Managing Self-Care with a Nurse’s Hours

For nurses, self-care can seem like just another elusive responsibility in the long list of things they need to do. The demanding schedules that nurses are required to work can make a big dent in quality time with family and responsibilities at home. However self-care, or prioritizing individual wellness amid your many roles, doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task.

Nurses are known for putting others first and often neglect taking care of their own needs first. Nurses who don’t recognize the importance of self-care are more likely to experience burnout in their careers.

According to Sue Montgomery, a nurse for 31 years and a former health care administrator, the lack of attention to self-care is an age-old issue.

“One of the things I’ve seen so frequently is that nurses will work themselves to the point of exhaustion before they’ll ever take a break,” she said. “They’re so focused on caring for their patients that they forget to take care of themselves.”

One approach for tackling self-care and work-life balance is through what nurses know best — the nursing process: assess, diagnose, plan, implement, and evaluate.

Assess your situation and diagnose areas for improvement.

Today’s multigenerational workforce of nurses has a variety of family pressures at home. Add that to the growing nursing shortage, as well as the demands of new regulations and technologies, and you have the perfect ingredients for a brew of burnout and discontent. Assessing the specific stressors that affect your life is the first step to addressing them. The following are common areas of self-care nurses tend to overlook:

  • Poor eating habits. With the pressures they face, many nurses have poor eating habits, which can lead to obesity and a number of related health problems. There are a variety of resources available to help you eat better, even if you’re doing it while on the go.
  • Lack of exercise. Of course you know it’s good for you, but who has the time? You have more time than you think. Be aware of how you are spending your time each day, stick to a schedule and follow specific tips for exercising efficiently.
  • Inadequate sleep. In addition to making you grumpy, the long-term health effects of chronic sleep deprivation can also affect your ability to perform well on the job. Make a plan to get the eight hours a night that your body needs.
  • Inability to relax. Though it may be a nebulous term, relaxation is key to finding the balance you need with both your family and yourself. However you define it, set aside specific time to unplug and unwind.

Plan a course of action, and then implement your plan.

Using the previous suggestions, plan a course of action, and integrate these foundational principles as you implement it:

  • Make your time work for you. Make the most of the time management skills you use in caring for your patients and put them to work for yourself and your family as well.
  • Accept help from others. A major contributor to work-life imbalance is the belief that you need to do it all alone. Learn how to lean on both of your teams — at work and at home — for increased collaboration and support.
  • Be realistic. This is about progress, not perfection. Be realistic about what you hope to change, and set up steps that help you achieve small successes focused on self-care.

Evaluate the results.

Self-care is not a singular action, but an ongoing process. As your responsibilities change, you will need to revisit your plan for self-care. Try to review the changes you’ve made to find balance in your life, and to analyze how successfully you’ve maintained your efforts. If you find yourself occasionally minimizing the importance of self-care, make time to periodically recommit yourself to finding balance in your life.

No matter what your situation, it can be possible to balance your personal life with your work responsibilities, without disregarding your own well-being and focusing on self-care. The more stability you have within, the more equipped you’ll be to create work-life balance.