photo credit : Photo by Emma Kazaryan
As a nurse, taking care of patients is rewarding and yet, challenging at times. Leveraging work-life balance and living in a hectic, never-sleeping city like New York can induce stress. Practicing self- care becomes essential. Self-care is widely emphasized among health care professionals as a preventative measure for burnout and compassion fatigue, but I think self-care is universal and pertinent to anyone.
The concept is simple. Self-care is a holistic approach to promote personal health and well-being.
It is based on building healthy habits and modifying our behaviors to enhance our physical, emotional and intellectual wellness.
There are no guidelines as to how this is done. It is personalized to everyone’s needs. Self-care can be one thing or a combination of many: meditation, eating healthy, good sleep hygiene, exercise, spiritual practices, spending time outdoors and so on. This list sounds ideal for perfect people somewhere in utopia. In reality, it is extremely challenging to adopt and maintain healthy habits.
Here are the things you can do: Write down daily, monthly, annual goals and strategies to accomplish them. Use self-motivation with a reward system. You don`t have to do this alone. Show up in a local park, gym, dance studio and meet new people. Some of them might want the same things and share your goals. These people will be your comrades. Empower your partners as you go through this journey of building healthy habits.
Improvise. Learning a new skill and finding a creative outlet such as drawing, writing, singing, designing and photography can make things fun. Try something different that you’ve never done before, something beyond your comfort zone. Give back, volunteer in your community. Feeling appreciated is one of the best rewards. The only way to find out what approach is best is to try, and see what works for your well-being.
As for me, self-care is still a work-in- progress. As I transitioned to my new nursing career, I had to adjust to long 12-hour night shifts. This completely changed my routine, including my sleeping, eating and exercising schedules. Fortunately, I managed to keep all my activities within my new schedule. I`ve been asked lot how I was able to do this. Here are some tips and suggestions:
- I eat what I like in moderation. I believe in a rational choice of food, not in strict diets. I choose food that gives me a lot of energy. My diet is based on fruits, veggies, dairy, sweets, and, yes… coffee. I try to drink less coffee because it makes me jittery sometimes. As a great alternative, I choose tea. I like green tea for an energy boost and herbal for relaxing.
- I run and do yoga. I developed my running habit using a self-motivation approach. I printed a calendar and highlighted the days I ran. The more highlighted days I had on the calendar the more satisfaction I had. Also, after each time I ran, I treated myself with my favorite milk shake (yes, the milkshake was fattening).
- I try go to sleep and wake up at the same time.
- As a creative outlet, I started to design and make haute couture dresses that became my beloved hobby.
Self-care is built on self-compassion. It is neither self-consumed nor narcissistic. Imagine you are on a plane that is ready to take off. The flight crew reviews safety instructions and reminds you to put on an oxygen mask on first before assisting others in the case of emergency. Indeed, it is metaphorical. But once you are well, others around you are well as well.
The practice of self-care is a habit, and habits are built over time. Habit formation is phasic. It consists of learning, relapse and stability phases (this will be a topic for another time). Studies show that it takes anywhere from 21 days to 10 weeks to build a habit (depending on its complexity) (Gardner, 2012). The key points are to make small changes, have repetition, have realistic expectations and experience rewards along the way.
Building a habit is a journey with successes and failures. The new habit may fail in the relapse phase — and that`s ok! Shortly after, you will recuperate, start over and repeat your new healthy habit until it feels natural to you. This will be your path to well-being with healthy and happy years ahead.
Gardner B., Lally P., Wardle J. (2012). Making Healthy Habitual: The Psychology of “Habit-Formation” and general Practice. British Journal of General Practice. 62(605): 664–666.