Caring for others can take its toll on your body, mind and emotions. Yet, even though you may be an expert at looking after your patients, are you giving your own wellbeing the same attention?
If you tend to think of everyone else first and ignore your own needs, you may be risking not only your long-term health but your future career. For example, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and prolonged stress can all have a negative impact on your ability to think clearly and rationally and ultimately your ability to do your job well. So, to ensure a long and rewarding career in health or social care, it is important that you think of ways to keep you as fit and as healthy as possible.
Yes, we’re sure you have heard it all before, but you do need to practice what you preach! According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, human survival depends upon meeting your basic physiological needs, i.e. eating well, balancing rest and physical activity and making sure you are drinking enough (coffee and alcohol don’t count!)
It is impossible to make effective decisions when your blood sugar is in your boots, or if you are constantly dehydrated. Though sugary snacks will see you through that mid-shift dip we all know they don’t form the basis of a balanced diet! However, sticking to a healthy diet and maintaining adequate fluid levels is especially hard when working long, erratic hours in a hot and stuffy environment. But it can be done! Here are some simple tips:
Shift work can play havoc with your sleep, so, as far as your rota allows, try to help yourself by getting into a bed-time routine, e.g. don’t drink caffeine if you know it keeps you awake, avoid looking at your phone or tablet in bed and try to have a quiet peaceful bedroom.
It’s also important that you keep active. Though most of you will clock up your daily step count during your working day, try to also to get some fresh air. Enjoy the extra daylight over the summer months and remember a brisk walk or gentle run can do wonders for your mood, help you switch off and improve sleep patterns.
It is widely recognised that working in the health and care sector is a stressful job; you see human life at its rawest and working patterns are not always conducive to healthy behavioural choices.
Though the term ‘stress’ is an everyday word it is actually very subjective. Even in a small team, no two carers will respond the same way to similar pressures. So, try not to compare yourself to others. Instead, the first step to managing your stress levels is to recognise what is ‘normal’ for you and how stress impacts on you – physically, emotionally and behaviourally. The trick is to know what works for you and what doesn’t. We all have a ‘tipping point’ where stress stops helping us and starts to have a negative effect.
Try the following steps to help you recognise how stress affects you:
There are lots of recognised ways to reduce stress including relaxation, breathing techniques, mindfulness, and physical exercise. Stress management has to become part of your lifestyle, so think of things you enjoy and can stick with. Don’t under-estimate the positive impact that hobbies can have – anything that absorbs your mind can help to distract you from worrying thoughts or sensations. Talking to colleagues or friends can also help get things in perspective. But try to limit the amount of time you spend talking about work once your shift has finished.
Learning to control your stress levels can take time and practice so don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t see results quickly. But stick with it! And don’t compare yourself to those around you – if you constantly judge yourself, e.g. feeling that you aren’t ‘strong enough’ or ‘a good enough nurse / carer’ to deal with a busy shift, you are simply adding to the demands already on you.
The stronger you feel inside, the more able you will be to cope with everything that is demanded of you – both at work and at home.
Just because you work in the caring professions doesn’t mean that you are superhuman! Throughout your career there will be times where switching off and taking care of yourself becomes harder. Regardless of whether this is due to pressures at work or personal difficulties it’s ok to ask for help.
Some people still think asking for help is a sign of weakness, however, one of the recognised qualities of great leaders is that they can show vulnerability. So, the first step towards dealing with your situation is to be honest with yourself and others and ask for help / support. You can choose from speaking to your line manger or another senior colleague, a trusted friend or family member or your GP. Though it’s not easy a problem shared is so often ‘a problem halved.’
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