After working as both a nurse and nurse practitioner for over 20 years, LaShanda Brown, PhD, RN, GNP, knows firsthand how stressful nursing can be.
Today, Brown, a research nurse manager at the Wake Forest School of Medicine’s Center for Healthcare Innovations in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, teaches her nursing colleagues and other health professionals the importance of developing a self-care routine for their mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
“Having a self-care plan means embracing strategies that improve energy, mental clarity, and confidence and making this a priority in your life,” said Brown, who believes in taking a holistic approach to help nurses integrate self-care into their daily lives.
This past year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many nurses have worked long shifts caring for critically ill patients while also worrying about possibly contracting the virus. Brown says self-care has never been more important for nurses. “Self-care is a multifaceted process,” she said. “A tired body won’t operate even if you’re eating healthy foods. Nurses need to take steps to care for both their mind and body.”
When she works with nurses to develop a self-care plan, Brown includes the following steps.
Include Exercise in a Self-Care Routine
Regular exercise can benefit both your mental and physical health. Brown, who teaches yoga, has found the practice to be one of the best tools in a self-care routine and says it’s an appropriate activity for all ages and activity levels.
“People often see super flexible yogis and think they could never do yoga, but the reality is there are a lot of modifications you can make to simplify yoga poses,” she said. “There are yoga poses that reduce lower back pain and a sore neck if you spend a lot of time working on the computer and poses that will allow you to fall asleep faster and get a better night’s sleep.”
Brown offers online virtual yoga classes and other self-care information at soulcareyoga.net.
Since a good night’s sleep is an integral part of a self-care plan, Brown encourages nurses to practice good sleep hygiene by setting a regular schedule, unplugging from electronics before bed, and having an evening ritual that allows you to quiet your mind and put the day’s work behind you.
“My own ritual is journaling before bedtime,” she said. “You can use your journal for self-reflection or to articulate and understand your feelings.”
Practice Self-Care Through Healthy Eating
While it can be tempting to turn to comfort food during stressful times, Lauren Minchen, MPH, RDN, CDN, nutrition consultant for Freshbit, the free AI-driven visual diet diary app, says choosing foods that support energy and stamina is also essential.
“I always recommend prioritizing protein and then pairing it with either a whole-food carbohydrate or a healthy fat or both,” Minchen said.
For example, she recommends a quick protein of two hard-boiled eggs with a carb, like an apple or berries. Or try 2% Greek yogurt with honey or a chopped banana mixed in. A healthy idea that doesn’t need to be refrigerated might be whole grain crackers with two tablespoons of peanut or almond butter.
Staying well hydrated is also important to maintain energy and improving your mood.
“Water is essential, but I also love non-caffeinated teas for hydration,” Minchen said. “Decaf green, ginger, cinnamon, lemon, and other herbal teas are great for boosting energy with hydration. This goes hand-in-hand with avoiding over-caffeination, which will actually dehydrate you.”
Developing a Support System
Brown says social support is one of the most important, and often overlooked, components of a self-care routine.
“It’s crucial to have a network of like-minded people you can turn to for support and to offer support in return,” she said.
While some people try to go it alone, or keep their emotions in check, Brown says regular peer support can help prevent burnout.
“Today, so many support groups are online that it makes it easier than ever to connect with others,” Brown says.
Consider options such as:
- The Compassionate Caravan, a national project, led by holistic nurses, that offers virtual listening circles, workshops, and more.
- The Facebook group, Nurses Anonymous, offers support to nurses who are experiencing increased stress during the pandemic. Request more information via e-mail.
- Meetup.com also offers support and social groups for nurses both online and in person in cities across the U.S.
- Responderstrong.org is a free site that offers tips and advice from other first responders and healthcare professionals. The site includes evidence-based tools to support all healthcare workers and help them to find balance, succeed, and thrive.
- The American Nurses Association offers the Well-Being Initiative, which features tools, apps, and other resources to help support nurses’ mental health and wellness.
A self-care routine isn’t always a first priority for nurses, but the benefits are truly worth the effort. And with so many options to choose from, they can try several different options to find what works for them.