The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers

In the event that there is a drop in cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the overhead bin. If you are traveling with others, please put your own mask on first before the others.

For those who travel on airlines, you hear that statement every time you fly. This simple statement enforces the importance of taking care of the caregiver so they can continue to take care of others.

As a nurse, the ultimate caregiver, how often do we continue to overlook caring for ourselves?

According to the World Health Organization, self-care is defined as “What people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, and to prevent and deal with illness.”

Self-care is a skill that as many of us know, nurses, in general, tend to neglect. The practice of self-care really is quite easy to attain and if integrated into our lives on a regular basis, we can decrease our stress levels, live healthier lives and live longer more meaningful lives.

From a 2012 survey of 2,500 nurses in North Carolina, it was self-reported that over 71 percent suffered from musculoskeletal pain and over 18 percent reported experiencing depression. In addition to these self-reported findings, stress causes a higher incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and related cardiac disease. Increased and prolonged levels of stress hormones can lead to a decrease in your immune system, chronic fatigue or depression.

There are several self-care strategies that as a nurse you can focus on to identify and improve self-care:

  • Mental: Practice meditation or mindful breathing exercises, enjoy an Audiobook or engage in a new hobby.
  • Physical: While nursing is already established as a physical career, according to the CDC the Guidelines for Physical Activity for Adults is at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical intensity every week.
  • Emotional: As nurses in general, we often see our patients at the most difficult parts of their health journey, despite our best efforts. It is important that we incorporate an outlet to express these emotions.
  • Spiritual: Whether it is religious or not, this can be a key component of self-care and wellness.

What can you do to take a more active role in your self-care? The answer is simple and does not cost a lot, in fact, a lot of self-care activities require no or little financial outlay:

  • Meditation or mindful breathing: As little as five minutes a day can help to reset your mindset and provide a new outlook. There are several great free apps, such as Insight Timer or Calm, that offer a wide variety of meditations and breathing exercises. Podcasts for meditation are also another excellent resource to practice calming mindfulness.
  • Yoga: The great thing about yoga is that you can do it almost anywhere at any time and you don’t need to purchase any equipment to participate.  A yoga practice can be as short as 5/10 minutes or an hour plus. There are numerous free videos on YouTube or various yoga apps.
  • Journal: Journaling is a wonderful opportunity to express or capture your thoughts or feelings.  There are journaling prompts that you can find online to inspire you.
  • Walk: Go for a walk, take a friend, take a dog, take a grandchild. The point is to get out and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.

Continuing to care for ourselves as nurses, allows us the ability to heal and regenerate so we can provide the necessary support for those who need our assistance the most.

About the Author

Pamela White, Process Consultant, Professional Services