As a nurse how many times have you told family members to go home? Go home or you will get sick & not be able to help your loved one. As a nurse, has anyone ever told you that? Probably the closest you have gotten has been “don’t come near me & infect me with whatever you have”. Nurses know that when they stay home sick they may not be replaced; therefore, colleagues will be left to pick up the extra work. Working short staffed, you hope an extra coffee, maybe a chocolate bar or some donuts will provide extra energy to get through. But, that only works for so long & then the next person gets sick & the cycle continues. This is a familiar story that every nurse knows all too well. You are not doing yourself or your colleagues any favours by continuing in this cycle of destruction. As a nurse you are a leader: lead yourself by caring for yourself.
As nurses we know what we need to do:
- eat a healthy diet
- get adequate sleep
- be physically active
- maintain a healthy weight
- have a strong social support system
- live in a healthy community
- spend time with your family
- make time for yourself
- keep your brain active
- embrace your spirituality
- listen to your body
Of course this is easier said than done; the culture of ignoring self has been around for a long, long time. This is just the beginning; remember “you are not selfish” when you care for yourself. If you do not care for yourself you will go from being a caregiver to someone needing care, & possibly be a burden to your family. No nurse wants to be in that situation.
For two years I struggled with increasing fatigue, repeated sinus & other respiratory illnesses. With prolonged physical problems, my mental status was slipping into the doldrums; I wasn’t depressed, but it was starting to seem that might not be far away. I was prescribed time off work for ‘burn out’. Though I felt much better after six months off, I did not return to my previous state of health, & the amount of progress I made vanished within a very short period of time. Eventually I was able to get back to work on a very restricted schedule, but within 4 months I had the same old respiratory illnesses, extreme fatigue, & body aches. More time off, then a repeat of the same thing. During this time – we’re looking at close to 2 years now – I was a slug at home. I’d get home from work & collapes; no energy for anything. My poor husband didn’t have much of a wife & was doing housework, shopping, & cleaning.
At about the one & a half year mark I finally got a diagnosis: I had an autoimmune disease (PBC) & it was responsible for the extreme fatigue. Though I thought knowing the reason would help, & it did, mentally, it did not help my energy level, if I overdid I got quite ill. This was distressing as I loved my job, loved being a nurse, but I could no longer work. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t do much at home either, & was missing out on many of the things in life that I enjoyed. If I had listened to my body & if I had taken better care of myself would it have made a difference? Could I have prevented my autoimmune disorder, or could I have maybe felt better for longer? No one really knows; &, that is the past & I am moving forward.
This is not about me, I’m doing ok & I have learned a lot; but, I hope my story inspires you to care for yourself. I found out my workplace didn’t really need me. My family managed, though they all had more work to do & none of them really needed that, especially because of me. So what will you do?
My questions to you are these:
- Are you happy?
- Do you love your job?
- Are you happy with the amount of time you have for yourself?
- Are you happy with the amount of time you have with your family?
- Are you satisfied with your health?
- Do you feel you are missing out on anything?
You know what the answers should be: what changes do you need to consider? How will you make these changes?
I believe every nurse is a leader; whether he or she thinks so. But most important everyone must know thy self, must lead thy self. Self-care is difficult: our culture puts so much pride in working too many hours, working too hard, not having time to eat well, or get enough activity, going to work when ill, not taking vacations, & not having time for self that we brag about these ‘hardships’. I don’t think this makes much sense: do you?
What can you do? Start with yourself, talk to your colleagues: can you support each other in a quest to be healthy & happy? I am passionate about nursing & leadership: I hope to see the changes I have been championing come about in my time, but I need your help. Let me see the initiatives demonstrating nurses caring for themselves.
“Be the change you wish to see in the world”.