Committed to caring for others, nurses often forget to take care of themselves. However, think of the oxygen analogy on the plane: you have to take your own oxygen before you can help the struggling child beside you. Therefore, irrespective of the pressures you experience as part of your nursing role, don’t be tempted to neglect your own health and wellbeing.
Whilst your employer has a legal duty to protect your health, safety and welfare at work, there is much you can do to care for yourself. You also have a professional responsibility to adopt a healthy lifestyle and maintain the level of personal fitness to undertake your nursing role.
Therefore, as a nursing professional, it is important that you take the time to consider factors that impact upon your own health - this is known as self-care. The RCN has a range of self-care resources available at: rcn.org.uk/healthy-workplace/healthy-you
“There’s a temptation when feeling stressed to go for quick fixes – food full of fat and sugar, or caffeinated drinks. Resist the temptation. A quick fix can soon give way to a wearying downer. Better to try to maintain a balanced diet – a little and often diet on days when you feel especially stressed.”
Self-care and self-compassion
The first stage of self-care is self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. It is human nature to be self-critical, to fail to recognise our strengths and attributes. Take notice of your successes and achievements, and reflect on and learn from errors and challenges.
If you are unwell you must take care of yourself. Take sick leave if necessary – irrespective of the pressures of work. You cannot work when unwell; to do so places you, your colleagues and patients at risk and you risk breaching the NMC professional Code. You must give yourself permission to fully recover your physical and mental wellbeing before returning to work.
A message from Dr Hannah Andrews, RMN
“It is important as nurses that we are able to be kind to ourselves, to recognise when we are being a little harsh and to accept that we are human beings who occasionally make mistakes or have limitations.
As nurses we want to be the best, to fix everything and to do our tasks independently, often without help. However, we are not machines and we need to remember that it is not a failing to ask for help and to realise we are fragile at times.
I remember as a newly registered nurse walking onto the ward and being handed the keys and the bleep and being told I was in charge of a twenty-bedded acute psychiatric ward. I felt a stab of fear and panic, and my internal critic kicked in telling me I wasn’t ready, that I couldn’t do this, that I needed more training before being let loose. However, I took a moment to breathe as I walked around the ward, checking the environment before going into handover.
My patients smiled at me and congratulated me on qualifying. I reminded myself that I knew my patients, that I knew the environment and that whilst I didn’t know everything (and I still don’t), I could do this, that I was ready. I also reminded myself that I was not alone, that actually although ‘in charge’, I was part of a team with many others supporting me.
My compassionate voice had kicked in, my self-compassion reassured me. If my self-compassion hadn’t been there, then my nursing career would probably have looked very different and been much harder, particularly in making the transition from student to qualified nurse. I am a nurse, but I am also a human being and remembering that allows me to be compassionate towards myself, particularly when I make mistakes.”
Several domains make up a “healthy you”. Taking care of all these domains will support you, both at work and home, so that you are ready to face the inevitable challenges of daily life. To get started, you can complete a self assessment using the diagram, right, of how well you take care of each domain. Then plan ways of improving your self-care in areas that you may have forgotten about.