Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ Blog - Self-Care For The Caregiver
Nurses often have to simultaneously care for others both at work and at home, leaving ourselves strapped for time or attention to attend to our own needs. Angela Newton, a nurse at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, offers some really good tips on how to cope with the stresses that come when you are constantly focused on anyone, but yourself.
As nurses, we often put the care of our patients before ourselves during our shift. If we also serve as a caregiver to a family member, that can mean we are putting ourselves last both at work and at home.
Angela Newton, a nurse at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, understands this experience all too well. Over a one-year period, Newton lost her grandfather, her father was receiving chemotherapy for lymphoma, and her mother had a heart attack. Newton performed CPR on her mother, which saved her life. It’s five years from that harrowing time, but Newton vividly remembers how caring for her family while working as a bedside nurse almost derailed her own health. Here she offers advice to other nurses who are caring for patients and family members simultaneously.
Share your situation
The desire to keep a relative’s illness quiet is understandable. Often, people don’t want others to treat them differently or are afraid of crying, particularly at work. However, according to Newton, disclosing hardships at home is key to maintaining your own health and wellbeing. Newton explains that many of her relationships were affected because she kept friends, coworkers, and even her boyfriend in the dark.
Let your manager know what’s going on
One of your supervisor’s key responsibilities is to support you. And since a focus of the nursing profession is compassion, it’s likely your boss will be understanding. If your supervisor is aware of your situation, he/she can help you explore your options and may be able to help you uncover benefits you may not even realize you have. A good boss will also ensure you have adequate support from colleagues. “My coworkers knew something wasn’t right with me, but I refused to let them in. I also found myself pulling away from forming bonds with patients and that affected my work,” says Newton.
As nurses, we have to know when to cut ourselves some slack. “I felt guilty for not volunteering to swap shifts if a coworker need it, but I just wanted to spend all of my time off with my family and that’s OK,” says Newton.
You have to care for yourself before you can care for others. Despite her busy schedule, Newton made time to unwind by treating herself to a manicure and pedicure every two weeks.
Stick to your fitness routine
During a difficult time, you don’t have to take on an intense workout regimen, but if you already have a fitness plan in place, try to stick with it. Walking and getting out in nature are proven stress-relievers. Newton let her healthy exercise habits slide when she was caring for her family. In retrospect, she realizes that the gym has always helped her release pent-up stress, so she wishes she had kept it up.
Get enough sleep
Even when nurses are not caring for sick family members, we get less than the National Sleep Foundation’s recommended seven to nine hours of shut-eye each night. Lack of sleep is linked to myriad health problems and can cause an already-exhausting situation, such as being an around-the-clock caregiver, even worse. Use these tips to help you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep each night.
Take advantage of the resources available to you through work
Newton says that the renewal room at her hospital is a huge help to her and her colleagues. The special break room has massage chairs, gym equipment, a meditation area, and a library. Nurses can use the space whenever they need a moment of respite. Whether you’re dealing with a tough situation at work or at home, stepping into a relaxation room can help you find some much-needed time to yourself.
Many organizations that employ nurses also have staff support coordinators – people you can talk to when you’re having a difficult time processing feelings and think it may be affecting your work and your life. The staff support coordinator can also provide referrals to therapists or psychologists.
Consider family medical leave
If managing both work and home responsibilities is proving too difficult, talk to your supervisor or human resources about utilizing the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA can help employees balance work and family responsibilities by allowing them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons per year.
Cry it out
If you need to cry, a hospital is a safe place to let it out. Newton says, “At a hospital, everyone is dealing with traumas and new diagnoses. It's okay to cry, even if what you’re sad about has nothing to do with what is happening within those hospital walls.” Just try to contain your tears when you’re with patients.
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The realization that I could ask for help and not have to do everything myself was such a weight being lifted. I still have plenty of caregiving that I do but at least I feel like it is manageable and now I plan to start to focus on my health.