May 9, 2021

Self Care for Nurses(& Students!)

Self care for nurses? You’re kidding, right? I wish! you might be saying.

And that’s because...You. Are. Done.

You’re too tired to think—much less feel.

The days seem to blur into one another. Night, day, evening…night…

Going through the motions, you move from one day to the next like a programmed machine missing the off switch.

You feel frazzled, exhausted...Done.

You just wish you could stop. 

But you can’t.

You have to keep going. 

You gotta get back on that never-ending treadmill. You have to work. You haveto finish school. You have bills to pay. You have people depending on you. 

You can’t quit.

But how do you keep going like this? How long before something snaps?

You know what? You don’t.

You’re like a tired driver on the road who’s about to get hurt or seriously hurt someone else. You need to pull off the highway of life and get some rest. Your well-being—and others’— depends on it.

Start by getting some much needed rest. Go take a nap. Then come back and I’ll show you what to do next.

Didn’t that feel good? Now grab a soothing drink, a cozy seat, and let’s chat.

It’s going to take a bit to recharge your batteries. Self care isn’t a “one and done” kind of thing. It’s something you need to do regularly like showering or taking care of your yard. And like these things, put it off too long and it’s not pretty.

As a nurse or nursing student, I know you don’t want to add one more thing to your plate. But trust me—self care is something that will fill you up, not drain you.

I’m going to start by briefly explaining what can happen if you don’t take care of yourself. Then we’ll look at some of the roadblocks to self care.

Next, I’ll be straight with you and explain why self care is non-negotiable as a nurse.

Then we’ll get into the meat and potatoes of what you can do to start taking better care of yourself—in every area—so you don’t burn out.

And because knowing how to take care of yourself requires some tools, I’ll give you some awesome resources, apps, and tips so you can get back on your feet by taking care of the most important person—YOU!

Sound good?

Let’s get started.

In This Post: Self Care Tips for Nurses and Much  More Including...

'Life's Problem's Wouldn't Be Called "Hurdles" If There Wasn't A Way To Get Over Them'

Putting Patients’ Lives—And Yours—At Risk

Why Self Care for Nurses and Students Is Essential

'Everyone Thinks of Changing the World, But No One Thinks of Changing Himself'

  1. Physical Self Care
  2. Mental Self Care
  3. Emotional Self Care
  4. Social Self Care
  5. Spiritual Self Care
  6. Financial Self Care
  7. Professional Self Care

Tips for How to Make Time for Self Care

Must-Have Self Care Resources for Nurses

The Best Self Care Apps for Nurses

It’s Time to Take Back Your Life

‘Life’s Problems Wouldn’t Be Called ‘Hurdles’ If There Wasn’t a Way to Get Over Them’

Chat with any nurse or nursing student and they’ll agree wholeheartedly that it’s important to practice good self care as a healthcare professional.

Take that one step further and ask if they engage in good self care practices and they’ll probably laugh and say “I wish I had the time!”

So where’s the disconnect? What’s stopping nurses from practicing self care when they know it’s important?

recent study identified the most common barriers to self-care for nurses and grouped them into five themes:

  1. Lack of time/being overworked
  2. Lack of adequate resources &/or facilities 
  3. Being tired & lack of sleep
  4. Other commitments
  5. “Unhealthy food culture”

Themes #1, #3, and #4 are straightforward. 

In theme #2, Lack of inadequate resources &/or facilities, over 25% of nurses reported things like not having convenient access at work to:

●  A gym, exercise or yoga classes

●  Changing facilities & showers

●  Fridges & microwaves for storing & reheating healthy home-made food

●  Reasonably priced healthy food & snacks

●  A variety of food choices at work when working nights or weekends

In theme #5, “Unhealthy food culture”, many nurses reported an unhealthy food culture in their workplace that

makes it difficult to make healthy food choices.

At work, this included things like:

●  “Celebrating everything” with food that’s often unhealthy such as cakes, doughnuts, cookies, baked home-made goodies or food that’s high in fat, sugar, and salt.

