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Hard Lesson Learned | Self-Care

Bobby McCarthy
Author, Bobbi McCarthy

I was supposed to fly to Virginia on Jan. 13th with my son to be with my daughter, her husband and baby, (my 7 week old grandson) BUT I contracted strep throat and became quite ill rather fast on Jan. 12th. By 8pm on the 12th I was having bilat. ear pain, was feverish, chilled and having a hard time swallowing. By the time 330am on the 13th rolled around and I was supposed to get in the shower and get ready to leave, my fever was 102 and I ached all over! Needless to say I’m still home and NOT with my beloved children and grandchild in Virginia.

The lesson learned you ask? Stress and lack of Self-care WILL make you sick…and you WILL end up missing out on life’s fun during that time!

Prior to going back to college to obtain my BSN, I had not been introduced to the subject of nursing burnout and self-care. I have since been educated on the crisis of burnout in our nursing profession and one of the biggest weapons against burnout being self-care. Nurses as well as women (double jeopardy if you are a female nurse!) tend to put other people’s needs ahead of their own. We are taught this concept as young girls and we have it reinforced in nursing school! (Up until now that is) The other lesson that we are taught is that if we do not put other people’s needs ahead of our own we are NOT nice girls…hence if you take your breaks at work you are not tending to the needs of your patients and if you take your breaks during a busy day…you are a slack off!

Nursing educators and theorists have been writing about the effects of stress on the nurse and the eventual burnout that occurs from that repeated, prolonged stress for many years. Self–Care is now a term used to describe a variety of things a nurse can do to relieve stress and thus bring more balance and peace to our nursing lives…thus bringing us out of burnout or keeping us from becoming burnt out.

Now “taking care of myself” was certainly something I always thought I did~ you know…sleeping, having fun, eating right most of the time…etc. The term Self-Care encompasses a much bigger meaning than just taking care of myself. It means realizing that I am worth taking care of~ that if I do not take care of myself chances are no one will do it for me~ that in order for me to perform at my highest and best level I have to infuse peace, fun, love and balance as well as proper nutrition and sleep. It also means that I need to have boundaries and limits around my life…work hard AND play hard…give love and receive love…be creative and expressive. It also means that during a 12 hour work day I MUST eat and rest in order to recharge…I could also inhale some lavender and orange incense to promote relaxation or energy as I need it.

Another area that I have been learning about in the realm of Self-Care is being present…present in the moment~ Instead of running to catch up with my thought, allowing my brain to observe my thought without judgment and then moving on to the next thought, allowing my heart to feel the pain, the sorrow or the fear and then letting it pass. I tend to stuff things during my work day, (and in my home life)…in order to keep moving on to the next patient and the next issue. Once in a while I have a patient or family issue that forces me to stop~ observe~ feel and be present. These moments are the most rewarding so why do I run from them most of the time???

I can honestly say, as I have in this blog, that I have been in varying stages of burnout during my 21 year nursing career. When I began instituting self-care measures a year ago I felt the burnout lift and shift to a less severe burn. (Maybe it is now just smoldering but no longer a burn). I learned Reiki and went to yoga at least twice a week and I started eating better and drinking less wine. I felt happier and more able to face the long 12 hour ER shifts. At work I started taking my breaks for the full time and trying to get off the floor…I brought lavender and orange scents to work to sniff during the day for the calming or energy effects and I ate more healthy foods.

During the last several weeks I have let that slip greatly. I’ve been eating poorly and drinking more wine again at night “to de-stress” and sadly the yoga went to the wayside. I also have been allowing an emotional issue in my life to control me and to worry me…hence I let my energy level dip…my defenses break and just when I needed my health to be pristine…WHAM!!! It wasn’t.

I will take this illness as a learning moment. As painful as the moment is…it is necessary to learn that in order to be our best we have to give ourselves the best care! We can only give what we give ourselves and we can only be as strong as the strength we infuse ourselves with.

Self-Care…a much needed reminder for myself this week.

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