Self-Care for Nurses Part 1

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It is hard to know where to start when addressing self-care, but for you as a nurse, self-care is critical. As a nurse, you tend to put other’s needs ahead of your own, but I am here to tell you to put yourself first by performing proper and consistent self-care. You have a duty to yourself, your family, your profession, and your patients to be a good example of health. I know that is a big pill to swallow, but it illustrates the importance of prioritizing self-care. If you do not choose self-care while you still can, then you will require healthcare eventually, and maybe sooner than you thought. Once you start requiring healthcare services, it is going to be difficult for you to get back to a place where you have a choice and then others will be serving you. Choose wisely while you still can.

Frequently, I see nurses that have a difficult time doing direct care due to their physical limitations. Some of these nurses are young or not up in age in my opinion. I do see obesity as being a big problem in nursing. Obesity usually leads nurses to other healthcare challenges. Obesity is more challenging for some than it is for others.  I will give you that, but that does not mean you can not be successful in this area of overall health.

I want to talk with you about how I approach self-care in my own life and how adding some of these practices in your life will give your body the health and resilience it needs to live out your career ambitions to the fullest. Also, after you retire, I want you to be able to enjoy yourself and not have limitations from chronic illness holding you back. I will do my best to put this list in order of importance and be as detailed as possible without writing a book. So here goes.

Sleep – This is very easy for nurses in their 20s and 30s to rate low on the priority list. I have not always followed the best sleep practices myself. As a general rule, most people can not run on six hours a night; you should get at least seven. This is different for everyone.  For example, I need about one hour less sleep a night that my wife (Bethany). 

In the medical world, there is a lot of pressure to perform and climb the ladder, and this can play havoc on time available to sleep. Not to mention some view sleep as a weakness or being lazy. Not to mention the things you have going on at home with your children or whatever drama may come up that keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep. I finally concluded that I needed to sleep to be my best. By sleeping less each night, you lose productivity during the day which will negate the extra time you gained from not sleeping. Here and now, I give you full permission to sleep as long as you need to, as long as it is not induced by medication. If you need long-term medication to sleep, then we have other things we need to work on.

I have written quite a few articles on sleep, and you can find them here.  I will cover some detail here. First, you should keep your room dark (not be able to see your hand in front of your face), and cool (different for everyone).  Go to bed as early as possible (9 pm for me). This will help you to get enough sleep before you have to wake up.  Don’t use electronic devices or watch television before bed. The blue light will suppress your natural melatonin production. You can use blue blocker glasses if necessary.  I would also recommend not to eat or exercise three hours before you plan to go to bed.

Some other suggestions are to keep pets and children out of the bedroom as much as possible while you are trying to sleep.  You can also use an eye mask or earplugs if necessary. I suggest a cheap box fan for white noise. Also, you can use some natural calm, lavender essential oil on your feet, melatonin, or sleepy time tea to help you with sleep as well. There are tons of items on the market that can help with sleep so you can use pharmaceuticals as a last resort. Sometimes pharmaceuticals are necessary but should be minimized as much as possible, especially for long-term use.

Also, if you have been diagnosed with a thyroid condition, it is essential that you get enough sleep so you can reduce the stress on your body. Sometimes autoimmune conditions can be triggered by the stress from not sleeping enough or getting good quality sleep.

Food and Drink – What you eat and drink is essential to your health. There is no if’s, and’s, or buts about it.  I see many nurses eating and drinking things that are not healthy. What I have found is that it is not always as clear to them how what they eat and drink affects their health and how they feel.

Healthy food does not have to cost more, but it will likely cost you a little more, at least at first. The best way to look at this temporarily added expense is to look at it as an investment in your health. I believe in the long run it will cost less to eat healthily. Think about it; fewer work days missed, better quality of life, more energy to do what you need to do, and fewer visits to the doctor just to name a few examples. I could add more.  By cooking a little and bringing your lunch with you to work, you can save a ton over eating out or at the hospital cafeteria.  I like to know what is in my food and I can not be sure unless I am doing the cooking or bringing my food.

Think of the convenience of having your food with you versus having to go to the cafeteria and stand in line. Many of you do not have time to do this. It is nice when you can get your lunch box and start eating right away. Also, make sure you are taking the time to chew your food at least twenty times before swallowing and do not drink too much with your meals. You should be drinking mostly in-between your meals you do not dilute your stomach acid for digestion.

So, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of which foods and drinks are healthy. Basically, our bodies are not designed to take in as much sugar as we get from our western diets. Foods that contain sugar are not just foods where sugar has been added. They are foods such as oatmeal, any kind of bread or cereals, and pasta. If you have excess body fat to lose and/or are a diabetic these are foods you should be limiting in your diet.

I often hear other professionals advising my diabetic patients that it is OK to eat some foods that contain a lot of sugar or have excess amounts of carbohydrates despite their pancreas being unable to secrete enough insulin to cover the rise in blood sugar. Using insulin to cover excess consumption of carbohydrates is not necessarily good for long-term health.  You want to minimize your use of insulin. Insulin is not something to give patients so they can continue to eat a lot of carbohydrates.   Also, make sure you are reading your labels and seeing if there is added sugar and being aware of how many carbohydrates are in the food you are consuming.

Here is where it gets tricky but good. You will need to up the number of good fats in your diet to keep you satiated. This is key to your success.  Then have moderate amounts of protein in your diet. This will keep you from having to eat all the time which is great for time management. Good fats include real butter, coconut oil, nuts, egg yolks, and high-fat dairy. Good protein sources include grass-fed ground beef, wild planet salmon or tuna, organic chicken to name a few. You do not want to go too heavy on the protein because your body can only absorb so much in one sitting. The excess will be converted to glucose and be stored as body fat.  You probably do not want that to happen.

As a good rule of thumb, you will want to stay away from most food that is in a bag or box. Eat something that is in its original state (beef, vegetables, fruits) and has not been altered by chemicals or processed in any way. If you can not kill it or grow it, then it may not be real food. 

Other suggestions are to minimize fruit intake if you have trouble losing weight. Go easy on the nuts and nut butter since they are very calorie rich. Calories do count, but they are not the whole picture when it comes to weight loss as some like to say. Include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickled items, kombucha, some yogurts. The key is to look at your labels and be aware of how much sugar is going into your food. Also, look at the servings per container. For example, I was looking at buying a 32-ounce carton of creamer for coffee, and it said 2grams of carbohydrates per serving. Well, there were 64 servings in this 32-ounce carton. That is a lot considering I might use ten servings for a couple of cups of coffee in the morning.

Last but not least. When in doubt buy organic because we do live in a toxic world whether we like it or not. The truth is many things do not have to be organic, but I would buy organic for all dairy items, most meats, and many fruits and vegetables. For example, avocados and bananas do not need to be organic since you do not eat the outside shell and that is where most of the toxins get stored. I could write a book on food and drink. Maybe I will do that later. For now, I am going to move on to movement.

Movement – I have a few disagreements with what is perceived as a movement in our culture.  First, I would not recommend jogging. I hear about nurses doing this all the time and most of them do not like doing it. If you do not like jogging, you have my permission to stop and just walk.  As long as you are consistently moving your body every day for about thirty minutes that is the biggest obstacle. You do not need to be training for a marathon to be healthy or in shape. Many people have dropped dead of a heart attack in their 50s, and they are avid joggers and marathoners. Why is this, because jogging does not increase health. In fact, if you are already unhealthy or stressed, jogging may make it worse.  Before the 1970s nobody jogged and heart disease was a lot less common. Jogging is mostly marketing and does not have any real science to back up its effectiveness when compared to walking for heart health.

My suggestion would be to walk, play with your kids, hike, whatever is fun and involves movement. Some strength training is also a great idea.  You do not need to spend two hours a day lifting weights.  Thirty minutes twice a week doing squats, deadlifts, and the overhead press will give you the biggest bang for the buck. If you need more information on this, please message me, and I will be glad to help with this. 

Personally, I love to walk on the beach or go to parks and just play with the kid (Asher) and spend time with my family. This is a cost-effective way to de-stress, keep cost low, get your movement in, and spend some quality time with your family.

One last thing on movement, I would suggest doing five thirty-yard sprints twice a week. Make sure you do this on a low impact surface such as grass or sand. I sprint with my shoes off if I can. Sprinting will give you such a good adrenaline rush, and it is great for your overall health. Just walk every day, sprint twice a week, and have fun with your family. That is all it takes.

To recap, in part one I talked about my suggestions for sleeping better, food and drink and how moving your body should be high on the priority list for nursing self-care. I will continue to build on this in the coming weeks with part two and possibly a part three.

I would like to hear from you on how you have improved your self-care. Please share these with me and others in the comments below.  Until next time, remember, choose self-care before you need healthcare.

To Your Health,

Nurse Brian