●  Frequent celebrations or parties at work with unhealthy food that are hard to resist, especially if a nurse is having a hard day at work and justifies having the unhealthy food to reward themselves for working hard.

Putting Patients’ Lives—And Yours—At Risk

When nurses don’t practice self care, patient care suffers—and so do nurses.

large study of 53,846 nurses from six different countries showed that when nurses burn out, the quality of patient care drops—significantly.

Burned out nurses are more likely to make poor clinical decisions. And rates of hospital-acquired infections go up when nurses burnout. Patient engagement also suffers as nurses becomes insensitive and cynical.

So how many nurses experience burnout you might be wondering?

Research shows:

●  66% of new grad nurses experience severe burnout while

●  49% of nurses under 30 years old experience burnout, and

●  40% of nurses over 30 years of age report burnout

And patients aren’t the only ones at risk when nurses burnout. Nurses with higher stress are more at risk themselves for:

●  Anxiety

●  Depression

●  Substance abuse

●  Back injuries

●  Needlestick injuries

●  Suicide

Research also shows that nurses face a high risk of chronic disease due to poor diets and low levels of exercise.

Despite these risks, self care for nurses and nursing students continues to take a backseat for many reasons. And for most, self-care for nurses during COVID-19 seems like a pipe dream.

Why Self Care for Nurses and Students Is Essential

After looking at the risks to patients and nurses above, it’s obvious why nurses and nursing students must make self care a priority.

However, it’s also important to remember for those practicing in the U.S. what Provision 5 of the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics for  Nurses says: 

“The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety…”

As the ANA points out “Nurses don’t always recognize that the duty to care for others and the duty to attend to one’s own well-being are equal ethical obligations.”

Did you know? At NCLEX Education we take care of our students  and provide individual care and support until you PASS! 

‘Everyone Thinks of Changing the World, But No One Thinks of Changing Himself’

Now that you know what can go wrong when we don’t practice self care and why it’s a must, you might be wondering:

Photo by Nadi- Unsplash

●  What is self care for nurses? 

●  What can I do to start feeling like myself again?

●  What are some examples of self care so I know where to start?

Great questions! 

Let’s start by looking at 7 self-care strategies for nurses and how we can nurture these areas of ourselves at home, work, and school.

1. Physical Self Care

The most obvious place to start with self care is with our bodies. 

If our bodies are sick or lacking something to function optimally, we can’t tend to the other areas of our life that need self care, much less help others.

As nurses, we understand the body’s physical needs very well. These include the need to:

●  Breathe

●  Eat/drink

●  Move

●  Eliminate

●  Sleep

●  Heal

And of course the need for medical care to prevent and treat illness.

Yet how many nurses work a 12-hour shift with a full bladder because they’re too busy to take a break to go to the bathroom? I know I’ve done this! And so have many of my colleagues.

Here are some important ways to take care of your physical needs at home, work, and school.

At Home

●  Get Quality Sleep

○  Go to bed & wake up at the same time. If you work shift work (most nurses do), gradually delay when you go to sleep by one to two hours a night a few days before moving from day shift to night shift.

○  Sleep in a dark, quiet room with the temperature around 70°F (20°C).

○  Avoid blue light exposure from your electronic devices and TV 1-2 hours before going to sleep. You can also block it on your devices with apps like Moona.

○  Avoid eating, alcohol, or caffeine before bed since it can change the amount of melatonin and growth hormone that’s released during restorative sleep.

○  Ensure your medical and dental check-ups are up-to-date. If you need to have some medical tests or dental work done, don’t keep putting it off. Make a plan to get it done.

●  Eat Healthier

○  Research healthy slow cooker and make-ahead meals you can take as leftovers to work or re-heat quickly after a day shift. 

○  Try some of these healthy snacks.

○  Eat lots of vegetables and fruits.

○  Protein is important to help sustain energy levels and keep you from getting hungry longer.

○  Try eat three meals evenly spaced throughout the day.

