(This post is about self care for nurses and may contain affiliate links. See our disclosure page for more information.)
Written by Deborah Swanson at allheart.com.
Self care for nurses should not be an afterthought.
Holistic nurse self care: Are you really taking care of yourself?
While we often associate the concept of “self-care” with things like getting a massage or engaging in some retail therapy (new stethoscope, anyone?), taking care of yourself requires a much more comprehensive approach than just these occasional indulgences. A holistic approach to self-care acknowledges not only your physical health, but also your mental, spiritual and social health as well. Engaging in holistic self-care will help you become the best nurse that you can be and help you stay healthy for both yourself and your patients.
The World Health Organization defines self-care as “the ability of individuals, families and communities to promote, maintain health, prevent disease and to cope with illness with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” A holistic approach to self-care encompasses several different components—including nutrition, lifestyle, environmental and socioeconomic factors—to make sure that you’re not neglecting any aspect of your wellness. Below, we break down each of these elements and explain how nurses can practice them in their daily lives.
Holistic self care for nurses
When it comes to self care for nurses, we often don’t practice what they preach. Nurses know that what we eat and drink are major contributing factors to health. While there are many diets and nutrition philosophies out there, the basics of eating healthy are quite simple. Focus on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and lean proteins; don’t eat too many sugary and/or fatty foods; stay away from highly processed, packaged items as much as you can; and watch your portion sizes. Also seek out a variety of foods to make sure you’re getting all your nutrients.
As for what you drink, make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary beverages such as soda and juice. When it comes to beverages such as caffeine and alcohol, consume them in moderation and give your body time to process each drink before downing another. Watch the calorie count on your liquids. Beverages can be surprisingly high in calories, sometimes even more than food of a comparable portion size, so check the label before slurping it down.
Additional recommended reading:
As for positive lifestyle choices you can make, exercising regularly and getting a mix of cardiovascular and strength-building workouts are really important for a healthy life. Getting enough sleep and maintaining a regular sleep schedule as much as possible are also good choices. Your lifestyle can also include your social and spiritual activity, such as spending time with supportive friends or engaging in a meaningful religious community—both of which can boost your mental health.
Additional recommended reading:
Running is a great fast and easy workout for busy nurses to fit into their schedules.
Environmental factors that affect your health are often overlooked, but incredibly important. Certain obvious examples come to mind such as exposure to air pollution, lead paint or other toxic substances. But this is far from the only way the environment impacts your health. Access to grocery stores (which sell produce and healthy foods) and public transportation (which encourages walking and mobility) are just two other instances where the environment can impact your health.
You won’t always be able to change your environment, but being aware of how it affects your health is the first step in self-care. And when you can take steps to improve your environment—such as reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals in your workplace—prioritize them and make them happen.
Additional recommended reading:
Socioeconomic status encompasses not just how much money you make, but also what level of education and financial security you have as well as your perceptions of your own social class. Low socioeconomic status negatively affects both physical and mental health in a variety of ways. For example, those with low socioeconomic status are not able to afford preventative care or cover the costs of a medical emergency. Financial insecurity also causes stress, which can lead to a variety of other health problems.
Even though it might not seem like traditional “self-care,” make sure you’re taking steps to get or stay financially healthy. Thankfully, the median annual salary for registered nurses in the US is $70,000, so hopefully, you’re being fairly compensated—but smart management of your money is just as important as how much you make. Create a monthly budget, set aside money in savings from each paycheck and spend less than you make. Once you’ve got an emergency fund (3-6 months of living expenses), look into a 401k or other long-term savings plan.
Additional recommended reading:
While “self-care” is often used in a very narrow sense of the word, the concept is actually quite broad and requires a holistic approach to be truly successful. If you only pay attention to one or two aspects of your health but ignore the others, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice as a nurse and as a human being. You deserve to be in the best health possible, so make sure your approach to self-care covers all five components mentioned here.
About The Author
Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at allheart.com – a site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. She keeps busy by interviewing caregivers and writing about them and loves gardening.
P.S. HEY NURSES! Remember to sign up for our email list below and get a FREEBIE from us!
Are you a nurse who works long 12-hour shifts?
