Regular Self-Care Investments Help Nurses Stay Strong

Why it’s wise, not selfish, to prioritize ‘me’ time

That airplane instruction about donning your own oxygen mask first is almost a cliché by now, but it is also truer than ever for those who work in healthcare. To replenish and recharge from the demands of modern nursing, and to bring one’s best self to work for patients and colleagues, it is essential to create time for rejuvenation. 

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For Mary Beth Thoburn, BSN, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, Chief Nursing Officer at Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital, exercise is one way to do that. Thoburn recently recognized that she was not as strong as she wanted to be and has made it a priority. With a goal to build strength, she started working out with a personal trainer.

“I have spent the last 30 years taking care of my family,” says Thoburn, Chief Nursing Officer at Cleveland Clinic Fairview Hospital. “Now is my time.”

Thoburn’s plan is to stay strong and flexible so she can remain active throughout her career and well into retirement, but her workouts pay dividends in the here-and-now too. “I appreciate the mental break from everything else in life,” Thoburn says.  “For two hours a week, I am totally focused on exercise.”

Her “me time” enhances her empathy for the challenges that patients face when trying to improve their health. “I am a true beginner in this, and at times it is hard!” Thoburn says. As a nurse leader, Thoburn also takes to heart the importance of modeling healthy behaviors for her team members.

Workouts may be a great self-care option for nurses, but they are far from the only option. Preventive medicine physician Roxanne Sukol, MD says the goal of self-care is to help keep a person “revolving on their own axis.” Nurses who are able to be present for their own lives also may bring improved focus to others.  

“In an effort to care for those we love, many of us spread ourselves too thin and forget that nothing good can happen if we don’t keep ourselves on the priority list,” Dr. Sukol says. “We need to love and be kind to ourselves, manage stress, sleep better, nourish our bodies and boost our self-esteem.”

Even small investments of time, made regularly, can help nursing caregivers achieve better balance.  Here are a few ideas worth trying.

Strategies for making time to relax

1-minute meditation

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Experts say that even regular, minute-long efforts can make a difference in helping to recalibrate. While you’re in a meeting or standing in a line, breathe in for a count of five seconds, breathe out for five, and then repeat five times. Likewise, taking small moments for simple yoga moves can help you distress.

Set an intention for the day

Setting an intention each morning can help focus thoughts in a positive direction and actually improve the trajectory of your day. Intentions can be as simple as “Today will be a good day” or “I will do my best today” or even “I will drink enough water today.”

Take a walk

Even short walks can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood and increase self-esteem. Just a few minutes of walking allows the release of endorphins, hormones that promote feelings of well-being. If you can get outside to walk, all the better.

Lose yourself in something you love

Finding a new hobby, passion or pastime – or getting back to something you used to love to do – is a great way to redirect your attention and allow you to truly get away from the pressures of the day. If time seems too short, look for ways to reclaim it. You might be too tired to read at night, but can you listen to an audiobook on your commute? Can you do a craft while you watch TV in the evening or clean the house a little less so you can play piano or pull out your old watercolors?

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Enjoy each bite when you eat

Give your food the attention it deserves and sit down to eat a snack or meal. Also try to finish your dinner or last meal of the day at least three hours before bedtime. Being more mindful while we eat boosts a sense of satisfaction and decreases the likelihood of overeating.

The fine art of saying “no”
For some people – especially those who are inclined to care for others – declining requests for time and resources can be a struggle. It is a skill, however, that can be mastered with practice. Remember that there’s no need to explain why you can’t or won’t do something. Practice the art of politely declining. It gets easier.

The fine art of saying “yes”
New experiences, people and skills make things interesting and occasionally lead to discovering truly life-changing paths. Whether you take a pottery class, go on a date or decide to learn more about spreadsheets, there are many benefits to becoming the kind of person who embraces new opportunities.