Self-care for Nurses: How to Prioritize Yourself When Caring for Others 

self-care for nurses
self-care for nurses

Self-care for nurses should always be a priority. Every day, nurses experience incredible stress and other impacts on their physical and mental health—all of which have been heightened during the pandemic.

After a tumultuous stretch battling COVID-19, nurses have gone above and beyond demonstrating dedication and perseverance, at great personal cost. This is why self-care for nurses is more important now than ever.

"Due to the impact of the pandemic, many nursing organizations extended Nurses Week to a month-long event. This year, the ANA’s theme for Nurses Month is “You Make a Difference.” Healthcare workers, organizations, and communities celebrate National Nurses Month in May to honor our nation's hardworking and dedicated nurses.

We at Spring Arbor University are forever grateful for nurses who have, in the face of great adversity, been pivotal to shaping a better tomorrow. Read on to learn more about how you can celebrate yourself and prioritize self-care during Nurses Month and beyond.

What Is Self-Care?

Self-care is vital to your overall health. Caring for yourself means ensuring that your physical, emotional, intellectual, relational and spiritual needs are being met.

Self-care is what people do to maintain both mental and physical health and prevent illness through, according to the National Institute for Mental Health The kind of self-care a person needs is based on their core principles, according to WHO, but includes different influences/needs including: 

  • Hygiene
  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Environmental factors
  • Socioeconomic factors
  • Self-medication

burnout self-care for nurses


A Closer Look at Burnout

Nursing is rewarding work, but the stakes are high. The role is demanding, the hours are unpredictable, and the work can take a toll on your mind and body. Burnout is a real phenomenon that unfortunately drives some people away from the profession. 

While burnout has been a trending topic for the last few years, the term is not new. The National Library of Medicine shows that the term first appeared in the 1970s by American psychologist Herbert Freudenberger. It was originally used to describe the condition that severe stress in the “helping” professions has on individuals. However, WHO is clear that burnout is not a classified medical condition, but rather a phenomenon specific to one's occupation.

So what exactly is burnout? Burnout occurs when someone continually sacrifices themselves for others and experiences exhaustion, listlessness, and inability to cope due to prolonged stress of tasks, work, environments and more that trigger this chronic situation. Nurses and other healthcare professionals often experience burnout due to the nature of their work.

Due to the pandemic, at least 50% of professionals across medical fields report serious symptoms of burnout, including emotional exhaustion, cynicism and a low sense of professional accomplishment.

Read how COVID-19 exacerbated challenges in nursing.

During times of great uncertainty, anxiety is likely to occur. Extreme anxiety induces the stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, activating our fight-flight-freeze response.

When stress signals are activated over an extended period, significant effects on the body take place. This is one reason why enduring long-term anxiety “increases the risk of developing chronic physical conditions,” according to Medical News Today.

The physical effects of headache, muscle tension, fatigue and sleeplessness, in combination with emotional lability, can be indicators we are carrying too much of a burden. It's time to focus on self-care.

Self-Care for Nurses: Maintain Your Physical Health

Getting enough sleep, keeping a nourishing diet and taking mental health breaks when needed can transform an exhausting and overwhelming day into a tolerable one.

  • Drink water frequently during your shift
  • Keep up to date with routine physicals and recommended health screenings
  • Keep a nourishing diet and maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise several times a week
  • Make rest and sleep a priority
  • Get prompt care for illnesses and injuries

Self-care for Nurses: Maintain Your Mental Health

Maintaining your mental health is just as important as maintaining your physical health. Knowing that your body and mind are so deeply interconnected gives you ample time to reflect and de-stress. You could use that time for:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Playing with children
  • Engaging in hobbies
  • Socializing with colleagues, friends and family
  • Talking to a therapist

Self-Care for Nurses: No Nurse Is an Island

Self-care doesn’t change your challenges at work, but it does improve your ability to cope with them. In a survey by ANA, 70% of nurses said they prioritized the health, safety, and wellness of their patients over their own.

Your well-being is just as vital as your patients—and when you’re feeling your best, you can provide the highest quality of care.

Connecting to others is one form of self-care. Here are a few things to also keep in mind:

  • Humans are social beings and require social and emotional support systems
  • Nurses are caregivers, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t receive care and support from others
  • Everyone deserves a social support system that allows them to be vulnerable
  • As a nurse, you don’t always need to be the hero
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can take advantage of employee-assistance resources, such as counseling services, and get professional help

Self-Care for Nurses: Tend to Your Personal Needs

You can’t pour from an empty cup. Have you been telling yourself that you’re just fine because you’re used to being busy and on the edge of perpetual exhaustion? As a nurse, it is important to prioritize your personal needs.

  • Honor your commitments to yourself and your family
  • Set clear boundaries between your personal life and work
  • Make dates with your loved ones and keep them
  • Do activities that you enjoy that are not nursing-related
  • Volunteer, take up a hobby, take a “me-day”, read a book and enjoy your free time

Self-Care for Nurses: Spiritual Growth

Humans are spiritual beings. Adding mindfulness, prayer, and meditation can be a healthy addition to a balanced life. Faith is what gives us strength in times of weakness — it’s important to nurture it regularly.

Growing spiritually could involve committing to a deeper religious practice or something as simple as practicing gratitude. When you acknowledge the good things in your life, you often feel more positive overall. Practicing gratitude can also help us improve our health, strengthen our relationships and to manage adversity.

spring arbor university online nursing programs


Self-Care for Nurses: Investing in Your Future

Nursing is the cornerstone of healthcare. After a turbulent year serving as essential frontline workers during the pandemic, nurses deserve all of the recognition and appreciation that we, as a society, can provide. The lives saved, the inspiration shared, the countless hours and personal sacrifices—we thank you for all that you do.

As a nurse, you deserve continual growth. Investing in your nursing career opens the door to more opportunities that offer a healthier work-life balance. Spring Arbor’s online MSN program is designed to be flexible and serves the unique needs of today’s working nurses.

Gain more control over your work schedule as a nurse practitioner (NP). Ranked #3 in Best Jobs by U.S. News and World Report, NPs enjoy countless benefits and a bright future.

As an online MSN student at Spring Arbor, you’ll receive:

  • Flexibility through a unique 7-1-7 model and convenient online course structure, so you can continue working while you earn your degree
  • Support from start to finish through a dedicated student success coach who serves as a personal liaison throughout the program
  • Personal, professional, and spiritual growth through an education rooted in Christian philosophy; choice of multiple NP specializations including Family Nurse Practitioner, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner.

Learn More about SAU’s Online MSN.

Read more of SAU online's MSN blogs below:

  1. Challenges in Nursing: What Do Nurses Face on a Daily Basis?
  2. Telehealth Nursing: Technology's Impact On Healthcare
  3. Best Nurse Practitioner Qualities
  4. PMHNP: Bridge Gaps In Behavioral Healthcare
  5. Top States for Nurse Practitioners Today