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Relax, Replenish and Renew: Helping Nurses Find Time to Self-Care

As the first line of care when at one’s most vulnerable, nurses are challenged with maintaining the highest professional standards, while providing the type of bedside manner often reserved for family. Considered one of the most emotionally-taxing professions globally, nurses rarely find time to decompress, replenish, or restore themselves mentally, emotionally or physically.

Stress within the nursing profession has been regarded as an occupational hazard since the mid-1950s and was first assessed in 1960 when Isabel Menzies identified four sources of anxiety among nurses: patient care, decision-making, taking responsibility, and change. The nurse’s role has long been regarded as stress-filled based upon the physical labor, human suffering, work hours, staffing, and interpersonal relationships that are central to the work nurses do. Coupled with advanced technologies and innovations, many are expected to do more, quicker, and with zero error.

Yoga and the use of renewal rooms in health facilities aid nurses in alleviating stress. (Courtesy photo)
Yoga and the use of renewal rooms in health facilities aid nurses in alleviating stress. (Courtesy photo)

“As health care’s brightest guiding lights, we celebrate the work of nurses throughout the ages and advocate for their profession and their safety on the job,” said Jennifer Sheets, Interim HealthCare Inc. president and CEO. Interim HealthCare Inc. is the nation’s leading franchise network of home care, senior care, home health and hospice and health care staffing services. “When patients look into the eyes of a nurse, they often seek comfort, a spark of hope. It is in those exchanges, the hands held, and the tears shed, that bring them back to their jobs every day. As a nurse, I know what it is like to have these moments, and they are my motivation to do the best for the health care industry to this very day.”

But maintaining the brightness of those guiding lights often goes undone. Nursing organizations, including the American Nurses Association (ANA) believe nurses need the benefit of self-directed care for themselves that helps replenish their fortitude mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and professionally. Here are a few of those tips:

Take Advantage of Renewal Rooms. Many health facilities are equipped with renewal rooms that offer stress release to nurses and physicians while on duty. According to a study published in the Journal for the American Medical Association (JAMA), hospitals with less stressful working environments for nurses provided better patient care at lower costs. Patients had better outcomes from their surgeries in hospitals that treated their nurses well and had above-average staffing levels. Many of these rooms are outfitted with inspirational books, yoga mats and indoor waterfalls or sand gardens.

Take Moments to Meditate. The Mayo Clinic acknowledges the use of autogenic relaxation techniques as a quick way to relax in place. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress. You repeat words or suggestions in your mind that may help you relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting and then focus on controlled, relaxing breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.

Keep Moving. Movement, according to the American Holistic Nurses Association, is an antidote for the impact of stress on cells. When planned exercise is not plausible, taking brief moments to move is simultaneously healing and energizing; walk outside during breaks or mealtime, climb the stairs, or park and walk. Yoga can stimulate the thymus gland producing and moving white blood cells. Movement improves lymphatic drainage, gut health, and micro-circulation through the organs and extremities. A 10-minute yoga or stretching practice opens joints, releases synovial fluid, and improves awareness; any movement that feels good, is good! Many websites have free short stretch or yoga sequences for your break time.

Be the Nurse’s Caregiver. Family and co-workers can help to destress nurses by showing some much-needed gratitude for the work they do. Since nurses are always on their feet, consider giving them gifts that pamper their feet like on-site pedicures after shifts or pedicure kits to take home. Similarly, most have “knotted” shoulders from stress, so on-site massage chairs at work, or family shoulder kneading services are always great!

Make Time for Prayer. Spiritually and emotionally, nurses can become overwhelmed by managing life and death decisions, as well as calming the fears and pain of others. While others look to them for immediate comfort, spiritually, they need support as well. Work with the hospital chaplain or your own house of worship for payers and scriptures to support your daily duties.

Maintain the Basics. Notre Dame of Maryland University advises balancing self-care activities with basic care. Understand the difference between basic health maintenance, like staying hydrated and getting enough sleep, and specific self-care activities, like indulging in bubble baths and attending book club gatherings.

Care for Your Emotional Health. This one is sometimes hard to manage because emotions can be stirred unexpectedly and unpredictably. Try to maintain an even emotional keel. Share special moments—like birthdays, anniversaries, or good news—with patients, families, and coworkers, and let everyone know that they are appreciated and doing an excellent job.

Fuel Your Body. Workers of high-stress jobs often work through scheduled lunch breaks while managing the care of patients. This can lead to snacking on quick or processed foods throughout shifts or skipping meals completely. When your body is not fueled with healthy foods, it encourages feelings of anxiety, sluggishness, or light-headedness. Try packing meals the day before that will last the entire shift. If unable to break for a meal, eat small, healthy snacks consisting of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

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