If the answer is yes, that’s awesome! You are working in an honorable and philanthropically rewarding field. But unfortunately, if you are like a lot of hardworking shift workers, you may at times feel overworked, exhausted, and even burned out.
Everyone knows that 12-hour shift schedules can be extremely demanding. What are you doing for yourself to ensure that you stay healthy and thrive?
With a little preparation and focus on your well-being, you can be both a healthy nurse and give great care to your patients. Its time to focus on nurse self-care!
11 tips to THRIVE as a nurse during 12-hour shifts:
Nurse self-care should be a priority. That includes getting a good night’s sleep!
Nursing schedules revolve around a need for 24/7 patient care. Sleep deprivation is a real concern, especially for those working night shifts. Nurse self-care starts with a good night (or in some cases day) of sleep. Here are a few tips to encourage healthier sleep habits after you complete a 12-hour shift:
- Turn off the tv (an hour of sleep is always more important than another episode)
- Calm your mind and body with a few easy yoga stretches (hint: yoga props such as a mat, yoga blocks, and a strap can be helpful with restorative stretches).
- Take a hot shower
- Try meditation (Headspace is a great meditation app for busy people)
- Use good earplugs and a sleep mask
- Get into bed an hour earlier than you usually do (& see how much better you feel after one week!)
Nurse, get your heart rate up!
Get your heart rate up on your days off! The benefits of exercise have been well documented is essential for nurse self-care. It is no secret that regular exercise helps control weight, boosts overall energy, improves your mood, and helps decrease stress levels. Not only does exercise benefit the nurse personally, but it also allows nurses to have the stamina to give better care to patients as well.
Need to blow off some steam after a stressful day? A yoga session or brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. Which, in turn, will help manage caregiver burden and help you feel your best.
#3. Grocery shop
A well-balanced diet is essential for nurse health and wellness.
Grocery shopping is so important for nurses and other hospital workers to ensure proper nutrition. It is no secret that healthy food choices are crucial for overall good health and well-being. Make sure you are filling your plate with high-density vitamins and minerals. You simply can’t maintain good energy and stamina over a 12-hour shift on sugary snacks and fast food!
Plan ahead by creating a grocery list of the foods you want to eat while you are at work. That way, you won’t be tempted to reach for something unhealthy when you have a few moments to eat in-between caring for patients.
Tips for nurses to make healthy meals fast: Try making a big batch of quinoa, brown rice, or black bean pasta to have handy in the fridge. These are a few great staples that you can build a nourishing meal around. When you get hungry, you can mix in a protein, veggies, nuts or seeds, dried fruits, or even just enjoy them with a little olive oil and sea salt. The key is to have healthy food that is easy to prepare BEFORE you get super hungry.
#4. Eat a healthy breakfast
Oats: a nutritious yet straightforward way to start a 12-hour shift (nurse self-care can be tasty!)
Studies show that eating a nutritious breakfast (as opposed to the doughnuts and other goodies often found in the breakroom) can help give you:
- More strength and endurance to engage in physical activity and maintaining stamina to survive through a 12-hour shift.
- Improved concentration, which can help you give better patient care.
- A diet higher in complete nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Tips for nurses to ensure that you have a nutritious meal ready before each 12-hour shift: Make several mason jars of overnight oats with a variation of these flavors: blueberry/strawberry/raspberry, peanut butter, and maple, banana and walnut, or almond and raisin. You can add ground flaxseed or chia seeds for extra protein and antioxidant benefits. Then top it off with a dash of cinnamon for a delicious ready-to-eat breakfast.
#5. Pack your lunch
Healthy nurse habit: pack your lunch!
Packing a lunch will help ensure that you make wise food choices when you are in the middle of a shift and starting to feel tired. And it will save you a little money to boot!
Here are a few items I use for packing my lunch that help me through every 12-hour shift:
#6. Incorporate healthy snacks into your shift
Almonds: a healthy nurse snack!
Nurse break rooms are notorious for having sugary snacks like donuts, cookies, or other unhealthy junk food all within an arms reach. Sweets are so tempting to nibble on when you are tired and need a little extra energy. But then a few moments later you crash and are even more tired. On another note, eating nutritious and easy snacks will keep you energized during a 12-hour shift.