○  Don’t eat your largest meal within 3 hours of going to sleep. 

○  Make a habit of drinking more water. Women need about 2.7 liters of fluid a day and men need roughly 3.7 liters. Keep in mind about 20% of your fluid intake comes from your food.

○  Avoid processed and fast food.

●  Exercise—Less!

○  Yes! You read that right! Decide to remove the e-word (exercise!) from your vocabulary if you don’t like to exercise.

○  Make a list of things you think would be fun to do physically (once you’re rested) such as:

■  An afternoon at the park playing chase ball and running around with your dog. 

■  Games outside with your kids or nieces and nephews.

■  A walk or hike along a beautiful local river or lake with a friend or family member—coffee or tea in hand.

■  A bike ride with your partner into a scenic local area

■  A refreshing swim at your local pool and some gentle stretching in the water followed by chill time in the hot tub or sauna.

●  Just Breathe

○  Set a timer for just 5-10 minutes each day (work days included). Wear earplugs to block out the world or listen to soothing music with earbuds. Then close your eyes & take deep, slow breaths in through your nose & out through your mouth. Try make your belly gently rise & fall.

At Work/School

●  Aim to take healthy home-made meals & snacks to work & school.

●  Take a water bottle to work, place a piece of tape on it & mark off how many times you fill & drink the bottle that day.

●  Park in a safe area further from work or school than usual and walk to the building.

●  Ask a co-worker or classmate (or two!) to join you outside on your lunch or other breaks for some fresh air and a short walk.

●  Take all of your breaks and don’t rationalize skipping them.

●  Go to the bathroom on each of your breaks, even if you don’t think you have to.

●  Make a point of noticing your breath often throughout the day. Is it shallow & quick? If so, try taking slower, deeper breaths in through your nose.

2. Mental Self Care

Without a doubt, the difference between mental and emotional health can get a little blurred, even for healthcare professionals.

Herron from WebMD explains

“A good way to think about mental and emotional health is like a tag team.Mental health refers to your ability to process informationEmotional health, on the other hand, refers to your ability to express feelings which are based upon the information you have processed.”

What you fill your mind with and how you think also has a profound effect on your mental health.

Knowing that, here are some self care ideas for your mental health:

At Home

●  Start your day with gratitude when you wake up. Then look for things to be thankful for as you go about your day. Science shows gratitude changes both your brain—and you!

●  Set up a routine on your work days and days off—and stick to it as much as possible.

●  Take 10 minutes each morning to plan out your day (or your shift).

●  Write down what’s causing you stress (working too much, dirty laundry piling up, no time for yourself) and what you can do to manage these things and reduce your stress like:

○  Saying “no” to extra shifts—today!

○  Doing a large load of laundry—today!

○  Going for a nature walk—today!

●  Set aside roughly 10 minutes an hour before you go to bed. Make a list of the things you don’t want to forget and things you need to do so your mind can let go of these things.

●  Work on building resilience using this worksheet (yes! It can be learned.)

At Home/Work/School

●  Choose to look for, watch, read, talk about, listen to, share, and focus on good things in your life and the world around you. Avoid the negative as much as possible.

●  Decide to be mindful of what you find yourself thinking about and dwelling on. Use these mindfulness exercises from the Mayo Clinic to retrain your brain.

●  Look for positive and encouraging family members, friends, co-workers, classmates, and other people to be around.

●  Be aware of your self-talk and what you say to others. 

●  Use positive self-talk & daily affirmations to build yourself up (yes! There’s science to prove it works,)

3. Emotional Self Care

As we mentioned above, your emotional health is very closely tied to your mental health. 

If you’re looking for some self-care tips for nurses in this area, Dr. Brenner in Psychology Today offers five ways to take care of your emotional health.

At Home/Work/School

●  Know Your Emotions

○  What situations & people trigger different emotions for you?

○  What have been your emotional responses in the past? 

○  Are you satisfied with your emotional responses? Are they appropriate? Do they express your true feelings? Or are you frustrated because you can’t express yourself the way you want to?

