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Phoenix Forward

How nurses can care for themselves

Sad nurse.

Nurses often neglect an important population within the medical community: themselves. They spend long hours dedicated to patient care. After working a shift, mostly on their feet, they busy themselves after work as well, tending to loved ones, homes, finances and, yes, even doing more work.

"Nurses by their very nature are compassionate and don't want to hurt people's feelings, so they tend to get into the trap of being caregivers for everyone but themselves," says Kathy Chelini, campus chair of the College of Nursing at the University of Phoenix Oakleaf Learning Center.

Overcommitted nurses can fall victim to caregiver fatigue by neglecting their health in mind, body and spirit, says nursing practitioner Erich Widemark, PhD.

"If nurses don't care for themselves, in turn, that will affect the quality of care they provide their patients," says Widemark, who is also the director and campus chair of the nursing program at the Phoenix Main Campus of University of Phoenix.

In order to avoid becoming the physical manifestation of the unhealthy habits that nurses tend to treat in others, nurses can care for themselves in these key ways:

Learn to say no.

"Nurses are not very good at saying no," Chelini says. "The only [people] they regularly say no to are themselves." She recommends using a physical reminder so you don't spread yourself too thin. "Carry around a 3-by-5-inch index card that you can pull out that says, 'Thank you very much ... but I can't engage in that opportunity at this time.'"

Exercise away work-related stress.

Exercise helps build core muscles to prevent the back, neck and shoulder strain associated with caring physically for patients, Chelini says. Her suggestion: "Put in a few squats while you do dishes."

Working out also puts nurses in good company. "Being surrounded by healthy people gives nurses encouragement to be healthy themselves," Widemark says.

Find a happy place.

It doesn't matter what hobbies you take up, as long as you give yourself some personal space where you can relax. "Crossword puzzles, sewing, knitting — do something you like that refreshes your spirit," Widemark says.

Connect with family and friends.

Chelini recommends engaging with loved ones as a way of unwinding after a long day at work. It's important to distinguish between the personal and the professional, though, and Widemark warns against playing the role of nurse at home.

Find a trusted confidant in the profession.

Widemark recommends connecting with a colleague to talk about work matters, rather than bringing work home to your family, who may not always understand your concerns.

See a health provider.

Like their patients, nurses also need to get preventive care such as colonoscopies, mammograms, pap smears and cholesterol testing. These are essential to gain proactive control of your health, Widemark says. It's a sentiment that Chelini echoes when she talks to nurses: "Don't wait," she says, "until the last minute."

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