Pack snacks like these in your lunch bag to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced during your shift:
- Baby carrots, broccoli or other veggies & hummus
- Celery and almond butter
- Strawberries, blueberries
- Granola and yogurt
- Almonds or cashews
- Avocado toast
- Sliced apples and peanut butter
- Cottage cheese with pineapple or banana
- Trail mix
#7. Don’t overdo caffeine
Green tea: a healthy drink for 12-hour shift workers!
Many studies suggest that coffee and tea have incredible health benefits while also giving you an extra boost of energy. Unfortunately, caffeine can also have the opposite effect by leading to rebound fatigue after it leaves your system. Therefore, it’s a good idea to aim for moderate caffeine intake to help minimize rebound fatigue.
Additionally, one of the drawbacks of too much caffeine late in a 12-hour shift is that it can also cause insomnia. And nurses need their sleep to help recover from the hard work we do taking care of patients each day!
Extra tip: Green teas (like this one) can give you an energy boost with additional antioxidant benefits and without the caffeine jitters!
#8. Get good shoes
Nurses must invest in good shoes to maintain foot health.
It is not uncommon for nurses to be on their feet for 8 to 12 hours or longer during a shift. That is why it is essential that you wear comfortable and durable shoes during your shift.
I have been alternating between my Dansko clogs and New Balance tennis shoes as a nurse for over six years. My feet thank me for it. Invest in quality footwear that is built to protect the feet of busy hospital workers who are on their feet all day.
“I wish I didn’t invest in comfortable, sturdy shoes,” said no nurse ever.
#9. Remember to drink water
Drink water throughout your 12-hour shift and stay hydrated!
Have you ever worked an entire shift and realized at the end that you forgot to drink water for the whole day. It is so easy to do when you are extremely busy with back to back patients and heavy work assignments.
Invest in a good water bottle with a seal-able lid (to prevent accidental spillage). Keep it where you do most of your charting in the nurse’s station. And try to make it a priority to drink your water every hour during your shift to stay hydrated.
Here are a few favorites:
Make your own chia seed water: Add 3 tbsp of organic chia seeds to your water bottle and mix well (you can add more or less to your liking). Within a few hours, the seeds will blow up in size and into a gelatinous consistency.
(Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, rich in antioxidants, fiber, iron, and calcium. Just another easy way to add nutrients into your busy day!)
#10. Wear compression socks
Nurse health & your venous system: wear compression socks!
Compression socks or stockings are non-negotiable for healthcare workers who are on their feet for 12-hour shifts! Here are three fundamental reasons why compression socks are a must-have for every shift worker:
- Prevention of varicose veins: Standing for extended periods causes valves in the veins to become weakened, causing blood to collect in the veins. This causes the veins to enlarge, increase in pressure and stretch, causing unsightly varicose veins.
- Improved blood flow and decreased risk of blood clots: A study by The Society of Occupational Medicine found that wearing compression stockings significantly decreased lower limb venous pressure in nurses who stood for very long hours.
- Decreased swelling of ankles and feet: Swollen ankles and feet are a common side effect of being on one’s feet for a 12-hour shift.
Many nurses who wear compression socks say that their legs “feel more energized” after a 12-hour shift. Pregnant shift workers are especially at risk of leg swelling (due to increased blood volumes during pregnancy) and should consider wearing them to prevent venous issues.
#11. Do yoga
Nurses need to practice yoga for self-care.
Nurses need yoga, period. Not only does yoga replenishes depleted reserves after a 12-hour shift, but a relaxed and more focused nurse can give better patient care.
Yoga’s amazing benefits on physical and mental health are well documented in the literature. The Mayo Clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate,” among many other benefits.
Nurse self-care in the form of yoga is scientifically proven to be beneficial:
- Stress management. A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only eight weeks of yoga, the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. (If that is what can happen after only eight weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels!).
- Prevent or eliminate chronic low back pain. Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced-based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. Yoga not only increases flexibly but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain.
- Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue: A study published in Workplace Health & Safety on yoga for self-care and burnout prevention of nurses found that yoga participants “reported significantly higher self-care as well as less emotional exhaustion upon completion of an 8-week yoga intervention.”
