Self Care is Not Selfish

Self care tips for busy nurses. Put yourself first - for you and for those you serve.


Many people, myself included, have found it disconcerting to think of putting care for oneself before others. Believe me, I know about this on a very personal level. Nurses are dedicated to helping others, oftentimes at the expense of their own health and well-being. We tend to push ourselves past our limits and eventually suffer for it. A psychiatric nurse friend of mine said to me recently that if everyone practiced more self-care, there wouldn't be a need for mental health professionals. It is not selfish to take care of oneself, it is critical. Being there, and I mean, really being there for others - your family, friends, and the people you serve means being at your best. Learning to put myself first has been a journey for me and one well worth doing.

Self-Care Techniques

These are my favorite self-care techniques.

Schedule time in your week every week for "alone time".

This includes away from screens, too! Go for a walk, meditate, or read somewhere quiet with no distractions. This will give your mind and body a break from the constant stimulation most of us experience on a daily basis. Since I already walk my dog every morning before breakfast, I find this is a good time to think about my day ahead or maybe just daydream a bit! Think about how you spend your day already - you just might find that there is already some built-in time to be alone and quiet but now you can do it with intention.

Try some healthy diet changes such as increasing vegetable intake and reducing processed foods and sugars.

If finding time to make healthy meals is an issue, look into purchasing (and using) an Instant Pot. Meals are easy to put together, are ready quickly, and there are tons of great recipes online. Crock pots are also a good option if you want to throw something together in the morning and let it cook all day to be ready for dinner. Try cooking a large amount of a healthy meals during the weekend so that you can have some for lunch during the work week. You can also make a huge salad of lettuce, carrots and other firmer vegetables and then take what you want in a container for lunch and have some ready for dinnertime, too! Your local food co-op is a great resource for healthy food items and information.

Take time to exercise at least a few times a week.

Even a short period of high energy exercise (5-20 min) will improve fitness and elevate your mood. Look online for short HIIT workouts. These are short and powerful workouts that will turn on the fat burning for hours. Be creative - if you have stairs at work, use those for workouts on some days. It is quick and easy, a great pick up for the afternoon "slump" time and a good pick-me-up for the rest of the day.

Practice gratitude daily.

Set aside a few moments every day - first thing in the morning is good as it sets up your day - think about and be grateful for anything good in your life such as your spouse, your children, your job, your dog - anything that is positive to you. Incorporating a gratitude practice into your daily meditation is one way to do this. But, you don't have to meditate, you can practice gratitude simply by thinking about what you are thankful for in your life while taking your morning walk, showering, preparing breakfast or sitting with your morning coffee.

Spend time with loved ones and those who make you feel happy.

Connecting to others feels good! Don't delay reaching out, it is worth it.

Practice positivity and push out or avoid negativity.

This may mean cutting down or eliminating watching the daily news or choosing not to be around negative people. This is easier said than done so it takes a mindful practice of noticing negativity and then deciding not to be in it. If you find yourself "wallowing" in negativity, try doing a quick gratitude exercise by taking a moment to be thankful for something and the negative feelings will melt away.

Learn to and put into practice saying, "no".

This is a very hard one for "pleasers" but so important. This will get some of your time back and allow you to focus your energy on what you really need to. Really consider a request thoughtfully and ask yourself these questions: how will doing this request impact my schedule? Is it a high priority? Can I help but in a less involved way? I have also used the practice of creating a "NOT to do list" and reminding myself of things I really don't want to be doing that are time suckers.

Get enough sleep.

Make sure your schedule has enough time for a good night's sleep. Using features on my phone has really helped me. I set reminders or alarms to let me know that I want to stop doing something and start my night time routine. Cutting out screen time after a certain hour and switching to reading can be relaxing and slow your body down to be ready for sleep. Try to stick to a regular schedule even if you don't have to get up for work in the morning. Getting into a routine will help the body and mind be ready for rest and awaken refreshed.

How to implement all of this?

Create a weekly schedule and commit to sticking to it. There are apps now which can help you track these kinds of things such as Repeat Habit Tracker. You can load in what you want to accomplish in whatever time frame and then keep track on your phone.

Doing these things WILL provide many beneficial results. You will feel calmer, more centered, have more energy and be better able to be present with others in a deeper, more meaningful way.

Betsy Appleton has been an RN for 8 years working in MedSurg, Homecare, Mental Health, and physical rehab settings. She is dedicated to personal growth for herself and helping others on their growth journey. She recently became a Board Certified Nurse Coach and is growing her business of 1:1 and group transformational coaching. She loves nature, being outdoors, being around horses and many types of social dance.

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