Nursing Wellness: Not An Oxymoron
By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
Clinical nurses work hard, and this can include long hours, significant physical demands, the emotional labor of nurse-patient relationships, and witnessing the suffering of others. Nurses with desk jobs also experience significant forms of on-the-job stress, so there’s generally no escape from some level of stress and hardship in our illustrious and noble profession.
Nursing Can Take A Toll
When I speak with nurses around the country, some tell stories of burnout, compassion fatigue, poor self-care, and a loss of any sense of personal wellness. Some nurses lose touch with their social circles, have strained relationships with family, rely on medication or alcohol to relax, and generally feel run down and depleted of their professional lives.
Talking to nurses about wellness and self-care, I’m sometimes met with ironic laughter, but also with cynicism and frustrated anger. No matter how many consecutive times nurses are voted the most honest and trustworthy professionals in the annual Gallup poll, that doesn’t change the reality on the ground for those nurses who feel like they’re run over by a truck during every shift.
Nurses can bear the brunt of patients’ resentment, isolation, and sadness, and nurses in some milieus simply run themselves ragged during long shifts without breaks or meals.
As a nurse who has myself experienced burnout, there’s something wrong with this picture. We can’t allow nurses to avoid caring for themselves; after all, healthy and happy nurses no doubt provide better care for the patients who need them to be at their best.
Making Wellness A Priority
Not a single nurse has ever graduated from nursing school and said, “I plan to become burnt out and unhappy in my nursing career, and there’s no way I’m going to make time for my own self-care.”
We all graduate from school with lofty goals and visions of what our careers will look like, and many of us come up short-handed and disillusioned. While the healthcare system or our employers could certainly make our jobs easier with more progressive policies, we can’t sit around waiting for someone else to fix us. The fact is, no one will make us take breaks, eat lunch, practice good sleep hygiene, and exercise; we nurses have to do it for ourselves.
As natural health advocates and promoters of wellness by the very nature of our training and education, nurses can set an example for others by making self-care and personal wellness a priority.
Wellness encompasses mental, emotional, and spiritual health, as well as all aspects of physical well-being. Nurses have a strong grounding in psychology, and we are educated to support our patients in achieving their health goals; however, are we as an expert in supporting ourselves in the same pursuit?
Not An Oxymoron
Nurse self-care and wellness is not an oxymoron, as much as you cynical, burnt out nurses would like to believe. You can allow your health to go downhill for so long, but once those stress-related illnesses begin to manifest, you’ll have a clear sign that you need to up your game and pay attention.
Nurses, if you’re not paying attention to your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being, there’s no time like the present to begin doing so; if you’re burnt out and in need of support, make it a new priority to actually ask for it. And if you’re suffering in any way from the impact of your work as a nurse, the moment has come for you to take inspired action before you end up paying the Piper with degraded health and a terribly diminished quality of life.
It’s time to take action, nurses; seize the day and prioritize your own health and well-being. You’re worth it.
Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach, award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.