Are you a nurse who is experiencing burnout and want to live a healthier life? Nurse self-care should not be an afterthought. Do you have any other self-care tips for nurses that you would like to add? Leave a comment!
Additional recommended reading:
(This post may contain affiliate links. You can read my disclosure page here. For more information about collaborating with Mother Nurse Love click here).
Nurse, take care of yourself first.
This statement may appear counter intuitive. After all, aren’t nurses supposed to be selfless humans who give care to total strangers without concern for their own well being?
Two words: Absolutely NOT!
Nurses NEED to put themselves first so they have the stamina and good health to care for their patients and their own families. This is non-negotiable.
Staying healthy as a nurse is a win-win for everyone. First off, our families get a better version of us. Second, we have the energy and stamina to keep up with heavy patient workloads. And third, we have better relationships with our spouses and friends.
Most importantly though, nurses who take care of themselves are happier!
(Attention employers: studies show that happy, healthy nurses give higher quality of patient care. This results in a decrease in medical errors and improves patient satisfaction, which is very good for hospital PR and the overall patient experience. So support your nurses in their quest for a healthier lifestyle!)
8 Simple Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy When Working 12 Hours Shifts!
Here are 8 ways nurses can stay healthy and practice better self-care on a daily basis:
#1. Protect your back: do core work!
As a result of years of heavy lifting many RN’s are suffering from chronic back problems. I know several nurses who have had to go out on disability and sadly still suffer from permanent chronic back pain.
Chronic back pain in the nursing population is a common ailment. An evidenced based review at the Texas Women’s University reported that estimates of chronic low back pain among nurses range from 50%-80%. There is good news though: the review also presented an overwhelming amount of studies that found that regular yoga significantly reduced symptoms associated with chronic low back pain and greatly improved overall physicality. Yoga poses (like plank pose) help you create a stronger core. So say yes to yoga!
By working on your core at home, you can preemptively protect your back from some of the wear-and tear you are going to experience as a busy RN. You STILL NEED to use good body mechanics while lifting and turning patients- this is imperative! But by working your core you help strengthen your back and help prevent injuries from occurring over the course of your nursing career.
Compression stockings help increase circulation of blood flow and oxygen by helping increase the velocity, or speed of blood flow. By squeezing on the legs, the veins carrying blood to the heart are compressed. Think of how when you squeeze a hose, it squirts the water out faster. With compression stockings, the same volume of blood is able to move up the leg, but it has less area in which to move.
Standing for long periods of time causes valves in the veins to become weakened, causing blood to collect in the veins. This causes the veins to enlarge and increase in pressure. The veins then stretch from the increased pressure and cause varicose veins, which can be painful and unsightly!
A study by The Society of Occupational Medicine found that wearing compression stockings significantly decreased lower limb venous pressure in nurses who stood for very long hours. The data found that compression stockings protected against oxidative stress in those who work in long-standing occupations.
(Learn more about the best compression stockings and socks for nurses here!)
#3. Practice yoga
Yoga stretching not only increases flexibly, but increases muscle strength and prevents injuries such as chronic lower back pain. In a career as physically demanding as nursing, the more physically stable we are, the better care we can give to ourselves and our patients.
A study published in the National Institute of Biotechnology Information investigated the effects of yoga on stress coping strategies of ICU nurses. After only 8 weeks of yoga the results showed that the participating ICU nurses had significantly better focus coping strategies and a major reduction in perceived mental pressure. If that is what can happen after only 8 weeks, imagine the impact a regular, permanent yoga practice could have on stress management levels.
Check out Yoga For Nurses for easy to follow instructional videos. Then, read more about why nurses NEED yoga here.
#4. Stay away from break room junk
Weight can creep up on healthcare workers who wear comfy, loose-fitting scrubs to work everyday, without you even noticing it!
Patients and staff often like to bring unhealthy snacks like donuts, cakes or cookies into the nurse break rooms as a “thank you” to nurses. This gesture is very “sweet” of them, however it doesn’t do our health or waistlines any good. Suggest bringing in fruit or veggie platters as a healthy treat for nurses instead.
