Here is the hard, honest truth: while you have chosen one of the most noble professions, you have also chosen one of the most difficult. In your career, you will face challenges big and small, whether it is a problematic coworker, the death of a favorite patient, or a global pandemic. You will have bad days or weeks when you ask yourself why you didn't choose a less demanding path in life. You will experience exhaustion, frustration, and grief. You will balance not only your nursing responsibilities, but also your commitments to your family and community. But as you question your life choices and wonder how you can take one more step forward, that voice inside you will whisper, "You are a nurse."
Sigma hopes that because of Self-Care for New and Student Nurses, you’ll never have to betray that voice. Several nurses provided personal essays for this book to explore the concept of self-care in their own words, and through them, help you flourish in good times and grow in difficult ones.
An Inner Energy Gauge
By Anna DeLong, LCSW, CEAP
A long journey’s success will be impacted by how well you refuel along the way.
In our culture it is generally accepted mechanical wisdom that if you want to drive across the country in your car, there is no way to do this successfully without pausing to pull over and refuel. Monitoring the gas gauge and refueling accordingly is essential. Neglect refueling and you end up stuck on the side of the road. While this mechanical wisdom is at times challenged to explore the distance one’s vehicle can travel on vapors, it is not questioned. A car requires refueling or recharging in order to sustain progress on the journey.
Can you imagine how your life might be different if you applied this same wisdom to your body? Imagine having an Inner Energy Gauge that monitors not just your physical energy level, but also your emotional energy and your cognitive energy. How might your life be different if you vowed to never go below 1⁄4 tank without refueling? If you were to check your own Inner Energy Gauge right now, what would you discover? Are you running low? Do you know how to refuel? Do you know what nourishes and restores you the most effectively? Do you know your own early warning signs?
Over the past 27 years, I have asked these questions of 1000s of dedicated, hard-working healthcare providers. Not only did they indicate they were on empty more often than not, but many also reported they didn’t know how to refuel or couldn’t remember how they used to do so. I don’t believe this is a coincidence. Instead of self-monitoring and honoring one’s own needs, it is common in our culture to click into high gear and stay there intending to just ‘push through’ in order to bring a mission to fruition. We often walk around with this unconscious assumption that we will somehow automatically just get what we need for ourselves even as we attend to everyone else. This is a problematic and errant assumption. It is imperative that we intentionally and consciously plan to attend to our own needs along the way.
One of the most debilitating symptoms of depletion is the loss of perspective. Diminished frustration tolerance, lack of empathy, foggy thinking, poor memory, and difficulty problem solving are also signs of a depleted energy tank. If you find yourself in this brain state remember this is not an indication of an inadequate person, rather this is a sign of a person low on energy. An optimal response is one that assesses the Inner Energy Gauge and potential refueling needs with grace and self-compassion.
If the goal is to live and work in a healthy and sustainable way, learning to not only recognize signs you are running low on energy but also to respond in ways that effectively nourish and restore you is essential. Rather than just assume or hope you will get what you need, it is WISE to STRATEGIZE. Looking over your calendar to schedule and protect time for refueling at strategic intervals depending upon the pace and amount of energy you are expending will benefit you as well as those for whom you care.
My Time to Unwind
By Nicole Jefferson, BSN, RN
Being a nurse is tough, but being a new nurse working in a pandemic is even tougher. In order to practice self-care during this stressful time, there isn’t just one thing that I do. I exercise frequently, find a good book to read, and try to cook healthy meals. Since the pandemic started, I’ve had more time to explore in the kitchen, so I recently started making my own recipe book. I find new recipes to try, and if I liked the meal, I’ll print it and add it to my personal recipe book.
Another self-care practice that I love to indulge in is dancing. Sometimes I’m up at 2:00 in the morning dancing in my room or learning a new TikTok dance. I’m able to have fun, get some exercise, and express my artistic side all at the same time while moving my body.
The most important self-care practice that I’ve learned is to listen to my body. For me this means taking time out to rest. I’m teaching myself that it’s okay to lay in bed for half a day or to simply do nothing and relax or take a nap. If my body needs to rest, then I let it.
Integration and Synergy are Better Than Balance
By Haley Schlottmann, DNP, RN, FNP-BC
I have learned to adapt to job stresses as best as I can, and I like the word integration much better than work-life balance because work-life balance assumes they each operate in a silo irrespective of each other. Work-life balance assumes you either “have it” or you don’t, but work-life synergy means there’s a give and take, a reciprocity. Synergy means an ebb and flow, showing how increasing demands in one domain can lead to a reprioritization in the other domain, and that is OK, and should always be OK.
As a self-admitted perfectionist, synergy between work and home demands are difficult to grapple with, as it is nearly impossible to achieve truly perfect synergy at all times. I have slowly developed synergy in my life by accepting the things I cannot change and always focusing on a goal professionally (seeking clinical advancement, participating in a quality improvement project, or even setting a goal to search for jobs that do match my definition of a healthy work environment), and most importantly taking time away from work!
In order to bridge the ‘work silo’ with the ‘life silo,’ self-care is important to allow room to feel vulnerability when one of these domains does not feel ‘right’ and letting myself prioritize one over the other without guilt. Finding ways in which I begin to feel synergy again is useful to take inventory of, like practicing yoga, journaling, deep breathing, or even going for a walk helps. Even just intentionally putting a name to my feelings helps when feeling out of balance. Lastly, I achieve synergy by setting boundaries—when work demands feel too high, intentionally limiting time spent doing work at home, or when home life feels too stressful, intentionally working on ways to improve my professional self. Good friends and an impartial/unbiased mentor help more than anything!
The Narrative Power of Music for Self-Care
By Lerner Edison, MSN, MA, RN, CNL, CCRN
Beta Kappa Chapter
Let’s define self-care as a multifaceted practice, and to me, music therapy is the key to the soul. I grew up in the arts as a french horn player and a mass choir singer. It was a time of joy and calmness with a renewal of passion for life itself. However, most of my days as a critical care nurse consist of death, grief, pain, and sorrows with minor celebrations. You have the power of life and death within your hands, while each intervention you do for your patient requires accountability. You must fight for the vulnerable, advocate for change, and think of others over self. These are some of the untold pressures as a nurse, especially a new graduate.
Self-care is a process to detach from others and create a safe space to reflect, meditate, and listen. Music therapy is an opportunity to self-isolate with a sense of protection from the outside world. It is a reminder of good health, financial stability, great relationships, and most importantly, the renewal of passion for nursing. This renewal allows countless opportunities to meet each patient, family member, and team member where they are. A simple touch, gesture, or word can change the patients’ perspective or calm the environment. The music echoes are a reminder that nursing is a calling to lead, to care, to prevent, to change, and to show non-judgmental compassion. We not only need self-care to heal self, but to heal others.
If you love what you’ve read so far, be sure to check out SigmaMarketplace.org to pick up a copy of the complete book.