Career advice

Self-care for nurses: it’s not selfish to think of your own health and well-being

Looking after yourself is essential when you are caring for others

Looking after yourself is essential when you are caring for others

Self-management is an important strategy for managing the stresses of the job Picture: iStock

A few years ago, I was employed as a corporate health promotion nurse for a healthcare charity.

Part of my role involved running office-based blood pressure screening clinics to promote heart health and detect any cases of undiagnosed hypertension.

The obvious clinical benefits of the health checks were welcomed by employees, but I was a little surprised to discover that staff put equal value on being able to take time away from their desks and having the opportunity to talk.

Nurses offer a listening ear, but they too need support to be able to perform well at work and stay mentally and physically healthy.

Clinical environments can be punishing workplaces

Nurses are integral to the well-being of the NHS. The NHS Employers website states: ‘Without staff that are well and at work the NHS could not deliver quality and effective care to patients. We need to ensure that staff are provided with an environment and opportunities that encourage and enable them to lead healthy lives and make choices that support their wellbeing.’

‘Your continuing role as a nurse depends on looking after yourself, so don’t put yourself at the end of the list’

A bold statement indeed, but as most NHS workplaces are anything but conducive to staff well-being these days, it’s hard not feel cynical reading this.

Given the current recruitment crisis the profession faces, with around 40,000 registered nursing vacancies in England alone, it would be wrong to write about workplace well-being without acknowledging the daily pressures nurses are under.

I could write an essay on the injustices of short staffing, poor pay and lack of resources, but let’s focus instead on what you – and your employer – can do to help maintain your well-being.

From mental health issues to musculoskeletal problems, there are many reasons why you may need support from your employer, and it is not selfish to think of your own health needs.

Workplace support for nurses’ well-being

Accessing support is vital in maintaining your well-being, and most NHS organisations now offer a variety of options to support the health and well-being of staff. These usually come under two broad categories:

Prevention and self-management

This includes flexible working conditions, support and supervision, training and information hubs, exercise classes, vouchers and healthy meal options. Ask your manager or human resources department if you don’t know how to access these.

Targeted support

Services such as counselling, stress management and physiotherapy should be accessible to everyone. More tailored support, such as bereavement counselling, may also offered in certain areas. You may also be able to access workplace well-being groups through the occupational health department. These may over a range of topics, including self-care, improving confidence, assertiveness and challenging negative thinking patterns, all in a supportive environment.


Accessing support in the workplace  

Peer support networks – whether or virtual – are valuable for clinical staff Picture: iStock

As well as formal this kind of support, you may be able to organise networks in your clinical area. This could be as simple as setting up a WhatsApp group for staff, or you may want to consider facilitated external support groups. Whatever you choose, it is important to set respectful ground rules so that everyone feels safe.

Taking time away from the clinical environment to access well-being support may not be easy, bearing in mind staffing problems and heavy workloads.

Employers’ responsibility to you

But your employer has a duty to support you, and it is well worth finding out what is available in your workplace. Knowing you are not alone and have a place where you can be honest can be a huge stepping stone to better well-being.

Changing behaviours of any kind can be hard, so you may find it difficult to ask for support to begin with. But there is nothing to be ashamed of – your continuing role as a nurse depends on you looking after yourself, so don’t put yourself at the end of the list.

As Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho said: ‘When you say “yes” to others, make sure you are not saying “no” to yourself.’

Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach with a nursing background who runs a healthcare training company

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