The work of nurses can be key to the healing process. Yet, while often experts at healing others, many nurses can stumble over the job of caring for themselves.
Diane Poulios, MA, RN, CHCR, AHN-BC, serves as a nurse recruiter at Barnabas Health’s Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., about 50 miles south of New York. She has worked as a nurse since 1980, and she offered the following tips to help nurses help themselves:
To truly care for themselves, nurses must be attuned to their own needs as well as those around them. Understanding the needs of their patients is essential. But nurses must be aware of when they need a breather, a good meal, a night off, a listening ear or more.
Poulios advised nurses to learn the times of day they work best; to avoid overtime when exhausted; to acknowledge and tend to basic bodily needs, including eating nutritious food, going to the bathroom and drinking plenty of water; to use “mental imagery” and “breath work” to restore mental and emotional balance; to smile, laugh and be kind to others “to create a positive atmosphere of healing for everyone;” and to seek out coworkers with whom they can share feelings when time is needed to refresh.
You are job No. 1
“Nurses are taught to care for others from the beginning,” Poulios said, noting she believes nurses often are “called” to the profession.
But to truly care for others, nurses must be “intentionally present” to be “centered and able to use all senses” at all interactions. This duty to the patient and fellow healthcare practitioners, however, is complicated when nurses themselves are ailing.
“We often think we are last on the list,” Poulios said. “But this requires one to be aware of his or her needs first. Therefore, a nurse’s first job is to nurse oneself.”
Be patient with … you
Self-care among nurses often suffers the most at times it can be needed most. For instance, nurses who suffer emotional loss while on the job can allow constraints of time and workload to lead them to avoid taking a moment to deal with the issues before moving on to the next patient.
“Nurses are people too and are deserving of health, happiness and well-being just like anyone else,” Poulios said.
Likewise, nurses should be aware of how they might be affected by the demands of a new or different nursing job or assignment. When changing jobs, nurses should take extra care to remain calm and prepare themselves to avoid anxiety. Once on a new job, Poulios advised embracing the opening days and weeks as opportunities to learn.
“Identify someone you would like to role model and understand learning occurs in clumps of time,” Poulios said. “Be patient and gentle with yourself during this time of new knowledge acquisition.”