Do nurses really need information about health and wellness?
One would think not given that nursing education reaches far beyond the physical and includes psychological, socioeconomic, and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, while nurses are dedicated to managing the care of patients, and in most cases, the care of their families, we tend to take care of our health and well-being last, failing to live by the advice we often give to patients:
You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others.
Certainly our profession doesn’t make it easy. If you’re a nurse who works 12-hour shifts, it’s unlikely that during those few precious hours off you’ll find time to exercise or cook a meal when you probably have other obligations including family and in some cases school. Matters are worse if those 12-hour shifts are at night which comes with its own barrage health issues including altered circadian rhythms and eating patterns, and sleep deprivation.
The habits we often tell patients to avoid are the same habits that negatively affect our well-being:
- Lack of exercise
- Sleep deprivation
- Unhealthy diet
So we know the culprits, but why are these habits so hard to break? Perhaps the problem lies in our inability to prioritize: Nurses often put their personal well-being behind their family’s, their career and education requirements, and of course, their patients well-being.
There is no hard and fast answer to this problem, and it is a very serious problem as nurses continue to fall victim to work-related injuries, heart disease, obesity, accidents related to sleep deprivation, and stress-related illnesses. These problems often begin in nursing school: nursing students are taught to put their noses to the grindstone to succeed in both didactic and clinical work without emphasis on self-preservation, saving your back, or managing to live a “normal” and healthy life working 12-hour night shifts. Odd isn’t it, that a profession based on helping others achieve and maintain health fails to emphasize the health and well-being of its workers.
Younger generations of nurses should learn from those of us who have health issues that result, at least in part, from failing to prioritize our health and well-being.
When I see young people in their teens and early twenties at the gym, I want to tell them to keep daily exercise as part of their lives, so much so, they give little thought to going for a run or a walk, stepping on an elliptic machine, playing handball, or taking part in any other activity that keeps them agile and moving.
Exercise doesn’t always have to be high impact: yoga, pilates, and barre exercises continue to grow in popularity and with good reason. These are low impact exercises that burn calories, and increase agility and flexibility.
The key to exercise is to have fun. So if it’s dancing or bike riding, a quick walk in the neighborhood or park, plan a time and an enjoyable activity for you once or twice a week.
If you’re more of an insider, it’s now easier than ever to perform safe exercises at home with little to no extra equipment, but remember, if you’re new to exercise start cautiously, preferably with a routine that includes modified instructions for beginners. Many programs are more advanced they lead on. Websites such as Youtube provide channels for viewing exercises that include step-by-step directions to ensure safety, and numerous apps across a wide price range are available for smartphone and tablet users.
If you’ve seen my posts on Twitter, you know that I often tweet links to articles about the importance of sleep, the consequences of sleep deprivation, and the benefits of napping. Sleep is restorative. Think about the way you feel after a good night’s sleep when you wake up not because of a pesky alarm, but because your brain has rested and is ready to go. In her book Thrive, Arianna Huffington discusses how we constantly charge and recharge our phones in order to keep them running, and yet we fail to do the same for ourselves. We rest when we can’t stand or stay awake any longer, when our batteries are drained and we are close to running on empty.
There is something wrong when healthy eating requires an effort; yet as a nation, this is the situation in which we now find ourselves. The convenience of fast food and eating out has reeked havoc on American health at tremendous costs to our health as a nation and to the economy. As a nation we do not eat for survival. Instead, we eat for pleasure. While nurses eat for survival, the conditions under which we have meals at work, when and if we have meals, forces us to eat whatever may be available, often high fat, simple carbohydrate foods eaten quickly and often washed down by multiple cups of coffee throughout out shifts.
Several studies have documented the relationship between stress and health, and stress and well-being. Furthermore, studies on professional nursing demonstrate that this profession is among the most stressful and often take its toll in the form of burnout and attrition from profession nursing.
In the coming weeks I will post links to websites as well the names of apps that are are beneficial for healthier living. And while they’re meant to improve anyone’s health, I am posting them on this site especially for nurses who selflessly dedicate themselves to the care of others.