Implementing regular self-care provides healthcare workers with better health, higher morale, and deeper satisfaction in their jobs. In our guide to self-care, we give you the why and how to practice self-care specifically as a nurse, clinician, or support person within healthcare systems.
Why is Self-Care Important in Healthcare?
Nurses, clinicians, and support staff play crucial roles in our communities. From preventative care to crisis care and everything in between, healthcare workers provide the services we need to function as individuals and as a society. Unfortunately, burnout among healthcare workers is common, and the frequency of this phenomenon continues to increase.
Burnout has long been a problem among healthcare workers. But the COVID-19 pandemic has increased and exacerbated an already significant issue. Due to restrictions, supply chain shortages, understaffing, and overworking, many nurses, clinicians, and support staff feel the overwhelming burden of their roles with no way to mitigate the burnout. As a result, record numbers of healthcare professionals have left their jobs –– or the medical field entirely.
Burnout among healthcare workers is a serious issue that affects more than just the workers. Hospital systems want their employees to thrive both at work with their patients and at home with their family and friends. Prioritizing self-care for nurses, providers, and support staff emphasizes the importance of holistic wellness and how crucial total-person health is for healthcare workers.
Below we provide tips to help you create and execute your self-care plan.
1. Schedule Self-Care
Healthcare workers commit long hours to physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding jobs. Nurses typically work 12-hour shifts multiple days in a row. Clinicians can log even higher hours, leaving little time for self-care.
Scheduling self-care ensures you have the time and resources to take care of yourself, even with your demanding work schedule. Blocking out as little as 10 minutes a day can reduce calm and offer a reset after a demanding day in the healthcare field.
2. Practice Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness meditation is proven to aid healthcare workers in reducing stress, anxiety, and ultimately, burnout. It’s become a popular tool to foster health and manage stress, especially among hospital employees.
Practicing mindfulness doesn’t require a lot of time or energy. You simply focus on being mindful of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. The best way to start is to sit in a comfortable, quiet place free of distractions. Then focus on your breathing, your surroundings, and your emotions. Meditating in this way for just 10 to 20 minutes per day allows you to gain a better understanding of your body and your feelings while reducing stress.
If distractions get to you, or you need an added layer of calmness to help you focus on mindful meditation, there are phone apps that can guide you through the meditation process while zeroing in on a specific topic.
3. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Many nurses and clinicians have just twelve hours between shifts. That leaves little time to accomplish all that must be done before the next twelve-hour workday. However, with such high physical and mental demands at work, healthcare providers and support staff must practice good sleep hygiene.
Creating and sticking to a consistent sleep schedule is difficult for many hospital employees. Working nights coupled with the irregularity of changing work schedules make sleep elusive for many. However, practicing self-care through your sleep hygiene helps you get more quality sleep for the most hours possible.
As you think about your sleep routine, work to make it consistent. Go to bed at the same time as often as you can, and wake up at the same time every morning –– even mornings you aren’t working. Make your bedroom dark and quiet, especially if you work nights and rest when the sun is out. Don’t keep your TV or laptop in your room, and put away your phone an hour before bed.
These practices enable you to get the best quality sleep in the time you have before the next shift. Better sleep equals better overall well-being, which translates to fewer mistakes and better patient care while you’re on the clock.
4. Eat a Balanced Diet
What you eat plays a huge role in your energy, concentration, and overall health. While at work, you spend most of the day on walking around the building and pushing various carts and other equipment with you. One study found that nurses walk an average of five miles during a typical 12-hour shift. That level of movement coupled with the physical demands of face-to-face patient care requires thoughtful eating and hydration.
Eating a balanced diet is a simple, yet often, overlooked way to practice self-care. As a healthcare worker, you demand a lot from your body on a day-to-day basis. Plan your week’s meals ahead of time so you can proactively eat foods high in nutrients to keep you healthy.
And though your shifts are fast-paced with little time for breaks, eating real, nutritious food will help you feel and perform your best. A granola bar or burger and fries are not the ideal foods to power you through your 12-hour shift. Choose healthy takeout options, or bring your own food so you can fuel for long hours.
5. Participate in Physical Activity
Like many healthcare workers, you’re likely exhausted by the end of your shift. But participating in some sort of enjoyable physical activity is important in maintaining both physical and mental health. The possibilities for healthy movement are limitless. The most important thing is finding something you like to do and scheduling time in your week to do it.
6. Prioritize Time with Friends and Loved Ones
Healthcare workers endure significant physical and emotional stress. With long hours and demanding schedules, many workers forgo time with friends or family to make space for running errands, resting, or other tasks they must accomplish.
However, spending time with those you love is an important component of self-care. Prioritize time with those who support you, listen to you, encourage you, and make you laugh. Maintaining connections –– even during hectic seasons –– helps you find balance in your personal and professional life.
7. Ask for the Things You Need
Nurses, support staff, and clinicians are the ones caring for patients’ needs day in and day out. You might find that there is a problem that needs solving that hospital administrators are not aware of. Ask for the resources, or help needed to do your job to the best of your ability.
For example, nurses spend hours inputting data into electronic medical records. You need workstations designed with your health and comfort in mind. Request modern equipment that empowers you to complete these tasks safely and efficiently. Or if you are having an especially difficult shift, ask to take a break to calm down, collect yourself, and prepare to care for your patients.
You spend 40 hours (or more) in your role as a healthcare worker. Practicing self-care includes advocating for yourself and asking for the things you need to do your job well, resulting in smoother processes and positive patient outcomes.
8. Seek Professional Help When Needed
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20% of U.S. adults struggle with mental illness. If you experience anxiety, depression, loneliness, or stress, you are not alone.
As we’ve explored above, nurses, providers, and support staff work in extremely high-stress environments which can have negative effects on mental health. Practicing self-care often goes beyond meditation and looks like seeking out a professional therapist or counselor to work through your thoughts.
Therapy offers tools and strategies to work through self-care when you’re at a loss of where to start. With the tools in hand, they empower you to better handle stress, manage patient interactions, and cope with the demands and pressure of your job in healthcare.
The health of our nurses, clinicians, and support staff directly affects the health of our communities. While self-care is easy to push aside, by prioritizing self-care and implementing a measurable, achievable self-care plan, you create healthy habits that prevent burnout, preserve your total health, and empower you to do your job to the best of your abilities.