One of the best ways nurses can stay healthy by preventing weight gain is to grocery shop in advance and prepare meals the night before a shift. That way you are not tempted to order take out or reach for high sugar goodies when you are starving at break time.
One day per week I make a big batch of quinoa and keep it handy in the fridge for myself. When I need it, I add veggies, nuts, seeds, dried cranberries, olive oil, tempeh or whatever else I have in the fridge at that moment. Not only does this help me make healthy lunches for work, but I also have delicious leftovers ready to eat when I get home from a long 12 hour shift.
(You can read more about how I prepare for a 12 hour shift here.)
#5. Consider working per diem
Per diem means: for each day. As a nurse, I am literally employed “by the day.” Hospitals need per diem nurses to cover staffing needs in the hospital, which can vary by the day or season.
Per diem nursing has been a game-changer for me as a working mom. It is so flexible that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go back to being a career RN again.
Here are a few benefits I found when I became a per diem nurse:
- Significantly higher per hour pay
- Work as little as one day a week or as many as five days a week (as long as there is a need)
- Make own schedule (if the hospital doesn’t need me they call me off)
- Cancel at the last minute (as long as it is by 3am)
- Add on a shift at the last minute
- Incredible opportunities for learning and professional growth
- Work in many different specialties: Emergency Room, Cardiac, Liver Transplant, Medicine, Neuroscience and Stroke, or Oncology, and more
- Opportunities to “master in” to a unit that is chronically short on staffing needs for a period of time: this guarantees a certain number of hours and gives an opportunity to go to the same unit for weeks or months at a time
Of course, there are also several drawbacks to being a per-diem nurse as well. It is not for every nurse. (You can read more about how per diem nursing helped me find a work-life balance here).
#6. Get good sleep
Nurses work very long hours and night shifts, which interrupts the normal sleep pattern.
Help yourself by creating an environment at home that is conducive to sleeping, even during daytime hours.
- Install blackout shades in your bedroom.
- Disconnect electronics that artificially lighten a dark room.
- Wear an eye mask.
- Purchase quality ear plugs so that the guy mowing his lawn next door doesn’t wake you up at noon when you are finally entering your REM cycle.
When I first started working night shifts I even went so far as to use “blue blocker” sunglasses when I was driving myself home at 8’o clock in the morning. (“Blue blockers” are the aviator style sunglasses that Zack Galifianakis and the baby wore in “The Hangover.” Who new one of the best ways nurses can stay healthy involves also looking stylishly cool?).
“Blue blockers” have orange glass lenses that cut the blue portion of the light spectrum. This helps prevent the light-inducted melatonin suppression and helps make it easier to fall asleep after seeing the morning sun.
#7. Meditate for 5 minutes a day
One of the best ways nurses can stay healthy is through meditation. Meditation is the practice of focusing your mind on a particular thought or activity to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state.
A few benefits of meditation:
- decreased burnout
- better focus and ability to ignore distractions
- boost compassion
- better sleep
- stress relief
- happier state of mind
Headspace is an app for your phone that has many different meditations each lasting 1o to 60 minutes. If you can find 10 minutes in your day then you have no excuse not to meditate! Meditation is attainable for even the busiest of nurses!
I listen to Headspace with my headphones most nights before I go to bed. It helps me relax after a long day and even helps me to get a better nights sleep.
Like yoga, meditation is a practice. There is no good or bad. It is just what it is at the time. You can keep practicing to train your mind to do better the next time. And then eventually your brain is rewired by the habitual repetition of meditation and it becomes easier.
#8. Practice gratitude
Intentionally choose gratitude.
Try keeping a gratitude journal. Writing down what you are grateful for consciously reminds you that even though being a nurse is frustrating at times, the good stuff far outweighs the bad. It keeps you aligned with the positive aspects of being a nurse that we should keep our energy focused on: giving great patient care and helping save lives.
I love being a nurse, despite the fact that is it overwhelming and at times even maddening. Practicing gratitude helps me recognize how lucky I am to be a nurse who gets to help other people as my profession. I go home everyday with a sense of accomplishment that even I can “be the change I wish to see in the world.”
Additional recommended reading: