When I’m healthy I can be a better Mum, partner, and nurse. I’m an early career mental health nurse and I have learned that taking care of my mental health and well-being is vitally important.
As a student — and again as a mental health graduate nurse — I was told that self-care is important. I hope you have been told this too!
Self-care means something different to each of us. I encourage you to explore what is best for you.
Start by asking yourself questions such as:
- What brings you joy?
- What helps you to de-stress?
- Do you have an established self-care routine?
I spent most of my first two years of nursing playing around with these ideas and trying lots of ways to keep myself on track with a self-care routine.
Here’s what I learned.
1. Balance family life with study and work
I had a child in what I expected to be my final year of my nursing studies, as a result I extended my study from 3 years to 5 years. The experience forced me to grow up and take stock of what mattered to me. It kept my career as a focus for me and my family. We had to work together so that I could manage the demands of both my family and my career.
Having a child was difficult. I was stuck studying at home during a pandemic with a toddler who just wanted cuddles. The guilt was real, and I made up for lost time as best I could.
My partner was amazing. He’d take our child to the park to give me space to get on with my study. He would return with bakery treats and coffee and — often times — a sleeping child. Together, we were able to create the time and space I needed to reach our goal of finishing my studies.
2. Work out a study routine that suits you
As a mental health graduate nurse, I’ve been encouraged to take on post-graduate studies. This has been a mammoth task. In the beginning I struggled with time management. It took me awhile to establish a study routine that worked for me.
I learned that setting whole days aside worked for me and helped me to prevent my studies from interfering with my family life.
I would pack up and head to the library to have uninterrupted study days. Sometimes, I’d only study for a few hours after work, but mostly I tried to allocate a couple of days to study before an assignment was due. I love going to the library on the weekend, taking over a conference room and bringing in every relevant book to reference.
This helped to keep me present and prioritise my family when at home, rather than be distracted by study.
3. Carve out family time outdoors
We tried to get out of the house whenever we could, so we didn’t have to think about cleaning! We are committed to giving our child happy memories of adventures and outings.
Recently, we moved to a new area and missed our social connections. Since we didn’t have friends nearby to enjoy picnics with as we did in our previous home, we sought out new family programs and got involved. Often we just checked out different playgrounds in the area. We met a lot of new people that way.
4. Eat well
Eating healthy food is one of my main self-care priorities— but I don’t always stick to healthy eating! I have been known to get home from an evening shift and crack open a pack of chocolate biscuits and eat the pack before going to sleep! Hey, I’m only human!
Thankfully, for me, the joy of cooking a wholesome and nutritious meal far outweighs the guilt of those biscuits! I discovered cooking delicious bulk meals when time allowed ensured we had something good to eat, which supports our emotional and physical well-being.
When I do eat those biscuits, I’m going to enjoy them, rather than waste time feeling guilty!
5. Manage your alcohol consumption
When I was a student, I always thought that I’d be drinking wine by the bottle nightly once I reached professional status and had some of my free time back. Happily, I found the opposite to be the case!
When I started working, I prepared myself and signed up for a wine subscription. My partner also wanted to reduce his sugar intake, so whisky mixes were out the window! Unexpectedly, the bottles piled up.
I realised that when I got home from work I was tired. Alcohol was not what my body and soul needed. So, I just didn’t drink — not to say that I’m completely sober. I simply chose the mood. If I knocked off work and felt like beer, I’d usually only drink 1 or 2.
As a nurse I’m aware of the importance of drinking in moderation. The health benefits of mindful alcohol consumption are well known.
6. Embrace fun activities
An important part of my self-care, especially in terms of my mental health, was to not put any extra pressure on myself. If I got home and the kitchen bench was covered in the day’s activities, we would have a picnic dinner in the lounge room. Things like that help keep life lighter and more fun.
Laundry was something that became therapeutic to me! It is an escape to the outdoors and a satisfying task to complete. We use cloth nappies at home, so it was important to keep on top of this. I do at least one load of washing every day and enjoy the monotonous task of pegging and unpegging. Sometimes this is my daily stretching — a good multitask!
7. Schedule quality time with others
Date nights became important. Our version was date days, as my partner was full time stay at home parent and our child takes a long time to warm to strangers. We had day care for one day a week, so we made sure we would go out for breakfast or lunch or just sit together in the calm of a childfree environment and reconnect.
8. Find an exercise that you want to keep up
I tried going to the gym for a few mornings in the early stages of the year. I got up early and gave it a red-hot go, but it didn’t satisfy me. I’m not that kind of morning person and it was really helpful to recognise that.
I love yoga but finding a class that fits in with my shifts and with the constant lock downs was hard. I let that go for the first year. When I found that my old yoga instructor offered online recorded classes I started again and now do yoga almost every night once the little one is in bed.
I also have a yoga app and stretching app. Every night I do one or two activities, to shake off the day.
9. Discover a self-care routine that works for you
I’m enjoying discovering and exploring my self-care and what is best for my well-being. I regularly remind myself that my health matters and encourage you to adopt this mantra.
Discover what works for you, what fits with your life and what you enjoy — these key elements are my recipe for improved health.
If you need a helping hand to sort out your self-care routine Nurse & Midwife Support are happy to chat to you and help you to develop your plan. Give them a call on 1800 667 877 or email them.