Whether you’re a nursing student or a working RN, you know that long hours and challenging situations are part of your nursing career. Stress is an inevitable reality in the nursing profession, and as a result, 56% of surveyed nurses are worried about nurse burnout and its effect on their mental health.
But don’t let the challenges of nursing scare you. As long as you take proper care of yourself, nursing can be an exciting, rewarding career.
With that in mind, we’ve put together this self care strategy guide to implement into your nursing practice to support you as you support patients with endless care.
What Does Self Care Mean?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), self care is all about promoting your own health, staying healthy, and coping successfully with any existing issues—with or without the support of a healthcare professional.
In other words, self care means taking charge of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This isn’t to say you should avoid professional healthcare services altogether—you probably know that more than anyone. Instead, implementing a self care practice into your routine means taking an active approach to your health rather than a passive one.
Engaging in self care can feel like an uphill battle at times—especially when your physical or mental health isn’t at its best—but it’s crucial, especially as someone who works closely with others.
Why Self Care for Nurses is Essential
So, why is self care necessary for nurses? Well, think about those oxygen masks in airplanes: You must put your own mask on before you can help others.
In the same way, taking care of yourself first allows you to take the best possible care of others. You perform better when you feel better—it’s that simple. Plus, you can act as a healthy role model for your patients.
What’s more, self care is actually part of your job as a nurse. Provision 5 of the American Nursing Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses states that:
"The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth."
However, practicing self care is about more than ensuring you can be a safe, effective worker. When you take the time to nurture your well-being, you can also:
- Manage your stress
- Improve the quantity and quality of your sleep
- Increase your energy levels
- Decrease your risk of illness
These benefits should show up in the workplace and at home, ultimately leading to a more comfortable, fulfilling lifestyle.
6 Effective Self Care Strategies for Nurses
Self care is a personal journey (hence the “self” part), so a successful plan will look different for everyone. With that said, these six strategies are tried-and-true among nurses, and they should at least give you some inspiration to help take control of your well-being.
Try them all for yourself and keep the ones that work best in your routine.
#1 Find Time to Rest
Whether you’re on an overnight shift in the ER or filling in at a care facility, your brain is firing on all cylinders at work. When you head home, it can be challenging to turn that off and relax—especially when the outside world can feel just as hectic as a hospital.
As such, resting is more important than ever. During your moments of downtime, consider:
- Practicing meditation and mindfulness – Taking time to slow down and breathe can help lower stress levels. You may also find that journaling helps you calm your mind and process your emotions.
- Catching up on your favorite media – Sometimes, curling up on the couch with the latest season of your guilty pleasure show can give you that much-needed dopamine.
- Reading – Too much screen time can have adverse health effects, so you won’t want to spend all your time binging TV. A good book can give you all the entertainment you need—with none of the eye fatigue. For a topical book recommendation, try Self-Care for Nurses by Xiomely Famighetti.
- Sleeping – Between all your wind-down activities, be sure to catch enough Zs. The CDC recommends that adults aged 18–60 sleep at least seven hours per night. A lack of sleep can exacerbate some of the issues that self care seeks to improve, so this tip is an especially helpful one.
#2 Try Low-Intensity Exercise
Exercise is a well-known tool for combating stress, negative emotions, and feelings of anxiety and depression. But after a long day at the hospital, heading to a circuit class often ends up as the last thing on your to-do list.
The happy medium? Experiment with forms of more casual exercise you can do in our around your home, such as:
- Tai chi
While these activities may be less sweat-inducing than rock climbing or a CrossFit class, you’ll still reap the benefits of increased endorphins and better cardiovascular health. Of course, if you’re up for it, there’s nothing wrong with scheduling a more intensive workout.
#3 Make Sure You’re Comfortable at Work
While many nurses see self care as an off-the-clock activity, genuine self care is all-encompassing. As such, taking care of yourself at work is just as critical as taking self care steps at home.
Try these tips for workplace-specific physical care:
- Find the right scrubs – Consider investing in soft, lightweight, breathable scrubs that will keep up with you for your entire shift. Chafing and itching for eight solid hours is the exact opposite of self care.
