Updated: Jun 14
As far as I remember, self-care was not a subject we covered in nursing school. I don’t recall a class or lesson or guest speaker that taught me how to sustain myself while caring for others as a profession. I don’t remember hearing about how to address burnout or how to implement healthy practices in stressful life-or-death situations, which is oftentimes what we are dealing with as nurses and healthcare workers.
The emphasis of my schooling was on acquiring the knowledge and skills to care for others in a competent, efficient manner. Of course, this very much should be the emphasis, but somehow I can't help but think that there is something seriously missing within the content of nursing schools and the medical system/model at large if we aren’t also learning how to care for ourselves.
Nursing school is one of the most difficult undergraduate degrees to obtain, and nursing is inarguably one of the most challenging professions out there. We are entrusted with people's lives, and that can take a real toll on our health, well-being, mental outlook, and mindset. It can lead to ‘burnout,’ which is a more common word today than it was 14 years ago when I set out on my nursing journey.
I have always been interested in yoga, but it wasn’t until I started my nursing career that I really began a more regular practice. I think it was perhaps a natural response to the stress of nursing school and of life in general. I found I could access myself through the practices of yoga in a way that I never had before. To try to explain it, I could feel my body through the different poses; I became aware of my mind and thoughts; I could notice the effect of my breath; I could sense my spirit within my body. Through my practice, I could access sometimes only a sliver, other times a big chunk of peace - a calm and ease that supported me on and off my yoga mat.
I have really leaned into yoga—my practice and my teaching—as the years have passed. I have witnessed how yoga has impacted not only my career but also my life in an incredibly supportive, positive way.
Despite it being the path of our choosing, the role of nurse and caregiver is not an easy one. I know firsthand that it is often an innate calling, and there is deeper meaning to the work. Why else would we do it? As my fellow healthcare workers know, this line of work is not for everyone, and it’s certainly not for the faint of heart.
Working in healthcare has always been challenging, and it seems to have intensified tenfold with the pandemic. We have all experienced long, thankless hours, overtime, working nights, holidays, and weekends. We have all missed once-in-a-lifetime events, been called into work in the middle of the night, and chosen work over our own families more than once. We have all grieved with our patients’ families as they are told they will never see their wife, daughter, brother, mother, or father again. We have all held space for pain, emotion, anger, outrage, sadness, grief, and despair.
These unique and vulnerable experiences become ‘normal’ in our line of work, but they make a lasting impact. They take a toll. They have real physiological, psychological, spiritual, and emotional effects on us as humans.
As a result, our nervous systems are perpetually on high alert. The sympathetic nervous system can get stuck in overdrive—even when we’re off the clock—and can prevent the parasympathetic nervous system from activating. This can manifest into poor sleep, unhealthy eating habits, anxiety, fatigue, frequent illnesses, and even disease. The parasympathetic nervous system is where our bodies begin to restore, heal, rest, relax, and integrate the realities of the trauma and stress we often experience while on shift. If we can’t drop into this more relaxed space because we haven’t cleared what happened at work, or if work hours are far outnumbering rest hours, then we can’t access the state our body needs in order to heal. We simply cannot return to a more balanced and homeostatic state because we aren’t making space for it.
Here's the thing… we need us.
We need you to keep going and to continue to take care of others.
We need others to join this profession to continue the service.
And there is good news here…
I think there is another way.
We need to take a more sustainable approach to our work with self-care as a priority, not an afterthought. If we are intentional about tending to our own health and well-being, we will be better able to tend to the needs of others. Instead of trying to pour from an empty cup, we can come into our work with a full cup, a nourished cup, a well-rested cup. It's similar to the airplane oxygen analogy. You have to put on your own oxygen mask before you can help anyone else with theirs.
This important truth is deemphasized and undervalued in the medical field (and our culture as a whole), and it’s time for that to change.
Here's to normalizing self-care for caregivers and teaching our profession and community the importance of this practice.
Here's to reclaiming our own health and valuing ourselves enough to consciously put ourselves first and our careers second. With this shift in consciousness, we can avoid burning out, changing careers, and constantly feeling miserable, tired, and fatigued. By caring for ourselves, we can continue to show up for others as the compassionate caregivers that we want to be and that the world needs.
Drawing upon my experience working and practicing within the realms of yoga and nursing, I have created a program that is intended to shine a light on and give back to all of you. The nurses, the healthcare workers, the caregivers, the healers, the therapists, the counselors, the first responders, the people that save, help, mend, tend, and ensure that everyone else receives the care they need.
In support of myself, my profession, my local and larger community of nurses and fellow caregivers, Namaspa Foundation and I are excited to offer a free series to ensure you receive the care YOU need. This six-week series will teach you simple tools and mindfulness practices to stay healthy, grounded, calm, and present in your work and in your life. Even if you’ve never been to a yoga class, I encourage you to join me for this opportunity to contribute to your OWN health and well-being so you can continue to care for others!
There’s still time to join, it’s not too late. Click here to sign up: https://www.namaspa.com/workshops.