Nursing is one of the most rewarding careers, but it can also be one of the most challenging. When we consider the complex needs of our patients, the demands of our employers and the ongoing changes in healthcare, there are so many reasons why self-care is so important.

Once upon a time, nursing dealt a great deal with diligence and service to others. The premise that "it is better to give than to receive" was a commonly accepted, and with good reason. It does feel extremely good to do for others, and noble not to accept anything in return. The good news is that nursing continues to remain about caring for others, but self-care is also crucial.

What is self-care?

Self-care is maintaining our body, mind and spirit with practices that enable us to stay healthy, strong and more apt to endure the daily stressors we encounter. Self-care is also about setting boundaries. When we are constantly giving, giving and giving more, an imbalance occurs.

If there is no time to rejuvenate and we take on more than we can handle, a deficit will occur. This deficit will manifest in stress, decreased immunity, mental/physical illness and disease, and career burnout. Even more good news is that we are learning how to take better care of ourselves, so we can sustain and thrive in our profession and personal lives.

Types of self-care

Self-care is not limited to pedicures and bubble baths — although they are great.

  • Physical self-care is nurturing our physical bodies through exercise, proper nutrition, hydration and supplementation.
  • Mental self-care includes pursuing higher education (CEUs count, too), learning a new skills like dancing or playing instruments, reading favorite books, and writing them as well. Fun is just as much a part of mental self-care.
  • Spiritual self-care comes in many ways. Daily spiritual practices don't have to be specific to any religion. Praying, meditating, yoga and walking labyrinths are ways that we can practice spiritual self-care.

Practicing one aspect improves our entire well-being, but practicing all aspects will help restore balance and harmony. Believe it or not, these are all a form of self-care.

Moving forward

How do we replenish our stores and promote self-care? All it takes is five steps.

  1. Make the choice to practice self-care.
  2. Be accountable to that decision. The busiest day when we feel we don't have time to nurture ourselves is the most important time to make "us" priority.
  3. Share what we are doing with others. Help people to understand that it is not being selfish to consider their own needs and to listen to their bodies to make the right choices for themselves. Being mindful of oneself is one of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and it gives others the permission to do the same. Our patients can tell whether we practice what we preach. We are like mirrors to them and to each other. Their outcomes are often based on what they see us reflect to them.
  4. Be accountable to one another. We are our nurse's keeper, and helping others to better care for themselves will make a difference in the long run for everyone.
  5. "Keep calm and self-care on." The days get stressful and hectic, but remember that you hold the key to being the best you that you can be.