an annual Gallop poll of more than 150,000 global participants, those Americans polled “reported feeling stress, anger, and worry at the highest levels in a decade”. (1)
When asked how much stress they’d experienced the day before being polled, 55% of Americans felt “a lot” of stress, versus 35% of the world population. When it came to worrying, 45% of Americans said they worried “a lot”, versus 39% of the rest of the world. 22% of Americans also felt “a lot” of anger, in line with the global average.
Furthermore, American participants cited a rise in the number of negative experiences they had. While there are a wide range of factors that can account for this rise in stress and worry, it is well documented from years of study and research the toll which chronic stress, worry, and anger can take on physical and mental health, individually and collectively.
Though the polling data cited in the article is alarming, we thankfully live in a time of unparalleled access to information to educate ourselves with regarding the myriad benefits of self-care. Knowledge is power as we know and with everything that medical research has revealed it is perhaps easier than ever to make informed, evidence based decisions for our health and well-being. In a blog post for Psychology Today, Tchiki Davis and Brad Krause identify 12 easy to implement steps for creating a sustainable self-care plan. (2) Among them are:
What are Some of the Steps for Sustainable Self-Care?
Get enough sleep
As Davis and Krause write, “Sleep can have a huge effect on how you feel both emotionally and physically. Not getting enough can even cause major health issues. But stress and other distractions can wreak havoc on our sleep.”
“Daily exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety, not to mention helping you shed extra weight.”
“The food we eat has the potential to either keep us healthy or contribute to weight gain or diseases such as diabetes, but it can also keep our minds working and alert.”
Learn that it’s ok to say “no”
“It may take a little practice, but once you learn how to politely say no, you'll start to feel more empowered, and you'll have more time for your self-care.”
Spend time in Nature
“Spending time outside can help you reduce stress, lower your blood pressure, and be more mindful. Studies have even shown that getting outside can help reduce fatigue, making it a great way to overcome symptoms of depression or burnout.”
These are just a few of the ways we can cultivate a consistent and centering practice of self-care for optimal health and well-being. Prevention is a major focus in medical health care today and there is no better way to prevent disease than to develop these simple, easy to implement steps to better health and longevity.
What are some steps to healthy living that you have implemented?