There are many things about being a nurse that people outside the profession will never understand. When you’re working, you are present physically, mentally, and emotionally — and you’re there 100%. Sure, doing this for an hour or two is tiring, but it’s something that most people can quickly recover from. But nursing shifts aren’t an hour or two. They’re 12 hours, and they’re often back-to-back shifts.

  • You work for 12 hours giving 100% of yourself
  • You sleep
  • You work for 12 hours
  • You sleep
  • You work again
  • It’s depleting in every sense of the word.

You’re physically, mentally, and often emotionally, exhausted.

Even in the best nursing environments with amazing management and a supportive team – it’s still exhausting.

So when someone mentions “self care” you laugh.

I get it. After my 3rd back-to-back shift, the concept of even taking a shower often requires more energy than I think I can muster.

I recently polled nurses to ask how they recovered after their shifts. The answers probably won’t surprise you.

  • Eat – something fast and easy
  • Drink (wine, tequila, beer – lots of variation on the type of alcohol, but 85% of my respondents drink after work)
  • Shower – sometimes
  • Watch television – 100% of my respondents watch television to unwind after a shift

None of these answers surprised me. So rather than try to address these habits and their impact on health, I thought we’d talk about some SIMPLE ways to integrate self-care into your work day. I’m serious here. I’ve tried these habits, so I can vouch for them. They work and they’re simple.

Deep Breathing App – I have the app Breathe on my watch. You can get it for your phone too. There are other apps that perform the same function. Basically I set a reminder every hour for it to remind me and stop and take a set number of deep breaths. It calms your CNS down, and even if you’re in the middle of a patient crisis and can’t stop to breathe deeply, the reminder can have a positive impact.

Less Caffeine – I thrive on caffeine. I drink half a pot in the morning and then head to the coffee shop for the largest coffee I can get my hands on in the afternoon. I’ve also tried the caffeinated sparkling waters. OMG. But here’s the problem with these… they jack up your cortisol. That’s really the last thing you want if you want to stay calm, present, and have some energy left at the end of the day. They don’t actually give you energy; that’s a myth. I’m not suggesting that you give up caffeine. What I am suggesting is that you cut back. Drink tea in the afternoon. Or… gasp… water!

Healthier “Treats” – What healthy treats do you enjoy? I LOVE fresh berries and dark chocolate. Bring something nice for yourself to work. Something that you find delicious that is also going to support good health. (And when your DON drops off that box of donuts, you can shrug them off and eat your healthier option).

Soapbox moment – I hate it that many people in nursing management offer candy and shitty treats to their staff like we’re a bunch of disgruntled toddlers. I once had a DON carry a giant bin of candy bars around to her staff on a particularly shitty day. How about offering help rather than diabetes? Hmmm….. When I declined her asinine candy bars she said, “oh, are you a ‘healthie’?” I said, “I don’t eat crap, so…”

More Sleep – I’m serious here too. Go to bed just a few minutes earlier or do some evening prep work and wake up a few minutes later the next morning. I make my breakfast and my lunch the night before so all I have to do is wake up, get ready, grab my food and go – 40 minutes tops! Sleep is important and not getting enough is killing you faster than you think it is.

Eat some fucking veggies already. Look, you can buy pre-chopped salads, veggie platters, and microwavable veggie dishes. Eating one or two servings of veggies each day won’t kill you (but not eating them might). Check this shit out, you can get a Whole30 approved microwavable meal from Walmart for under $5.  

No excuses. Eat your veggies, they’re good self-care.

Okay, so why care about self care? It requires you to think, to plan ahead, and to care, and I know you don’t feel like you have the energy to care about self care. Trust me, once you know you can feel better, you’ll understand.

Why Self Care Makes You a Better Nurse

  • Reduces pain
  • Reduces depression
  • Reduces “feeling like shit”
  • Improves energy levels
  • Makes you a little happier about your life, your job, and your patients
  • Gives you energy to be present at home (rather than simply recovering from your shift, you can enjoy your day, family, etc…)
  • Better patient care – did you know that good nurse self-care reduces patient falls, medication errors, and workplace injuries? Not surprising, right?

Good self care just makes you a happier and better person, and that makes you a better nurse. You’re able to pay attention to both your patients and yourself without making compromises. And self care doesn’t have to be complicated or too big to fit into your day. Later this week on the blog we’ll talk about what self care really means and I’ll share some really easy ideas about how to take better care of yourself.

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