Self-Care for Nurses: 5 Habits That Help

Abstract representation of self-care
Abstract representation of self-care

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As a nurse, you understand the importance of caring for the whole person. As you passionately focus on the needs of other people, though, it’s easy to forget that holistic self-care for nurses is essential, too.

Marymount University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice - Family Nurse Practitioner (DNP-FNP) program equips nurses to achieve higher levels of career satisfaction by advancing career goals—an important component of self-care. And wherever you are on your career path as a nurse, building other whole-person self-care practices is critical to your effectiveness in your job.

Ignoring self-care for nurses may eventually lead to burnout and even compassion fatigue, a condition resulting from burnout combined with exposure to traumatic situations. Since nurses are continually attending to individuals and families in highly stressful circumstances, they are especially vulnerable to burnout and compassion fatigue.

On the other hand, intentional self-care for nurses can keep you energized and well mentally, physically, and spiritually. In your busy day-to-day life, it is vital to commit to valuable self-care practices so they don’t fall by the wayside. To make caring for your own health a priority, we’ve identified five habits that can help.


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Self-Care for Nurses Habit #1: Set Limits and Simplify

Self-care for nurses starts with knowing your boundaries and wisely choosing your time commitments. This applies both to your workplace and your personal life.

Leadership development authority Michael Hyatt says, “Solid boundaries serve as guardrails for our productivity.” By simplifying the clutter of your to-do list, you can focus on what’s most important.

At work, you are continually juggling the expectations of patients, families, leaders, and co-workers. As a nurse, caring about others comes naturally, so you may tend to take on more burdens than you should. Here are a few tips for simplifying your workload:

  • Talk with your supervisor or call an informal meeting with co-workers to assess tasks and reallocate responsibilities, as needed.
  • Evaluate your processes and record-keeping systems and implement technology to help manage workflow and assignments.
  • Give yourself permission to politely wrap up conversations with overly demanding patients before they absorb an undue amount of your time.

Beyond your job as a nurse, you likely have plenty of other responsibilities that weigh heavily on you, too. Following the same general principles you’re using to simplify in the workplace, try this at home:

  • Use a daily planner or electronic task list to map out weekly plans and break up to-do lists in daily chunks.
  • Delegate tasks to other family members when it makes sense, and identify other time-consuming activities you may need to let go.
  • Before taking on a new responsibility, take the time to carefully evaluate how this will affect the top priorities in your life.
  • Pull back from relationships or communication that drains your time and energy.

Abstract representation of self-care for nurses

Self-Care for Nurses Habit #2: Nourish Your Physical Health

As a nurse, you are continually tending to the physical needs of others. If you’re not caring for your own body, though, you won’t have the energy and strength you need to do your job well. Self-care for nurses means nourishing yourself.

Eat for Your Health

When was the last time you assessed your intake of the major food groups? With ChooseMyPlate resources, the USDA makes it easier than ever before to know what to eat and how to build fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein into your food plans.

Filling your diet with colorful foods high in antioxidants is a great way to protect yourself against disease. Adding salads and other vegetables to your meals is important, but you can also sneak in extra nutrients by snacking on fruits, nuts, and whole grains instead of chips and candy bars.

And don’t forget to stay hydrated. A study published by the National Institutes of Health confirms what we intuitively know, that dehydration “impairs cognitive performance.” If you’re struggling with maintaining attention or organizing your work and life processes, this creates stress and inhibits your other self-care efforts. Splurge on a quality water bottle you love and keep it filled and on hand throughout the day.

Add Movement

We know that exercise is critical in self-care for nurses—for anyone. Yet we often sacrifice the time for exercise because of more urgent activities in our daily schedules. Letting important commitments to physical self-care take priority over pressing items on your to-do list, though, may be an investment in your health both in the short-term and long-term.

The CDC recommends 75–150 minutes of exercise weekly, but this can be done in a format that works best for your life and busy schedule. You can break it up into segments throughout the week, and even throughout the day. Moderate-intensity movement—like an energizing walk—counts, too. Taking a 15-minute shift break for an outdoor walk contributes not only to your exercise goals but can also boost your energy for your workday.

