If you’re a medical professional, chances are you work in a high-stress, fast-paced healthcare environment, and you may not always be able to take time for yourself. It may be easy to think the constant hustle is just “part of the job,” and truth be told, it is. But that’s not to say that it’s okay to underestimate the importance of mental health. Nor should we short sell the importance of self-care.
This article is all about taking time for yourself and making space in your busy schedule for daily rituals and self-care routines that help you recenter and recharge. Because, after all, if you can’t care for yourself, how can you care for others?
There are endless ways to enjoy the benefits of self-care be it a quick walk in the park on your lunch break, finding a quiet spot for a few minutes of deep breathing exercises or simply getting lost in a good book. That said, what works for one person may not work for another, so we invite you to be creative and tune into what your heart yearns for.
Remember, it’s all in the name of becoming a happier, joyous and in-touch version of you.
But first, what does self-care mean, and why is self-care important for nurses?
What is mental health?
Mental health has become a hot topic in recent years, but human beings have most likely been feeling its effects since our origins as a species. This type of well-being affects our minds and, in turn, our actions and feelings. That said, it’s important to remember that everyone’s mind is a bit different, so we all handle situations in distinct ways and understand our social interactions from varied points of view.
Life inevitably affects our mental health. Our very brain chemistry, genetics and other biological factors determine our mood. But the specific events that we experience along the way can also shape how our minds respond to the situations we encounter daily.
The importance of mental health
“The journey is the destination,” or so the saying goes. We can think of self-care as the vehicle or the path on our journey to achieving mental health, and it’s a journey that’s never too late to begin.
Mental health has a far reach. It influences how we relate to ourselves, others and the world. It can make our days seem darker or brighter and our interpersonal relationships more or less satisfying and fulfilling.
At some point along our paths in this world, many of us will find ourselves in a moment of less-than-stellar mental health, but it’s nothing to feel guilty about or ashamed of—quite the opposite. It could be anxiety, substance abuse, an eating disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. The cards life deals us are, sometimes, unfortunate but inevitable. We may not be able to change the events that shape and form us, but we can control how we react to them, even if that requires the help of others, be it family, friends or a professional. Getting help to better understand our minds and all that’s going on within them is an invaluable learning experience.
So if you’re struggling, we’re here to support you and invite you to take advantage of all the mental health resources available to you, be it a helpline or informing yourself of all the mental health services near you. Remember, there’s never any shame in asking for help.
How can we take care of our mental health?
One of the best ways to improve your mental health care is often by seeking the help of a professional like a psychologist. However, you can do plenty of little things every day—acts of self-care—to help you stay in tune with yourself and feel (hopefully) healthier, more energetic, and relaxed. Here are some of our favorites:
- Let food be thy medicine: When we eat well, we feel better. This practice isn’t about limiting yourself; it’s about making sure that most of your meals are balanced and nutritious. That’s not to say you can’t order that pizza or french fries or enjoy your favorite candy bar from time to time. Just make sure you’re giving your body all the nutrients (fruits, veggies and proteins!) it needs to operate.
- Drink water: Like any organ, your brain needs water. After all, our bodies are approximately 75% water. So it’s no surprise that studies show not getting enough water can affect our brain function. And water has other benefits like improving the quality of your skin and your physical health. That, in turn, may help you feel better about yourself.
- Stay active: Almost any guide to self-care will tell you to get some exercise. No, you don’t have to train for a marathon. Just try to take a mind-clearing walk, do some yoga or practice a sport you enjoy (or try a new one!), even for 30 minutes a day. Take it from us, the surge of endorphins from physical exercise will boost your mood!
- Get some sun: A lack of vitamin D can leave you feeling low, so try to spend some time outside daily, be it on a walk or simply sitting on a bench for 15 minutes or so. Make it a habit to open the curtains in your home right after you get up in the morning. Sure, cloudy days feel cozy and cuddly. But when it comes to your mood, the more sun, the merrier.
- Adopt a plant: Surely, you’ve seen memes about how the coronavirus pandemic turned many of us into plant parents. They may be funny, but they’re no joke. Plants can help us feel calmer by beautifying our homes and workspaces, and they give us a place to focus our attention when caring for them. So pencil in some time for a field trip to your local greenhouse or nursery to pick up a new well-rooted friend or two.
- Treat yourself: While pampering yourself every day might not be a sustainable self-care ritual, doing so from time to time can be a great pick-me-up. Give yourself the gift of a spa day, a mani-pedi, a facial or a massage, something that has a longer-lasting effect on your body than the fleeting moment of satisfaction from shopping therapy.
- Journal: Journaling is an excellent way of checking in with your feelings, getting them out (without taking them out on yourself), and having a private place to store these very personal musings. Making space for yourself to share your thoughts with a blank page can do wonders for your peace of mind. Not much of a writer? Try drawing, painting or coloring in one of those ever-popular grown-up coloring books.
- Dance: Whatever your taste in music may be, throwing on your favorite tracks and letting loose to some tunes can do wonders for your mood—especially after a long day on the job. If you live with housemates, you can invite them to the dance party or retreat to your room and throw on your headphones. Either way, we’re rooting for you to dance as if no one were watching (because nothing compares, no matter how silly you may feel).
- Cut down your to-do list: Taking on too much can lead to stress, so save yourself the stress that comes from simply overdoing it. Are there tasks in your daily routine at home or on the job that you can share with others? Even if you live alone and can’t share chores with a partner, family member or roomie, you can cut down on little things. Instead of making dinner every night of the week, subscribe to a food delivery service, or consider hiring a cleaning service to help upkeep your space instead of taking on all your housework solo.
- Sleep: Just like water, sleep is essential to proper brain functioning. Not getting enough shuteye can throw off the entire day, making us irritable or sad, or worsening our depression and anxiety. So make sure you’re getting adequate sleep every night.
Remember, we’re always here for you to offer you all the moral support we can, and there is certainly one thing we can take off your plate while you focus on your mental health—we can make sure you have the best-fitting scrubs for work, which can go a long way to helping you feel and look your best.