Career advice

Be your own nurse: listen to what your body’s telling you and forget about guilt

Sometimes you’ve got to advocate for your own needs, for the sake of your health

Sometimes you’ve got to advocate for your own needs, for the sake of your health

Picture: iStock

Despite losing a much-needed hour's sleep, I was glad when the clocks went forward. Not only can we look forward to long light evenings, it means winter is over, symbolically at least.

The ‘dark season’ has really taken its toll on me this year and I’ve struggled greatly with my health these past few months. Given the wisdom of hindsight, I should have listened to my body way back in December and added some rest into my cocktail of prescribed medications.

But no, struggle on valiantly is what I did. Isn’t that what hard workers do? This strategy worked until my body nearly gave way on me and I was forced to stop.

Guilt about taking time off

Despite all the clinical evidence supporting the need for rest, the guilt I felt at taking time off was enormous. I may have been facing pressing deadlines, but in the grand scheme of things the world would (and did) keep spinning.

Everyone I work with was nothing but understanding, my workload survived and life went on. So why did I feel so guilty?

No doubt you are familiar with the age-old saying ‘nurses make the worst patients’. Inside knowledge can make it difficult to accept care, but if you are the patient, not only do you need to accept help from others, you need to know when to step in and direct your own expert care inwards.

When you are poorly, you need to be your own nurse. You need to advocate for yourself the way you would for your patients. Despite taking the correct medications, my ‘battling-on’ approach was not giving my body the chance to heal. The longer this went on, the more I teetered on the brink of burnout, yet I still felt guilty.

‘Continually ignoring what is going on can affect your ability to work safely and effectively’

Guilt can be a powerful emotion, eating away at you until you lose the ability to make rational decisions. But guilt is yet another pressure we put on ourselves. Other people can put demands on you, but nobody has the power to make you feel a certain way.

At some point, we all need to take ownership of our feelings. If we are the ones in charge of our emotions, we can learn to change how we respond to situations, which can lead to positive behaviour changes. If I hadn’t felt so guilty, would I have respected my own needs sooner?

Recognise early signs of ill health – and act

Nurses aren’t immune to ill health, and although you can’t stop yourself from becoming ill, you can learn to look after yourself and respect what is happening to you. Recognising and acting on the early warning signs can help lessen the impact of a period of ill-health – advice you have probably given patients.

A bit of stress or pressure is known to be good for you – think of the butterflies in your stomach before an exam – but too much stress can quickly affect your performance and lead to burnout.

‘Spend a bit of time thinking about what helps keep you well’

It is important to remember that illness puts pressure on your body, mind and emotions. Continually ignoring what is going on can affect your ability to work safely and effectively, which could lead to your body giving way.

To prevent this from happening, identify what keeps you in your ‘healthy zone’ – the area where you perform well and can cope with everything that’s happening to you. Just as we all have different pain thresholds, so the limits to your healthy zones will be unique to you. Spend a bit of time thinking about what helps keep you well, and remember not to compare yourself to others.

Part of your professional duty is to preserve safety. If you are not fit for all that your role entails, you must take responsibility for this. This may mean taking time off or consulting your manager or occupational health department about changing or reducing your duties for a while.

Your workplace will keep going without you. Don’t let your health suffer in the long-term.


Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurse

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