Why Nurses Need To Practice Yoga: Self Care For The Caregiver
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Many nurses are very good at encouraging patients to follow a regular exercise routine and at teaching ways to manage stress for optimal health. Taking their own advice about healthy lifestyle behaviors though, well, not so much.
As an emergency room nurse who has worked as a resource nurse on various units all over the hospital, I see first hand the outstanding care that is being given to our patients. The nurses I work with bend over backwards. At times they even risk their own health and safety to care for total strangers.
The work can be back-breaking, literally. Most days are very physically demanding with little rest. Over time, the work is depleting to an RN. Sometimes even resulting in permanent injuries (hello, chronic back pain!), extreme burnout or even depression.
How much work does it take to be a nurse?
Being a nurse in the hospital demands a lot on the body. The job often requires moving non-stop for grueling 12 hours shifts (or longer). It can include lifting and turning patients several times throughout the day. In addition to physical stress, nurses are often multitasking multiple patients with unique medical issues and making clinical decisions in potentially life-threatening situations.
To say that being a nurse causes wear-and-tear on the body is an understatement. As a result of years of heavy lifting many RN’s are suffering from chronic back problems. I know several who have had to go out on disability and sadly still suffer from permanent chronic back pain.
In nursing school we are taught “proper body mechanics” that are supposed to prevent back injuries while moving, lifting or turning patients. Recently however, there is new evidence suggesting that their really is no safe way for nurses to lift patients.
In addition, being a nurse often requires walking up to 15,000 steps or more in a single shift. A study found in the National Library of Medicine reported that many nurses walk up to five miles in an average 10 hour shift. However, in the Emergency Room and on many other units, I would argue that we actually walk much more then that. In fact, I wear a pedometer at work and I have logged up to 35,000 or more steps in a single day. That is the equivalent of walking 14 miles in a single shift!
The emotional and physiological drain of being a nurse can be overwhelming.
Being in the hospital is stressful. As a result, sometimes patients or families take their stress out on the people they are in contact with the most: the nurses. Yet it is our job to remain compassionate and continue to advocate for our patients in spite of this.
Burnout in the profession is common. Even I have questioned my decision to become a nurse for this reason on a few different occasions. I’ve tried to explain to friends and family how incredibly complex and stressful being a registered nurse can be. I think it is just one of those things that you really can’t understand unless you experience it for yourself.
All venting aside, I’m not going to run off and chance careers, or encourage anyone from not becoming a registered nurse. I derive an immense amount of pride and passion for what I do. I also enjoy working with intelligent people who have the same drive for helping people that I do.
It is, however, not a career for wimps.
Nurses need to practice yoga.
Nurses need to make self-care a priority. Not only does self-care result in better overall patient care, but ultimately it replenishes our depleted reserves. Yoga helps us take better care of ourselves and our families.
There is an endless amount of studies on yoga and its amazing benefits on physical and mental health. The Mayo clinic has stated that “yoga may help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lower your heart rate” among many other benefits.
For the purpose of this article I am focusing on three of the biggest nurse health related issues. But don’t be mistaken, there several more benefits then I am not mentioning here.
Benefits of yoga for nurses:
As I mentioned earlier, nurses have a high workload in many hospital wards. The stress is compounded by managing patient healthcare needs and treatments, daily occupational stressors and even the many frequent changes in technology.
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.
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%. Fortunately, 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 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.
Prevent burnout and compassion fatigue
Lack of self-care can easily result in burnout and compassion fatigue in the nursing profession. As much as I hate to admit it, even I have questioned how long I can continue with the immense workload and emotional drain that is required of me as a nurse. Thankfully, I have found a productive way to manage this is through yoga and meditation.
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.” While the control group demonstrated no change throughout the course of the study, the yoga group showed a significant improvement in scores for self-care, mindfulness, and emotional exhaustion outcomes.
Yoga is good for you!
Yoga is a productive way to prevent some of the most common health ailments among nurses. Empowering nurses in self-care helps to create a happier, healthier and more productive work environment.
For better or worse, nurses serve as role models in the healthcare community. We need to practice what we preach. Why would a patient listen to our advice on how to life a healthy life if we are not living one ourselves?
Sarah, Mother Nurse Love
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