Practical Self-Care for Nurses

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Nurse takes a break at work

Self-care for nurses can often feel like just one more thing on your overflowing to-do list. But let’s start by making one thing clear: Self-help is not on you alone. Everyone, not just nurses, needs it.

The problem with most self-care advice is that it puts the onus on you. Just the way it is worded — “self”-care — implies that the responsibility lies with you. But self-care is a necessary part of the human experience.

As jobs continue to demand more and more of our time and energy, it’s important to remember that no amount of self-care is going to rectify the state of healthcare. But it can help us better manage burnout and compassion fatigue and live healthier lives both in and out of the workplace.

Why Is Self-Care for Nurses Important?

All too often nurses hear, “Self-care is important because you need to be well cared for to take care of others.” While this is technically true, self-care is primarily important for your health. It’s not intended to make you more productive, fill a gap in staffing, or anything else outside your own control. It’s meant to improve your wellbeing.

In a survey of over 9,500 nurses, 75% reported feeling stressed, 69% reported feeling frustrated, and 62% reported feeling overwhelmed. When asked about emotional health, 34% of nurses reported that their emotional health was not (or not at all) emotionally healthy. Self-care measures are essential in maintaining your overall health.

Nursing can be exhausting mentally, physically, and emotionally. In one room you are terminally extubating a patient, in another you are offering a warm blanket and cup of tea, and in another you are titrating a medication drip for the 20th time trying to keep the patient’s vital signs stable. You are constantly reprioritizing your day, as orders change and as patient’s conditions change.

So now that we’ve called out the elephant in the room, let’s get into some actual steps you can implement to make your internal experience better.

What Are Practical Examples of Self-Care for Nurses?

There are five main areas of self-care for nurses to consider: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social.

Physical Self-Care

Nursing is a physically demanding job. Take care of your body’s physical needs so that you can keep doing the job you love. Try these practical tips:

Take your breaks and have a backup plan: Keep a protein bar nearby for those times you can’t make it to the breakroom. Ideally, you’ll get time for a well-balanced meal. But, you still need to plan to take care of you — so have that snack ready.

Prioritize sleep: Most people need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. What do you need to stop doing so you can get adequate amounts of sleep? Look at your current routine and see what you can stop or move around. Aim for consistent sleep and wake times. Put away your phone one hour before bed to reduce blue light exposure, which can make falling asleep difficult.

Find an exercise practice you enjoy: Exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous — studies show that just 10 minutes of walking can boost your mood and enhance your health. Try joining a gym or exercise group near you, start a wellness program for nurses, or get back into dancing.

Emotional Self-Care

Taking care of your emotional health means learning how to cope with stress, managing and expressing emotions, and communicating your feelings. Try taking these steps:

Find a therapist you trust: Nurses need a safe space to vent and be validated. And it doesn’t have to be in person — online therapy is a convenient option you can also explore.

Learn to set boundaries: Boundary setting protects you. You don’t have to tolerate being yelled at by a physician who is on call at night. You don’t have to come into work on your days off. Mastering the art of saying “no” is one of the best methods of self-care for nurses. Try saying, “I will not continue this conversation with you if you continue to yell at me.” Or, “I am not available to work that day, please do not ask again.”

Mental Self-Care

Taking care of your mental health can help to increase your energy and help you manage stress. Try these tips:

Use your PTO: Taking time off helps you feel restored and refreshed. Try combining days off on a Friday and Monday to get the most bang for your buck, and take an extended weekend getaway or staycation.

Accept help when it is offered: This is true both at work and outside of work. A coworker is offering to hang that bag of IV fluids in room 5? Perfect, take it. Your significant other is offering to cook dinner? Awesome, accept it.

Practice deep breathing and grounding exercises: Try the 3-in-3 breathing technique. Focus on one thing in your environment. Name it as you inhale, counting to three. Hold your breath for a count of three. Exhale for a count of three. Repeat twice more, for a total of three times. PS: This one’s so quick, you can do this at work.

Spiritual Self-Care

The importance of spirituality in self-care for nurses cannot be overstated, regardless of religious affiliation. Anything that connects you to a deeper understanding and feeling of purpose is spiritual self-care. Try these tips:

Meditate: There are numerous meditation apps to help get you started and stay consistent in your practice. It doesn’t have to be long — aim for a few minutes daily.

Yoga: Yoga connects you to your body, breath, and mind. You can practice at home with a YouTube video or join a group class.

Social Self-Care

Yes, being a nurse is a huge part of your identity. But it is not your sole identity. Make time to nourish the other parts of you. Try these tips:

Make time for your hobbies: Do you like to hike? Plan it. Do you enjoy playing music? Get that piano out of the garage. Do you love getting crafty? Take a painting class.

Share meals with your coworkers: Whether it’s a potluck or a team breakfast after a night shift, connect with your coworkers over a meal.

Call your friends: Make the most of your work breaks or walk to work and devote time to strengthening your friendships. Even if you only have 10 minutes to talk, engaging with friends daily can boost your mood and well-being.

How to Get Started

The goal of self-care for nurses is to reduce stress, not add to it. Practically speaking, this means start where you can. You do not have to jump into wellness programs for nurses today. Start with what feels easy and approachable, and then build on that.

You should feel lighter, happier, supported — not resentful, overwhelmed, or overburdened.

The Best Self-Care Hack of All? Setting Your Own Schedule

Sometimes, no amount of self-care for nurses will counteract the stress of a chaotic schedule or toxic work environment. In those instances, you need a change. IntelyCare can help — apply today and find your better work-life balance.