●  Keep Healthy Boundaries

○  Are you easily influenced by how others feel?

○  Do you take on the emotions of others and make them your own?

○  Do certain people try to manipulate you into feeling what they’re feeling?

○  How can you “protect yourself from emotional invasion”?

●  Develop a Good Support System

○  Who are the people in your life that like and accept you—just the way you are?

○  Who encourages and lifts you up?

○  Who sees and brings out the best in you?

○  Who can you turn to for a listening ear or advice?

○  Who wants the best for you without wanting anything in return?

○  Who’s an encourager you like to be around? How can you get to know them better & be a positive influence in their life too?

●  Build a Psychological or Emotional “Toolbox”

○  Think of this as a place to store your coping skills to help you deal with whatever life brings your way.

○  What coping skills and strategies have you used to effectively handle challenging situations in the past?

○  Where might you go for help dealing with a situation if you don’t have the coping skills to manage it?

○  What coping skills do you want to strengthen? Who or what can help you do that?

●  Nurture Every Area of Your Well-Being

○  Your physical, mental, spiritual, social, professional, and financial well-being have a profound effect on your emotions.

○  When any of these areas are lacking, your emotional health usually suffers as well.

○  What can you do to improve these other areas of your well-being so you feel better about yourself and the life you’re living?

4.  Social Self Care

According to Harvard Medical School, many studies have shown people who have social support from family, friends, and their community:

●  Are happier

●  Live longer

●  Have fewer health problems

On the flip side, those who lack social connections have more depression, more cognitive decline as they age, and higher mortality rates.

And it may surprise you to learn that social interaction includes more than just family get-togethers or fun times out with your friends.

“Research has also identified a range of activities that qualify as social support, from offers of help or advice to expressions of affection.”

And the good news is, there’s evidence to suggest that the beneficial effects of social support go both ways—benefiting both the giver and the receiver.

So how do you tap into more of this life-giving goodness?

Communication At Home/Work/School

Communicate more (& better!) with those around you.

Easier said than done, right?

Often though, we forget that others are busy and stressed out too.

Communicating more often with family, friends, and those we live, work, or go to school with can prevent some problems and stress.

These communication tips can help:

●  Don’t assume others know what you’re doing or what your schedule is. Tell them—well in advance.

●  Don’t wait until a relationship is strained to deal with it. Let your loved one or roommate know when you’re frustrated with them ASAP. But do so in a caring manner. 

●  Likewise, listen to what others have to say about how things are affecting them and how they’re feeling. Don’t interrupt or minimize what’s important to them.

●  If you’re stressed about a work or school issue, approach your boss or professor to talk about it. Tell them you respect them & would like their help in coming up with some solutions to your concern or problem.

Relationships At Home

●  Set aside time to be with family members who are important to you like your partner/spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents.

●  Consider reaching out to family members who are more isolated or live alone and spend some time with them (remember the “giver” benefits too!)

●  Try plan family activities that include multiple family members.

Relationships At Work/School

●  Ask a co-worker or student you don’t know well to join you for lunch or coffee to get to know them better.

●  Consider mentoring or befriending a new co-worker, new nurse, or nursing student.

●  If you feel isolated and disconnected from others at school, consider joining or offering to help a school group like your nursing student association, photography club, international student association, etc.

●  Consider how you can spend some quality time with a patient who has few family or friends visiting and is alone most of the time or is on isolation precautions.

5. Spiritual Self Care 

“When is the last time you nurtured your spirit?”

Ummmm….good question, right?

Let me think…

How ‘bout you?

So often with self care we focus on our physical bodies and mental health (especially if things are going wrong or when we feel upset or discouraged).

Spiritual self care is often regarded as highly private and personal, sometimes tied to religion (or not), and somewhat mysterious.

In its simplest form though, spiritual self care is “any ritual that connects you to your true self, the real you….” and “The real you is the raw expression of who you were meant to be and offer this world. It’s energizing, inspiring, and most of all, it feels right.”