- Wear comfortable shoes – Chances are you spend most of your shift on your feet. When your feet start aching, you might feel it throughout your body. Wondering what shoes to wear with scrubs? Wearing a pair of comfy work shoes for nurses can make all the difference on those 12-hour days.
- Follow ergonomic best practices – If you sit at a desk for any part of your shift, it’s worth taking the time to adjust your station. To avoid muscle strain, you should have your feet flat on the ground, your elbows close to your body, and your back fully supported. And don’t forget to stretch when you have the chance.
When you feel better physically at work, you’ll likely feel better mentally, too.
#4 Take Care of Your Financial Well-Being, Too
If work is stressing you out, the last thing you want is financial stress at home. While being smart with your money may not seem like a form of self care, it certainly can be (and not only to pay for those scented candles and massages).
To eliminate as much financial stress from your life as possible, you may want to:
- Make a budget – By calculating your monthly expenses, you can better understand how much you have to spend and save. Think about the essentials like rent, utilities, and insurance, as well as “fun” expenses like entertainment and travel.
- Set up an emergency fund – If you ever need to take an extended leave from work for self care purposes, an emergency fund can help cover the costs while you’re off. Ideally, your rainy day fund should account for 3 to 6 months of your typical expenses.
#5 Learn to Set Boundaries
Although socialization can be a form of self care, it can sometimes be too much of a good thing. Finding a balance between friend-and-family time and “me time” is a must. This strategy applies to both work and your personal life.
On the work side, setting boundaries might look like turning your phone off or letting work calls go to voicemail (unless you’re on call, of course). It may also mean ignoring that enticing overtime pay and declining extra shifts when they’re offered.
In your personal relationships, setting boundaries may be as simple as saying “no” to plans or requests for help. Stretching yourself too thin is a recipe for disaster; healthy boundaries can help you avoid burnout in the long run.
#6 Ask for Help When You Need It
As a nurse, you’re used to being the helper. It can be hard to switch from offering support to asking for it, but leaning on your network is a crucial part of self care.
If you have friends and family nearby, start by reaching out to them for support. Even something as simple as having someone to talk to can relieve stress from your day.
You may also want to consider asking for help from a professional. Talking to a therapist or counselor can arm you with the self care tools you need and keep you from feeling like you’re burdening loved ones with your work problems.
Self Care Starts from the Ground Up
Ultimately, self care is all about building a healthy foundation of habits and sticking to them. By focusing on self care a little each day, you can maintain and improve your physical, mental, and emotional well-being to be the best nurse—and person—you can be.
When it comes to your physical health, your literal foundation is your feet. That’s why Snibbs makes slip resistant work shoes. With built-in adjustability, arch support, and cloud-soft insoles, these specially-designed shoes reduce foot and body pain and the distress that can come with them.
Nursing is a vital, selfless career, and we can’t thank you enough for the work you do in your community. So, in between taking care of others, be sure you take care of yourself.
Forbes. 90% Of Nurses In New Survey Say Patients Suffer Due To Staffing Shortages. https://www.forbes.com/sites/debgordon/2022/11/08/90-of-nurses-in-new-survey-say-patients-suffer-due-to-staffing-shortages/
World Health Organization. Self-care interventions for health. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/self-care-health-interventions
American Nurses Association. View the Code of Ethics for Nurses. https://www.nursingworld.org/practice-policy/nursing-excellence/ethics/code-of-ethics-for-nurses/
National Institute of Mental Health. Caring for Your Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health
American Psychological Association. Mindfulness meditation: A research-proven way to reduce stress. https://www.apa.org/topics/mindfulness/meditation
Time Magazine. Experts Can’t Agree on How Much Screen Time Is Too Much for Adults. https://time.com/6174510/how-much-screen-time-is-too-much/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How Much Sleep Do I Need? https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
Mayo Clinic. Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/exercise-and-stress/art-20044469
MedlinePlus. Guide to Good Posture. https://medlineplus.gov/guidetogoodposture.html
NerdWallet. Emergency Fund Calculator: How Much Will Protect You? https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/banking/emergency-fund-calculator
The New York Times. Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html