Fact No. 1: Nursing is one of the most stressful occupations. In fact, it may be the most stressful profession. First is its dual association with intense emotional anguish and physical demand. Second, and relatedly, is the constancy over time of the nurses’ exposure to loss, tragedy, despair, and death. Third, is the fact that stressful nurse work occurs in the absence of workplace interventions that offset these deleterious effects.1
Fact No. 2: The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily and not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet. This sort of denial is no small matter.2
Fact No. 3: Some of the best caregiving advice we’ve ever heard comes from flight attendants: “Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”3
Writer Joan Anderson the author of several books on women’s self-care, wrote something that recently caught my eye.4 She said that we women have made surrendering to the wishes of others an art form. Nurses, I then reflected, are at dual risk for the surrendering process, immersed as we are in the ministering of care to the highly vulnerable and often overwhelmingly dependent.
Anderson subsequently stated that we need to learn to turn our compassion around and embrace ourselves. Perhaps we would become more invested in self-care if we thought of our bodies as the receptacle that holds our nursing knowledge, clinical savvy, and passion for our work. If our bodies become compromised due to disuse or lack of attention, we will no longer be able to do our chosen work. If you don’t nourish and reinvigorate your mind and your spirit, will your empathy subside or weaken? Think of all that your body, mind, and spirit have done for you on automatic pilot. Is it not time to make a prescription for self-care rather than wait for crisis to call?
Anderson spoke of becoming a scholar of yourself and your soul.4 My colleague Nancy Jo Bush and I recently published a workbook on self-care for nurses that addresses the many negative sequels to self-avoidance.5 Start by putting a plan together that integrates nurturing all elements of yourself on a daily basis. No time, you say? There are 86,400 seconds in every day. Can you not allocate 300 of those to just you?
The underlying premise of self-care is healing. Acknowledging that our chosen work is often manifested as witnessing tragedy, our close proximity to the dark side of life requires us to purposefully offset stress by putting into place interventions that sustain us. A well-tuned blueprint for wellness includes purposeful attention to nutritional, physical, emotional, social, recreational, and stress-reducing activities to rejuvenate and embolden yourself.5
A central irony in nursing is that the majority of nurses perceive themselves as giving, caring people but find it hard to nurture themselves.1 Do me wrong the next time I write about this topic. Oncology nurses, make me eat my words. Take care of yourselves.
- Boyle D.A. (2011). Countering compassion fatigue: A requisite nursing agenda. Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, 16(1), Manuscript 2.
- Remen R.N. (1996). Kitchen Table Wisdom. Riverhead Books: New York.
- Pausch R. (2008). The Last Lecture. Hyperion Books: New York.
- Anderson J. (2006). A Weekend To Change Your Life. Broadway Books: New York.
- Bush N.J. & Boyle D.A. (2012). Self-Healing Through Reflection: A Workbook for Nurses. Hygeia Media: Pittsburgh.