Do any of these statements sound familiar?
• It has been so long since I’ve done something just for me, I can’t remember.
• My kids come first.
• My spouse or significant other comes first.
• I don’t even know what I would do for myself.
• I don’t have the time or the money to do things for myself.
• My responsibilities are so great that I don’t have a social circle.
We all know that nurses are caring people. But you can’t effectively care for others all the time. For your own good and the good of your family, friends, and patients, you must take time for yourself.
My wake-up call
Did I always have this perspective? Was I always wise enough to know that caring starts with myself? Absolutely not! For years, I suffered from unconscious self-neglect in the name of being a dedicated nurse and superwoman.
Then, I got a wake-up call. I hadn’t been feeling well for some time. I was so busy with my work and life that I didn’t take time to see my nurse practitioner or physician. I just kept pushing myself. I remember thinking, “Maybe I could use some vitamins or something.”
I drove home from a 12-hour shift, thinking, “I’m too tired to see straight.” I woke up astounded that I was still in uniform, and 15 hours had passed. I was disoriented, lethargic, and my arms and legs felt heavy. Only then, scared and in a stupor, did I seek help.
A thorough history and blood work revealed that I had hypothyroidism. The physician and nurse were horrified to learn that I had driven myself to the appointment.
The big question
After a few days, when I felt much better, I realized just how long I’d been feeling bad and wondered why I hadn’t made an appointment sooner.
I considered this question for a few days while I was off work, waiting for the Synthroid (levothyroxine sodium) to do its magic. The answer was quite simple: I always chose myself last.
While I was off work, I realized that the world didn’t stop spinning. Patients got taken care of; others took my place at meetings; and a friend brought me notes from a college course I was taking. This is a classic example of how unconscious self-neglect can present itself. The wake-up call doesn’t have to be a dramatic health scare. Self-neglect can appear as irritability, depression, overeating, not eating enough, insomnia, relationship trouble, inner anger, fear, panic attacks, cardiac issues. You name it.
Neglecting my own health was neither conscientious nor admirable. I could have easily made errors while caring for others or caused an auto accident because my reflexes were slowed.
A question of balance
Whether you’re a new graduate, seasoned staff nurse, nurse manager, or nurse entrepreneur, maintaining balance in your life requires that you continually assess and shift professional and personal priorities. Right now, take a moment to consider your quality of life (QOL). If on a scale of 1 to 10, your QOL is 6 or below, you aren’t living well, and that’s not heroic; it’s unacceptable.
Identify why you don’t take time for yourself and then change one thing. For example, if your problem is that you don’t have enough time, keep a record of what happens for a day or, better yet, a week. Look at your record and cross off one thing. The next day or week, skip that one thing and examine your feelings about doing so. I believe you’ll find that the earth didn’t spin off its axis.
What do you want?
Next, make a list of the things, wishes, dreams, and activities that you would like to incorporate in your life. Then try incorporating them. Commit some time over the next 14 days to engage in activities that will nourish your mind, body, and spirit.
Spa therapies cross all three domains of mind, body, and spirit. You can develop your own bathing ritual with aromatherapy. You can buy foot massagers and body massage chairs. A very cost-effective way to get spa treatments is to sign up for them at local esthetician and massage therapy schools. Prices are low; during finals week, therapy may be free. You can also opt for a day spa experience or spa retreat.
Keep incorporating items from your list until your QOL score improves. Maintaining a balance means constantly evaluating and resetting your priorities. Thus, over time, your lists will change, too. They will reflect your new interests and desires—and most important, the new you.
Gloria Annette Blackmon, BSN, RN-BC, LNC, LNHA, is the owner of Blackmon & Associates, LLC Long-Term Care Consulting and Nutrira Spa Retreats for Nurses in New Orleans, Louisiana.