The benefits for nurses from focusing on self-care .
By Aletha Ward
Two years into the pandemic , the healthcare system has been under unprecedented pressure to plan , respond , adapt and ‘ step up ’ to the evolving health crisis .
Nurses , at the forefront of the response , are reporting high levels of burnout , fatigue and anxiety , with some deciding to leave the profession .
With no end in sight to the pandemic and an increasingly complex healthcare environment , what can we practically do to address this ?
There is no magic bullet , however selfcare has been shown to decrease anxiety and improve overall health and wellbeing of nurses .
When we are in survival mode , our prefrontal cortex ( the decision-making centre of our brain ) shuts down which makes behavioural choices that support our selfcare not as dependable . That is why , in the heat of our everyday life , we will reach for Netflix and a glass of wine instead of going on a walk , as a way to manage our stress .
So , how can we move out of survival mode and start making self-care choices that help us build our health and resilience ?
Building routines and rituals is one key component .
For example , when we get home from work , we can jump into the shower straight away . This is a bit of ‘ you ’ time where you can visualise washing away the stress and burden of the day .
If you feel like you are bringing work worries home with you , you can sit in the car and write those worries down before you walk into the house . That way you do not need to take them with you , but you can pick them up again on the way back to work .
Pre-planning self-care priorities and making it part of your roster is another good strategy .
As soon as you have your work schedule , book in non-negotiable self-care time . Schedule a catch up with friends , a walk on the beach or that overdue pedicure . When something else comes up , say no – your self-care is your priority and as important as turning up to work .
Pre-planning for when the wheels fall off is also another good strategy , and the wheels do invariably fall off – and that ’ s OK !
When your work schedule is released , schedule in an appointment with a counsellor or support person in advance and regularly . Do not leave it until crisis point to get help .
That way , when our crisis point hits , we are well armed with strategies and we can quickly reach out to our support person , who we have already established a relationship with .
“ Your self-care is your priority and as important as turning up to work .
Lastly , nurses traditionally bend over backwards to help others , even to the detriment of our own health and wellbeing .
We often say “ yes ” to a request without having the energy reserves to undertake it . Instead of automatically responding “ yes ”, let ’ s make our new default response : “ Let me think about that and I will get back to you .”
That way you can consider if you have the energy and capacity to undertake that request . “ Sorry I don ’ t have capacity at the moment ,” is a very adequate answer , especially if undertaking the request impacts on your health and wellbeing .
Just like a car , we need to frequently service ourselves with self-care to keep us on the road and functioning at high performance in a very stressful work environment .
When we make self-care a priority , we will be able to care for others with greater effect . ■
Dr Aletha Ward is a public health and nursing academic from the University of Southern Queensland .
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