Knowing this, spiritual self care can help:

●  Strengthen your connections and relationships with others

●  Give you clarity about what makes you happy

●  Reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation

●  Increase your inner peace

●  Deepen your understanding of yourself

●  Promote feelings of connectivity and oneness

Here are 10 ways you can nurture your spirit, starting today.

●  Get outside in nature

●  Disconnect from technology

●  Start journaling

●  Try yoga

●  Practice forgiveness

●  Start clearing your space & reducing clutter

●  Try walking mindfully

●  Read inspirational material

●  Meditate 

●  Find ways to connect with your community

6.  Financial Self Care

Maybe you haven’t heard of “financial self care” before but it’s a thing! 

And before you start to laugh, think about how you felt the last time you were strapped for cash, got laid off, or wanted to buy something you didn’t have the money for. Bet you weren’t laughing then, were you?

In fact, 62% of Americans view money negatively and as a source of stress which is another good reason to talk about financial self care.

Nurses earn a decent income although it varies depending on geographical location. Nursing students? Not so much—unless you got a sweet side gig while you’re going to school. But you’ll be a nurse soon and then the cash will start to flow.

The problem is, the money can flow alright…straight into and back out of your bank account again before you even realize you spent it!

Megan Ford, a financial therapist at the University of Georgia and former president of the Financial Therapy Association says “Just like it's important for our overall health to tend to our physical, emotional and social needs, our finances need attention and care, too….Financial self-care is both about behaving with and experiencing money in a more optimal and fulfilling way."

Taking care of your finances is important to ensure you have money for the things you need and really want in life. And it helps prevent unneeded stress, worry, and arguments about money.

Here’s some things you can do to get your finances on track:

At Home

●  Include your partner/spouse (if you have one) and develop a budget together.

●  Make and stick to a budget that works for you.

●  If you don’t have any savings, begin building an emergency fund & save enough money to cover six months of your bills and for other emergencies.

●  If you struggle with money management, find someone who’s money management skills you respect and ask them to help you.

●  If you can’t use credit cards wisely—and pay them off in full every month—destroy them.

At Work/School

●  Save money by taking healthy lunches, snacks, & drinks to work and school.

●  Consider carpooling or taking public transit to work to save money on gas and parking.

●  Find out what kinds of benefits you have as an employee and as a student (eg. medical insurance) and be sure to use these benefits.

7.  Professional Self Care

Professional self care is a critical area of self care for nurses and nursing students to consider since it affects you  for your entire career.

Professional self care as a nurse or student includes:

At Home

●  Setting professional career goals including timelines for their attainment.

●  Meeting continuing education requirements for licensure or nursing program participation.

●  Being able to say “No” to extra shifts and overtime when you’re tired or have other commitments.

●  Maintaining a professional portfolio of your educational credentials, professional certifications, licenses, course work completed, presentations given, and written work published. Can’t keep track of it all? Try the free app Nurse Backpack.

●  Setting clear boundaries between your personal and professional life.

At Work/School

●  Ensuring you present a professional image in how you dress and conduct yourself in your practice.

●  Being careful to work within your scope of practice.

●  Knowing when to and being able to say “No” when you’re being asked to practice unsafely—and knowing who to report this to.

●  Ensuring your license and required certifications are current and up-to-date (eg. CPR, ACLS, BTLS, etc.)

●  Knowing when to ask for help, confidently requesting help when needed, and offering assistance to other coworkers as needed.

●  Networking with other nurses and healthcare professionals.

●  Looking for opportunities to further your knowledge and skills as a nurse.

●  Taking necessary precautions to protect yourself from infectious diseases and workplace injuries.

●  Working together with your coworkers, nurse manager, or classmates and instructor to make your workplace or clinical placement better for everyone.

Tips for How to Make Time for Self Care

Remember! We get to CHOOSE how we see things! You can see self care as “one-more-thing-to-do” you don’t have time for. Or—you can see it as a special time to savor just for you to rejuvenate and recharge. 

