Self-care for nurses and midwives

Dianne Lee and Cassandra Jovic
As nurses and midwives, we understand the importance of supporting patients, families and colleagues, but sometimes we put our own wellbeing last. No matter what stressors we face at work and home, we need to nurture our own emotional, physical and social health. What techniques can we build into our day so that we don’t just cope, but thrive?

We hear from some nurses and midwives who feel that self-care is an extravagance or something only a weak person would need, but this is not true. While self-care once seemed like a foreign concept, there is increasing understanding within the healthcare industry that not only is it beneficial for our personal heath, but by taking time for ourselves we also become better clinicians.
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Self-care isn’t selfish
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“Some people might think that it’s a selfish act, but it’s not selfish,” says Teresa Conte, PhD, CRNP, Assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Scranton, USA. She discovered early in her training that no matter how tight her budget, she could make it through the bad days knowing that she had scheduled a massage in the next few weeks.

Teresa says, “as nurses we always see ourselves as caregivers. But if you get so bogged down in being a helper that you’re fatigued or constantly thinking of leaving the profession, what good is that? You’re doing more for your patients by honouring and taking care of yourself. 

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How to get started
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You are probably already familiar with the basics — a balanced diet, plenty of rest, and regular exercise. These lifestyle choices help us cope physically and emotionally with stress.

But it’s not just about looking after our body; our mind is important as well. We all need to be uplifted in other ways so that we’re energised to adequately care for ourselves and our patients.

Self-care can be really simple. You could try:

  • yoga
  • a meditation app
  • dancing
  • cooking or baking
  • massage
  • reading
  • enjoying a coffee before work at your favourite cafe.

It’s important to find self-care methods that work for you, and carving out the time so that you do them and celebrate it regularly. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. By scheduling self-care practices, any conflicts or challenges that arise throughout the day become easier to tackle.  

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Beyond activities
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In addition to scheduling activities worthy of your time, there are other steps you can take to centre yourself personally, so you’re prepared professionally. Prior to work, for example, you can prepare for the challenges ahead by repeating a favourite mantra like, “I plan to make a positive difference by being here today. May I be calm and focused.”

Dianne, a registered nurse, finds it really helpful to look after her feet at the end of a long day, “I often end my working day with a foot spa,” Dianne says. “I use an electric one that vibrates and bubbles. It also gently massages my feet. You can also use a large bowl instead. I use warm/hot lemon-scented water or mineral salts, or both!”

Dianne says that just 10 minutes makes a big difference to her mental health, “Listening to music or silently meditating at the same time is deeply relaxing. Following the foot spa, I wipe my feet thoroughly with a fresh towel and apply some soothing foot balm. Lovely.” 

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Ending your day and your shift well
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At the end of the day, we usually retreat to our homes where boundaries should be set. One suggestion is to not carry stress and conflict from work through the front door. Visualise leaving it in your place of work as you leave for the day. Some people find that removing their watch, ID badge and uniform can be a ritualistic reminder that they’re off duty and away from work.

Of course, if we’ve had a really tough day, some stress may come home with us. Even then, we can learn tactics to try and dispatch it. Practise only dwelling on a work issue for a few minutes and release it like a balloon into the air. We don’t want stress or negativity to permeate our sanctuary.  

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How to get started
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If you want some more tips about self-care, or have any other questions, please get in contact with us. There is no reason too big or small to call our service. We are here for you anytime on 1800 667 877 and are looking forward to taking your call. 

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What can I do next?
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We have more information on staying healthy or you could check out some of our other articles on:

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7 to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. Call 1800 667 877, or request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact, take a look through accessing support.

If you would like to read more about self-care you can check out some of these resources: 

50 self-care ideas for nurses to recharge on days off, Ameritech – College of Healthcare

111 creative self care ideas to nurture your mind, body and soul, Inner Compass Designs

25 self-care tips for the body and soul, Strong Sensitive Souls

Self-care concepts – CareSearch palliative care knowledge network, and

8 Quick Self-Care Strategies for College Students – Mindsoother Therapy Center.