Nurses taking care of themselves
“The most important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. If one is to work from a caring, healing paradigm, one must live it out every day. This requires a commitment to self care at that deep level of personal practice and discipline.”
Jean Watson, PhD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAN, LL (AAN)
from In Right Relation: Taking Time for Soul Care Webinar
Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS
My first head nurse used to say “I work in oncology because there’s more to talk about than just the weather.” I was 23 years old then, and it wasn’t long before I learned the deeper truth to her words as I cared for people grappling with the intense physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual gauntlet that cancer throws before them.
We give them treatments that make them sick, even take them to the brink of death, with the goal of saving their lives. We are the professionals who most closely witness and attend to the suffering that is part of so many people’s cancer experiences. We celebrate, laugh, and cry with them. We grieve with them, for them, and for ourselves. We comfort, care for, and love them.
Caring for people with cancer offers us the opportunity to live in the intensity of life, both comfortable and uncomfortable.
Without caring for ourselves, however, we risk a hardening of the heart. We push our feelings down deep, not knowing that what we send to the basement of our mind will start lifting weights and eventually resurface.
If you want your work to support you, not only financially, but in your whole being, you might think about taking a look at the condition of your self-compassion. If it needs shoring up or even life support, consider if you’d like to do the sometimes messy and hard and oftentimes beautiful work of healing. I promise you that honoring your inner healing will make you a better companion to your patients along their healing journey. Self care goes beyond something you do for yourself personally. Modeling self care will be a service to your colleagues and your patients. We’re not talking about perfection, either. You’re human—a fellow wounded healer. Everybody needs to care for themselves—even nurses.
You can choose from many programs for self-care. You can begin by reviewing CancerChoices’ 7 Healing Practices as though you’re a patient, not a care practitioner. You’ll find guidance on how to choose the practices that are right for you as well as resources for learning more and going deeper with a particular practice. We also give information on how to make new healthy habits stick.
Commentary on self care
Feeling depressed or burned out? Get moving!
From Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS: Moving more turns out to be good medicine for depression and other mental-health challenges that health care professionals experience. Physical activity at home guided by a mobile app reduced depressive symptoms and signs of burnout. Those who stayed with the program for 12 weeks also took less sick leave and were far less cynical about and emotionally exhausted from their work.1Boucher VG, Haight BL et al. Effects of 12 weeks of at-home, application-based exercise on health care workers’ depressive symptoms, burnout, and absenteeism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023 Aug 9:e232706. The main take-away is that moving more is key to self-care and reducing the chances of getting burned out.
Perhaps exercising outside the home with a group or buddy works better for you. Finding a way to replace some of your sedentary time with regular “doses” of physical activity is good medicine not only for your body, but for your mind and spirit. See Moving More › for more information and resources.
Helpful links on your own self care
Cancer-focused organizations, including professional ones such as the Oncology Nursing Society, provide resources and support for you to take care of yourself.
Health professional comment
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|1||Boucher VG, Haight BL et al. Effects of 12 weeks of at-home, application-based exercise on health care workers’ depressive symptoms, burnout, and absenteeism: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023 Aug 9:e232706.|