As nurses, we are committed, conscientious, and compassionate about caring for patients, friends, colleagues, children, and significant others. Do we provide the same loving and unconditional care to ourselves? I think not.
I can speak for myself -- I am currenly very overwhelmed with worry and concern for many people in my life: A family member with cancer who has had numerous complications, a colleague also suffering the effects of cancer, a husband admitted for pneumonia after the flu, uncertainty of my teaching position due to budgetary cuts, and yes, “scan- xiety” for my follow-up CT to evaluate the status of my non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Recently, an article by Yolanda Smith caught my eye.¹ The author, also a nurse, describes how her life was turned upside down due to stress overload. She was forced to learn how to truly care for herself. The nursing process is a method we are all familiar with, and can it provide startling results in our own lives over time.
Are you able to relax, have fun, and enjoy simple pleasures? Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you smoke, drink, or eat to reduce tension? I am sure I consumed a box of chocolate chip cookies because I was feeling stressed. Nurses are good at handling many stressors at work, home, and in our personal lives, but we may not realize we are having emotional reactions to this stress as stress has become our way of life.
The author describes work/life balance as all aspects of our life being in equilibrium. A sudden increased demand on one side throws everything off balance. Smith suggests that we focus instead to work/life integration. It's about combining work, personal life (including family), relationships, and personal growth.
Can we examine the role of unhealthy beliefs and perceptions in our life? When stressed, I tend to think negative thoughts -- the “what ifs.” Unfortunately, my body reacts to the negative thoughts, even when the negative event has yet to happen.
Learning self-care is a way of life that enables one to truly love oneself. Self-care principles may be as simple as:
- Accept that self-care is not selfish: We should do something for ourselves each day. Identify activities that you enjoy. They may include meditation, exercise, journaling, prayer, or eating healthy.
- Manage time effectively: I have learned to have a daily “to do list,” and I try not to bring work home.
- Learn how to say no comfortably: This may be difficult at first, but does improve with time.
- Set limits.
- Live, love, laugh every day.
- Physical: Yoga, reduce caffeine and sugar intake
- Emotional: Deep breathing, listening to music.
- Mental: Replace negative thoughts with positive, use a journal.
- Spiritual: Meditate, prayer.
- You can change your life one step at a time.
- After assessing personal barriers to self-care, you can change your behavior by setting self-care goals and protocols.
- Let the inner child have fun by engaging in activities that make you feel good. The author of the article reports that with self-care, your mood will change and you will soon experience increased energy and calmness.
I can report that during this stressful time, I have taken this advice and started several self-care activities that I enjoy. I am not allowing myself to feel selfish or guilty that I am doing these things, and quite honestly, I have started to feel a certain calmness and improved energy level.
I suggest to my professional colleagues that we take the time to evaluate the care we provide to our “self,” and seriously take this opportunity to transform our life and create more balance.
- Smith, Y. (2013) How to Love and Care for Yourself Unconditionally. American Nurse Today. 2013; 8(1):30-33