Restore Your Body with Good Sleep

Missing out on sleep robs your body of the natural process designed to rejuvenate. Johns Hopkins sleep expert and neurologist Mark Wu, M.D., Ph.D., explains that during healthy sleep, “the brain is engaged in a number of activities necessary to life—which are closely linked to quality of life.”

Low-quality or insufficient sleep also stimulates the production of cortisol, elevating stress levels. And sleeping six hours or less increases your chances of serious health problems.

Assuring good sleep takes some intentionality, though, especially when you’re carrying numerous demands and stresses. These are some tips for improving the quality of sleep:

  • Skip the “snooze” when your alarm goes off.
  • Limit caffeine to morning hours.
  • Minimize liquids and avoid alcohol near bedtime.
  • Adjust your thermostat for a cooler room.
  • Dim lights in the evening.
  • Consider new bedding, including your pillow.
  • Opt for a book over electronic screens in the evening.

Coffee mug with candles and books, representing self-care

Self-Care for Nurses Habit #3: Nurture Your Spirit

Though it may seem counterintuitive, taking time to relax, have fun, or pursue a personal interest can actually boost self-care for nurses. A comprehensive study published by the National Institutes of Health links pleasurable activities to positive physical and psychological outcomes.

Practicing relaxation techniques, mindfulness, or spiritual disciplines can counter anxiety and help you deal proactively with stressors. It may be helpful to block off time each day for quiet reading and reflection. Beyond this, there may be times at work when you need to step away for a few minutes and take some deep breaths or strike a yoga pose.

Outside of work, maybe it’s time to try a new hobby or explore a latent passion. Fuel your creativity by taking a class or joining a club. If you’re an extrovert, being part of a group may energize you even more.

And maybe it’s time to play again—game night, anyone? Turning your attention from work and other responsibilities will lift your mood. Laughter nurtures your spirit by reducing stress hormones.

However you go about it, make time for doing things you enjoy that refresh your spirit.


Self-Care for Nurses Habit #4: Make Room for Relationships

Building healthy relationships requires time and commitment, but it’s a worthwhile effort in self-care for nurses.

Distinguished psychologist and best-selling author Henry Cloud describes the “power of the other” in the value of relationships. Relational connections empower us to move toward our dreams, he says. The process of growing our hearts, minds, and souls “needs other people.”

Identify the most important relationships in your life and prioritize those with intentional focus. Here are some commitments to keep a relationship on the right track:

  • Consider the other’s point of view
  • Demonstrate trustworthiness
  • Share feelings openly with respect
  • Give and take in supporting each other

Some relationships drain us, and others energize us. Self-care for nurses may mean proactively focusing on positive relationships.

When you’ve identified the healthy, reciprocal relationships in your life, you’ll find that investing time with those people helps you to grow and live your best life. Prioritize time for your most important relationships by setting boundaries in your schedule and intentionally planning to spend time together.

As a bonus, choose activities that help you maintain your other self-care habits, too. Schedule a walk or bike ride together. Join the same book club or craft group. Go out for a smoothie instead of ice cream.

Marymount University nursing graduates

Self-Care for Nurses Habit #5: Reach for Your Goals

You chose a nursing career for a purpose, and you’re committed to being your best in living out that purpose. You probably have goals for your professional development, and you may even have some objectives in mind to help you reach those goals.

Pursuing achievement in your career is a vital part of self-care for nurses. In nursing, graduate education is an important step toward that pursuit. In fact, a report published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that nurses with advanced education are more likely to be “extremely satisfied” in their work than those with less education.

If you are considering taking the next step to meet your professional goals, pursuing a DNP-FNP degree is a move with tremendous potential for advancing your career. With growing needs in health care leadership, major organizations are raising the banner for more nurses with doctoral degrees. The Institute of Medicine has even proposed doubling the number of doctorally prepared nurses.

A DNP-FNP degree equips you for professional growth by developing your knowledge and skills in these key areas for leadership in nursing:

  • Quality improvements in health care
  • Research and analysis
  • Ethical leadership and advocacy

Find out how you can make a greater impact in health care with a doctoral degree from Marymount University.


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Celebrating Nurse Practitioner Week - November 8-14, 2020

We are pleased to join in the celebration of NP Week to recognize and honor the nation's dedicated NPs and the exceptional care they provide.