The Holistic Concept of Self Care Part Two of Three: The Essentialness of Self-Care, Personally and Professionally
CAREGIVERS IN NURTURING professions like nursing often neglect themselves in favor of those in their care. But in Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice, it states, "Practicing holistic nursing requires nurses to integrate self-care, self-responsibility, spirituality, and reflection in their own lives." These standards were jointly published by the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA).
Taking care of yourself sounds like one more thing for a busy nurse to do. Strong motivation is needed to get started and to continue. It isn't always easy!
Acting on a desire while changing beliefs and attitudes is difficult, even when one wants to change. Considering one's motivators and detractors can help, as suggested by James Prochaska, et al., in Changing for Good: A Revolutionary Six-Stage Program for Overcoming Bad Habits and Moving Your Life Positively Forward. What keeps us from caring for ourselves?
Not wanting to appear lazy, self-absorbed, uncharitable, or perhaps even uncaring, some nurses persevere until they look tired or unhealthy enough to be excused from work. One critical care nurse told me that she doesn't iron her scrubs and does not wear makeup, because on her unit, to appear well-groomed invites colleagues to pass judgment that one isn't working hard enough. This attitude discourages self-care.
Another detractor might be a lack of support from family or colleagues. Often this is fear based; they fear that you will do less for them. Reassure them that you will be stronger, better able to help them, and will be around longer, if you do care for Self.
Some nurses live in a family, ethnic, or spiritual culture that idealizes self-sacrifice, expecting caregivers to serve endlessly. Trying to change this pattern often leads a nurse to experience guilt.
Other nurses simply place a low priority on self-care. This is often the root cause, when a nurse claims not to have enough time or enough resources for self-care. "Not having enough" often translates to, "I would rather spend my money, my time, or my energy doing something else." If you see your pattern of behavior described here, try shifting your focus to the advantages of caring for your Whole Self. What can motivate a nurse to better care for her body, mind, and spirit?
For a holistic nurse, self-care is an ethical requirement. Holistic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice is clear on the essentialness of self-care. "The nurse's self-reflection and self-assessment, self-care, healing, and personal development are necessary for service to others…" (p. 37).
Caring for yourself can help you to consider nursing a sustainable career, rather than the job you will perform until you burn out. Years ago, a nurse approached me after I led a seminar about preventing workplace injuries. She had worked in critical care for 30 years (wow!). She explained that if she wanted to continue in the high-stress, high physically demanding work of critical care, she needed to keep herself in shape. She did so by running five miles a day to keep her body strong and to manage her stress.
A spiritual nurse who believes that her responsibility is to optimize her ability to serve is likely to care for herself. You, too, may find support and strength for self-care in your spiritual beliefs.
Some nurses find it more palatable to motivate themselves for the good of their families. One nursing student, years ago, told me that her slogan for the New Year was, "Taking Care of Me in 2003!" She motivated herself with the desire to be less tired and less grumpy when she was with her daughter.
Self-care can help us to behave better. It is tough to be fully present and caring with family or patients when in pain, physically, emotionally, or spiritually. Job performance suffers when employees are fatigued, stressed, and physically unable to do all of their job functions.
Nurses that do not value themselves are unlikely to care for themselves. We take care of what we value. Once you begin caring for yourself, self-care can lead you to increasingly value yourself. In my experience, nurses first learn to care for themselves for the benefit of others—perhaps their patients or their families. Eventually you take care of yourself, for your Self's sake. "Once nurses understand the relationship between personal self-care and improved job satisfaction, they are more interested in learning about self-care activities. And once they experience the benefits of self-care, they become convinced of its necessity in their daily lives," says Marie Shanahan, BSN, MA, HN-BC, President, The BirchTree Center for Healthcare Transformation.
One of the Core Values of holistic nursing is "Holistic Nurse Self-Care." Holistic nurse self-care is essential for several reasons. A holistic nurse creates a healing environment for her patients, a safe and comfortable place for healing. Being mindful of one's own attitudes, emotions, and behaviors, releasing those that are self-destructive or disrespectful, enhances a nurse's ability to create and be part of a healing environment.
Why? Holistic nurses are instruments of healing for their patients, using their Self to create a healing environment for their patients and through presence, creating opportunities for healing to occur. This requires relationship building towards an outcome of trust, compassion, authenticity, and respect. It is difficult and perhaps impossible to be an instrument of healing, to facilitate healing, when one is feeling depleted, sick, stressed, and in pain.
Barbara Dossey, author of Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice, succinctly states, "Nurses cannot facilitate healing unless they are in the process of healing themselves." Energetically, a nurse's individual and unique pattern of energy overlaps that of a patient in her care. What's in your pattern? Fatigue, stress, distress, irritability? Or is your pattern centered, positive, at peace? In part three of this series, learn how to use the holistic caring process to take care of your Self.
Gale Lyman, RN, BSN, CCM, HN-BC, is a holistic nurse, a frequent conference speaker, the founder of The Lyman Center, and an active volunteer with the American Holistic Nurses Association. Visit www.TLCforHealthcare.com or contact Gale with questions or comments at [email protected]
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