In my over 40 years of nursing I have learned that nurses spend most of their time giving to others. We give to our patients, our colleagues, our family, our friends and our community. I have also learned that so much giving saps our energy and leads to burn out, depression, exhaustion, and dissatisfaction at work and at home.
I am no exception and have struggled my whole career to find balance between my work and my life. It is hard to find that balance when your life is full of obligations to your family, your friends, and all the commitments that come with living in today’s world. Add the distraction and time drain involved with keeping up with social media, e-mail and emerging technology, and I am sure there are days when you fall exhausted into bed and wonder if you got anything done at all.
So, I want to talk about one other thing that I have learned the hard way…. if you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you won’t have anything left to give to anyone else. A person who is exhausted both physically and mentally does not have the ability to care for another. I know I am not telling you anything you don’t already know or have not heard or tried many times before, but I want to provide some concrete steps to help you start investing in the most important person: YOU!
First, acknowledge that changing your behavior is hard. Then, put a note on your bathroom mirror that states something like, “Taking care of me first gives me the energy to give to others”. Put it where you see it every day. My recommendation is that you start with one or two of my suggestions so that you are at least doing one of these every day. As they become habits, then add another recommendation. Experiment with what works for you and then schedule the time right onto your calendar on your phone. You need to make time for yourself before you make time for any other events. Recognize that if you have not invested this time in yourself you may not be able to manage your other commitments. This is like putting money in the bank and insures that you stay healthy and happy. Then forgive yourself when you have a day or week when you just don’t have time for yourself, and start again.
These are in the order of importance so if you can’t do any of the others start with the first one even though for some of you it may be the hardest one to accomplish:
- The research is clear that you need 8 hours of sleep every night. This time is critical so your brain can help your body recover from the day, reset your internal clock and file your memories. It has been proven that getting 8 hours of sleep enhances your memory, makes you more creative, gives you more energy, keeps you slim and lowers your food cravings. It also protects you from cancer and dementia, wards off infections, lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It makes you feel more happy, less depressed and less anxious and best of all it is free!
If you want to read more about the science behind these facts, read:
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. There are many “Apps” that help you track your sleep (for example Sleep Cycle), or you can use a wearable device like a Fitbit. Tracking your sleep helps you understand if you need to be in bed longer just to get your 8 hours of sleep because you wake up during the night. Dr. Walker recommends no caffeine and no medications to help you sleep and outlines methods to improve your sleep. There is a cliff note version of the book but I highly recommend reading or listening to the full text.
- Develop some strategies to help you manage daily stress. My recommendation is at least 20 minutes of meditation once or twice a day, but if you don’t have time even 5 or 10 minutes can provide you with much needed stress relief. I learned the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique but there are many places also teaching Mindfulness Meditation. These places provide support, group meditation and check in to help you maintain your practice. If you are unable to do either of these then download the free Insight Timer App on your phone. It times and tracks your meditations and has links to guided meditations if you want to learn to meditate. There are other apps for meditation that you might want to investigate. The key here is to take the time to breathe, calm your mind, and meditate so you can release the stress of the day.
- I would also recommend some monthly strategies that can be great for helping with stress. This includes giving yourself a massage treatment, going for a Float tank session, or Watsu therapy at least once a month. You need to put this monthly treatment into your budget and consider it time and money well spent on your well-being. Often there are group-on coupons for these treatments so get some coupons and try to schedule a regular treatment once a month. Try several different treatments and see what makes you feel the best.
- It is important to start your day with some stretches or light exercises. I recommend 10 to 15 minutes of yoga stretches. A great App that provides instruction for beginners to advanced practitioners for varying lengths of time is Down Dog. If you are unable to get up early enough to start your day with some light stretches you might want to consider ending your day with a 30 minute Tai Chi routine. It is good exercise, can be done at home and it does not take a gym membership. One good app is Tai Chi Fit. It is easy to make excuses to not go the gym and to not get the exercise you need. I am giving you some ideas that can keep you fit in just a few minutes a day at home.
- Last but not least is being sure you are drinking enough water. You should be drinking ½ your body weight in ounces each day. Most nurses do not want to drink water during the day because then they have to stop to go to the bathroom (why do nurses never go to the bathroom!!??). I have 2 messages here: nurses need to take their breaks (a good opportunity for 5 minutes of meditation and breathing) and they need to sit down and eat their lunch or meal. This means if you work a shift, you need to have your nursing colleagues cover for you while you take your break and you do the same for them. This recommendation includes being sure you bring a healthy meal and healthy snacks. I see so many nurses who take care and time to put together a healthy lunch and snacks for their children but grab a bag of chips out of the vending machine for themselves for their meal. We are what we eat. I learned to prepare the meals for the week over the weekend so everything is ready and I don’t have to rush in the mornings and I always have a healthy lunch.
There you have it. I know from experience how hard this can be to put into practice. I can also tell you how much better you will feel, and how much happier and more productive you will be, if you take the time to put yourself first. All I am asking is for you to give yourself 1 hour a day out of 24. You deserve it.