Self-Care for Nurses

Daniel Bal
Updated March 23, 2023
    Explore the importance of self-care for nurses and ways in which they can promote physical, psychological, and social well-being.
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    A young African American woman meditating in cross-legged position on her exercise mat in her home.Credit: Ivan Pantic / E+ / Getty Images

    With a pandemic continuing to impact the world, the need for health professionals to take time for self-care is stronger than ever. As first responders on the frontlines, nurses must also care for themselves to provide consistent quality care for their patients.

    According to the World Health Organization, self-care includes “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and to cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.”

    So much of a nurse’s time is focused on helping others that it’s easy for nurses to forget about their own health. Kendall Conn, a pediatric oncology nurse, explains the need for self-care with the common saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

    Self-care is how a nurse can promote their own health (physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and emotional). This guide includes ways nurses can participate in self-care, detailing how “recharging” can help improve patient care.

    Why Is Self-Care Important in Nursing?

    To provide their patients with the best treatment possible, nurses need to practice self-care.

    Jennifer A. O’Neill, chief nursing officer at the Hospital for Special Surgery, states that self-care must not be considered a luxury but a necessity.

    “Nurses are advocates for their patients and their families, so we need to be emotionally and mentally available to care for our patients to the best of our ability,” O’Neill says. “Providing quality care is only possible if we first ensure our own well-being.”

    While the pandemic continues to affect the health system, self-care cannot take a backseat. Self-care can help increase safety and higher quality patient care. Here are 12 nurse self-care products recommended by nurses.

    The Need for Self-Care in Nursing

    Nurses work busy schedules and long hours. Nurse burnout can impact the quality of care nurses provide, leading to lack of focus, forgetfulness, and mental mistakes due to exhaustion.

    [nurses’] health, particularly in the areas of physical activity, nutrition, rest, safety, and quality of life.”

    In fact, 70% of nurses surveyed believed they prioritized their patients’ care over their own, while 77% found themselves to be at a “significant level of risk” for stress in the workplace.

    Nurses must view self-care as a high priority to lessen the negative impact burnout can have on themselves and the care they give to their patients.

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    What Does Self-Care Look Like for Nurses?

    There are various ways to practice nurse self-care, including focusing on physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and personal health. O’Neill engages in several activities to maintain a routine of self-care as a nurse:

    • Scheduling workouts three days a week and walking 10,000 steps a day is an important part of her routine.
    • Socially, she carves out downtime to disconnect from technology and be truly present with her family and friends.
    • Lastly, she engages in activities that give her energy and enjoyment, including hiking, bird watching, and traveling.

    Finding ways to vary her self-care helps her well-being without losing herself in the daily routine.

    Conn focuses on relaxation exercises, such as yoga and meditation, while also incorporating “self-kindness.” Even something as simple as reframing can be a powerful tool in combating fatigue.

    “One of my least favorite things to do is put gas in my car, but over time, I’ve learned to reframe this chore,” Conn says. “Instead of dreading going to the gas station, I consciously remind myself that I’m doing this act as a gift for my future self.”

    Nurse self-care looks different from one person to the next. However, common options include:

    • sun

      Physical Self-Care

      • Take a walk
      • Eat healthy food
      • Ride a bike
      • Work out
      • Join a yoga class
    • sun

      Mental Self-Care

      • Praise and compliment yourself
      • Find an emotional outlet (e.g., drawing, playing music, writing, etc.)
      • Create a gratitude practice
      • Express emotions when you feel them
    • sun

      Social Self-Care

      • Talk with coworkers about nonwork-related issues
      • Go out to dinner with a friend
      • Spend time with family
    • sun

      Spiritual Self-Care

      • Meditate
      • Volunteer
      • Engage in your faith
    • sun

      Personal Self-Care

      • Try a new activity/hobby
      • Create a skincare routine
      • Go on a drive
      • Reward yourself after a hard task

    How to Make Time for Self-Care

    One of the more challenging aspects of nurse self-care is finding the time. With long shifts, especially amid a pandemic, self-care may seem unattainable or overwhelming. However, some techniques can help nurses carve out the necessary time.

    Conn finds it best to promise herself time, while also giving herself grace when she needs it. She stresses that flexibility is key. Self-care should not become an additional burden.

    “Sometimes taking care of myself means taking a nap; other times it means a 45-minute spin class,” Conn says. “There’s no right or wrong way to do self-care.”

    O’Neill agrees that planning ahead is essential when creating a schedule that includes self-care.

    “If you do not plan ahead, activities that are important for your long-term mental and emotional health may be replaced by more urgent day-to-day tasks,” O’Neill says.

    If your schedule becomes too busy, O’Neill believes that even one-minute reflections or just pausing for a moment to take a deep breath can help nurses throughout the day.

    Tips for Prioritizing Self-Care as a Nurse

    While self-care can vary significantly from nurse to nurse, there are ways to prioritize these moments throughout the day, week, or month.

    Nurses need to grasp their work routine to effectively schedule time for self-care and try to stick to it. They should determine what is important, not just professionally but also personally.

    According to O’Neill, one of the best ways to figure out how to balance work and personal life is to take advantage of the experiences of others.

    [Share] your stories and experiences with your colleagues,” she says. “You are not in this alone! We are all here to support each other.”

    Conn suggests that even the smallest tasks can help develop a larger routine, even if it’s something like grabbing an iced coffee on the way to work.

    “Frame those little acts of self-kindness so they become mindful practices,” Conn says. “As time goes on, you won’t need to create a calendar notification; these moments will become a habit.”

    As the country continues to depend on the strength of its healthcare professionals, nurses must find ways to refresh their mind, body, and soul. It is just as important to recognize the sacrifices nurses make, especially as they place the needs of patients ahead of their own.

    Meet Our Contributors

    Portrait of Kendall Conn

    Kendall Conn

    Kendall Conn, RN, is a pediatric oncology nurse who strives to implement holistic practices into her nursing care. Conn has a knack for connecting with others and helping them to make the best out of a bad situation. She has a passion for teaching yoga and helps her students find the sweet spot between an awesome workout and a moving meditation. Conn is currently pursuing her master’s degree in maharishi ayurveda and integrative medicine, with the goal of promoting wellness in even more aspects of her life.

    Portrait of Jennifer ONeill, DNP, APN, NEA-BC

    Jennifer ONeill, DNP, APN, NEA-BC

    Jennifer A. O’Neill, DNP, APN, NEA-BC, started at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) in 2019. Before HSS, O’Neill had a 23-year career with Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) in various roles, with her last role as the chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services where she oversaw all aspects of patient care services and more than 1,500 nurses. Under O’Neill’s leadership, SBMC received Magnet designation in August 2018.

    O’Neill earned her bachelor of science in nursing from Boston College, her master of nursing in women’s health from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and her doctor of nursing practice from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.