You get to choose!

So how do you find the time?

In the book Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day, product designers at Google’s venture capital firm, Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky, identify 4 steps “individuals can (use to) redesign their days and rethink how they spend their time so they have space and energy for the stuff that matters”.

And this isn’t just talk. Zeratsky used these steps to makeover his own life, fix up a boat, and sail with his wife from San Francisco to Panama. He must’ve figured something out!

1. Highlight: Start each day by choosing a priority 

2. Laser: Beat distraction to make time

3. Energize: Use the body to recharge the brain

4. Reflect: Adjust and improve your system

The book explains these steps in a LOT more detail (and there’s no guilt-trips!). It includes 87 different tactics for claiming back time for what matters to you. To learn more about these steps, take a peek at their blog Make Time

Zeratsky says ““By approaching our time as a project, as something that we can design and influence, you can change those defaults and start to adopt new habits and mindsets that can help you make time, even just a little bit every day, for the things that you want to be doing instead of the things that happen to you.”

Must-Have Self Care Resources for Nurses

To practice good self care, you’re going to need some tools and help.

And being a nurse or nursing student, you want credible information (backed by research when possible).

So, we scoured the internet and came up with some amazing resources to help you take better care of yourself. 

As a bonus, some of these can serve double-duty and be used for continuing education credit. So use these resources to clock some professional development for yourself as well (think professional self care!).

●  Snacking for Healthcare Professionals from a Dietitian's Perspective (Shea Brumley, registered dietician’s power-packed snack ideas)

●  RN Perks (the online marketplace featuring great deals and discounts for amazing nurses)

●  ANA's COVID-19 Self-Care Package for Nurses (Free)

○  This care package includes the following courses:

○  Nursing Ethics: Strategies to Resolve the Top Ethical Dilemmas Nurses Face

○  Moral Resilience

○  Dealing with Fatigue: Strategies for Nurse Leaders

○  Promoting Nurse Self-Care: Emotional and Mental Wellbeing

○  A Nurse's Guide to Preventing Compassion Fatigue, Moral Distress, and Burnout”

●  3 Science-Based Resiliency Exercises

○  Developed by academics.

○  Easy to read & straightforward.

●  Resilience Building Plan worksheet

●  Mindfulness Exercises (from the Mayo Clinic)

●  Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day book by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

●  Make Time blog by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky

The Best Self Care Apps for Nurses

Yes, apps are a resource too! But they’re such a handy go-to that we wanted to point out a few extra cool things about these apps on their own.

●  10 Apps for the Stressed Nurse (from

●  Moona (app that blocks blue light from electronic devices)

●  The Best Motivation Apps of 2020 (by Healthline - many science-backed apps for self affirmations & self care)

●  Our Top 6 Self-Care  Apps for Nurses (be sure to check out the Nursewellapp!)

●  The Best Mental-Health Apps for POC, According to Experts

●  These Mental Health Apps Are Geared Toward People Of Color ( article listing several)

●  Nurse Backpack (a free app to keep track of credentials, certifications, continuing ed, etc.)

It’s Time to Take Back Your Life

You’ve given enough of yourself to everyone and everything else.

Sure you’re a nurse (or nursing student). But that doesn’t mean your work, schooling, or commitments should suck the life right out of you.

It’s like these things control you, not the other way around.

And that’s not fair. You deserve to feel in control of your life.

You deserve to be the one in charge of your life.

You deserve to wake up tomorrow, next week, or years from now and be satisfied with the life you’re living.

Self care for nurses isn’t hard. 

If you use these self care strategies, being a nurse or student won’t drain you. It should inspire you. It should show you how to be present, how to truly care, how to give to others—without losing yourself.

And once you recuperate and feel like yourself again, you’ll be at peace. Because you’ll know you’ve made the right decision. To take care of you—first.

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Nursing The Future™ acknowledges that nurses across this country live, work and play on the lands of our Indigenous Ancestors and we join our members in expressing respectful gratitude for this privilege.
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