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 regular travelers that’s a familiar statement every time we fly. This simple announcement 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, but 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, longer, and 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 higher incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and related cardiac disease. Increased and prolonged levels of stress hormones can lead to decrease in your immune system, chronic fatigue or depression.
There are several areas 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 a physically 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 their worst and deteriorate despite our best efforts. It is important that we incorporate an outlet to express these emotions.
- Spiritual: Whether it be religious or not, this can be a key component to 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. As little as five minutes a day can do a reset to your mindset and provide a new outlook. There are several great Meditation apps, like Insight Timer or Calm, that are free, and offer a wide variety of meditations and breathing exercises. Podcasts for Meditation are another excellent resource.
I always thought that for me to do Meditation I needed a dedicated location in my house, a meditation cushion, and spend 30-60 minutes a day. Boy was I wrong. I started out small and listened to 5-minutes of a guided meditation a day. Monkey mind is a real phenomenon, and I thought I was not a good meditator, because my mind would always wander. This is normal, and the best thing to do is to acknowledge the thought and file it away. Lately I have discovered walking meditations. I now often combine my early morning walks with meditations.
Mindful Breathing. The great thing about mindful breathing is you can do this anywhere anytime. You can go into an empty patient room or break room. A great breathing exercise is to inhale to a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale to a count of four and hold for a count of four. Simple, but you switch your thoughts to really focus on your breath and do a reset.
Yoga. Another excellent idea is yoga, which also doesn’t require any equipment to participate. A yoga practice can be a short as 5-10 minutes to an hour and can be done almost anywhere at any time. There are numerous free yoga videos on YouTube or various Yoga Apps.
At home perhaps use couch cushions to sit on, books for blocks, and a belt for a strap. The investment is minimal, but the rewards are phenomenal. I always teach my classes that now that they have reset their mind and body from their practice, to take that off the mat and share with others. When on the unit, I created a quick 10-minute yoga flow that you can do on your break. It is based on focusing on Tadasana (Standing Mountain Pose) and stretching. You don’t have to utilize the floor for this type of simple practice.
Another great thing about yoga, is that it’s YOUR practice. There’s no competition, you do what your body tells you to do. Most poses, have several variations/modifications that you can utilize where your body and mind will still benefit from the practice.
Journal: Journaling is much different than the thoughts of keeping a diary when we were young. Journaling is a wonderful opportunity to express or capture your thoughts or feelings and it is a great way to control your symptoms and improve your mood. It also provides you an opportunity to recognize triggers and provide positive self-talk.
Really there is no excuse not to keep a journal except for you don’t want to. Again, there is no specific equipment/tool that one needs to purchase. You can use any type of paper or spiral notebook and a pen. Don’t know what to journal about? There is a plethora of journaling prompts that you can find online to inspire you. In addition, there are also many wonderful card decks with inspirational quotes and journaling prompts. Journaling is such an important piece of your self-care.
Physical Activity: Go for a walk, take a friend, take a dog, take a grandchild! Ride a bike. Swim. Whatever moves you moves your body. The key is to get up and get moving. The point is to get out and enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. Don’t use the weather as an excuse. I have known to become a mall-walker in the winter. Or, as a friend of mine says, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing. This was my “mantra” this past winter when the snow and cold made its annual appearance.
Self-care is a vital part of our well-being and for us to be successful as Caregivers and people we need to incorporate it into our daily life.
Am J Nurs. 2012 Feb 112 (2) 30-8 Nurse’s presenteeism and its effects on self-reported quality of care and costs.