Working in the healthcare sector, while rewarding, is far from easy. From working long hours and night shifts to dealing with loss and grief, the demanding nature of the job can take a toll on your physical and mental health.
This is why self-care is essential. Not only does it help you maintain your overall well-being, but also benefits those around you as it puts you in a better state to deliver compassionate care and create a positive environment. However, nurses and healthcare workers are often so focused on caring for others that they forget to take care of themselves.
If you’re finding it hard to know how you can look after your own well-being, we’re here to help. Read on to pick up practical tips for nurses and healthcare workers to stay healthy and prevent burnout.
What is self-care?
According to the World Health Organisation, self-care refers to “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a health worker”. Essentially, self-care is all about taking intentional actions to nurture your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Ways to look after your own well-being
Self-care isn’t selfish at all. When you take care of your health, you’re not just benefiting yourself but also your patients and the whole healthcare team.
Here are some steps you can take to look after your physical and mental health.
1. Get moving
Taking small steps (literally) can make a huge difference! Whether it’s a walk, a jog, yoga, or hitting the gym, find something you enjoy and aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. Not only does it keep your heart healthy, but also reduces stress and boosts your overall well-being.
2. Stay hydrated & eat regular healthy meals
Given the demanding nature of your work, it’s important to fuel your body with nutritious foods and sufficient water so you stay energised throughout the day.
Aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats to meet your daily nutritional requirements. Avoid processed foods, sugary snacks, and excessive caffeine, as they can zap your energy and affect your overall well-being.
Try not to skip meals. If healthy food options are limited or you find it difficult to make time for lunch or dinner, meal prepping in advance or subscribing to meal plans can help you stay on track.
If possible, bring a bottle with you wherever you go and try to get at least 8 glasses of water daily.
3. Get plenty of rest
Working shifts and late nights means it can be difficult to establish a regular sleep routine. But try not to let this stop you from having a good night’s sleep.
Aim for 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night. Create a cosy sleep environment by blocking out any light and noise with the help of blackout curtains, eye masks, and ear plugs if needed. Avoid any triggers that may affect your sleep quality (e.g. caffeine).
1. Practise mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully focused and engaged in the present moment, free from any distractions or judgements. Working in the frontline requires you to be on constant alert, with multiple patients and issues to attend to. Coupled with the stresses of everyday life, it can be overwhelming.
Take some time to sit quietly and meditate, paying close attention to your thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the moment. Acknowledge and accept them without judgement. By directing your attention away from the stressors in life and engaging with the world around you, you are likely to feel calmer, and less stressed and anxious.
Let go of your mental load by putting it down on paper. In a job that requires empathy and compassion, it is common to feel emotionally drained at the end of the day.
Writing in a journal can be a therapeutic way to express your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Take this opportunity to slow down, reflect, and sort out your thoughts and emotions. This exercise may only take a few minutes each day, but will help you gain clarity and reduce your mental and emotional load.
3. Engage in hobbies you love
While you get busy at work, it’s good to have something to look forward to. Engaging in activities that you enjoy can help to boost your mood and reduce stress levels.
Hobbies can look vastly different for every individual. Your idea of an enjoyable time may include working out, reading, painting, or gardening, but for others, it may simply be a quiet evening alone. It doesn’t matter whether the things you enjoy are artistic, athletic, or academic, as long as it helps you relax and you find joy and meaning in it.
4. Keep in touch with loved ones
Humans are social creatures. Maintaining social connections can reduce loneliness and improve your overall well-being. Carve out time for friends and family, no matter how insignificant it might seem. Even if it’s not possible to meet in person, talking to each other through video chats or phone calls works too.
5. Practice gratitude and positive thinking
Cultivating a mindset of gratitude and positive thinking can improve your mental health. Make it a habit to reflect on the things you are grateful for each day and practise positive affirmations. It is a simple but powerful way to alter your outlook and doesn’t take long at all! You can simply incorporate this practice while doing everyday tasks like washing up in the morning or during your commute to and fro work.
6. Limit screen time
Ever heard of doom scrolling? Spending an excessive amount of time on your phone, especially social media, can be detrimental to mental health. Setting limits on your screen time and taking breaks from social media can help you relax and focus on and connect with the present moment.
How can you make self-care a part of your routine?
Self-care may look like a 45-min workout, a 15-minute nap, or even just pausing for a minute to take a deep breath. There is no right or wrong way to do it. But with hectic schedules, nurses often find it hard to squeeze time out for self-care.
Here are some techniques you can try to overcome that hurdle:
- Plan ahead: Make an intentional effort to schedule self-care into your routine. Treat it the same way as you would with work-related tasks and other appointments, so that you’re more likely to follow through.
- Find an accountability partner: Grab a colleague, friend, or family member who can hold you accountable to follow through with your self-care plan. This can be in the form of making plans to participate in self-care activities together, or sharing your goals, checking in with, and encouraging one another.
As you try to keep to your self-care routine, it’s also important to be flexible and go easy on yourself if you are not able to keep to it at times. You can start small, then work your way up. After all, your self-care routine is supposed to help you destress, not add more pressure to your life.
How can you ask for help?
Sometimes, despite our best efforts in self-care, we could still use an additional boost from external parties.
Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. Even doctors will need to consult other specialists for personal health issues, and therapists often have their own counsellors to boost mental wellness. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it takes a person with a high sense of self-awareness to reach out.
Here are some ways to get support:
1. Speak to a trusted friend or loved one
Family and friends are our closest support systems and often the first people we turn to. Speaking to someone who understands you and can empathise with your situation can feel comforting. By sharing your concerns and challenges with your loved ones, you may be able to receive the emotional support you need and gain new perspectives.
2. Seek a professional’s opinion
There are times when you may want to seek a professional’s opinion. As an unbiased third party, consulting a mental health professional gives you a safe and non-judgement space to explore your concerns, and provide the necessary guidance, support, and evidence-based interventions to help you navigate the challenging situation.
Day in, day out, nurses and healthcare workers put themselves on the frontline and work long hours just to keep us healthy. They are truly our unsung heroes. But even heroes must be well and strong before they can help others. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
Check out our list of mental health resources for nurses and healthcare workers here.
We hope that this guide will be of help to our selfless nurses and healthcare workers! If you wish to deliver care but need a flexible schedule, consider joining Homage, where you will be able to control your working hours and choose to administer your preferred type of care.