In my over 40 years of nursing I have learned that nurses spend most of their time giving to others. We give to our patients, our colleagues, our family, our friends and our community. I have also learned that so much giving saps our energy and leads to burn out, depression, exhaustion, and dissatisfaction at work and at home.
I am no exception and have struggled my whole career to find balance between my work and my life. It is hard to find that balance when your life is full of obligations to your family, your friends, and all the commitments that come with living in today’s world. Add the distraction and time drain involved with keeping up with social media, e-mail and emerging technology, and I am sure there are days when you fall exhausted into bed and wonder if you got anything done at all.
So, I want to talk about one other thing that I have learned the hard way…. if you don’t take the time to care for yourself, you won’t have anything left to give to anyone else. A person who is exhausted both physically and mentally does not have the ability to care for another. I know I am not telling you anything you don’t already know or have not heard or tried many times before, but I want to provide some concrete steps to help you start investing in the most important person: YOU!
First, acknowledge that changing your behavior is hard. Then, put a note on your bathroom mirror that states something like, “Taking care of me first gives me the energy to give to others”. Put it where you see it every day. My recommendation is that you start with one or two of my suggestions so that you are at least doing one of these every day. As they become habits, then add another recommendation. Experiment with what works for you and then schedule the time right onto your calendar on your phone. You need to make time for yourself before you make time for any other events. Recognize that if you have not invested this time in yourself you may not be able to manage your other commitments. This is like putting money in the bank and insures that you stay healthy and happy. Then forgive yourself when you have a day or week when you just don’t have time for yourself, and start again.
These are in the order of importance so if you can’t do any of the others start with the first one even though for some of you it may be the hardest one to accomplish:
1. The research is clear that you need 8 hours of sleep every night. This time is critical so your brain can help your body recover from the day, reset your internal clock and file your memories. It has been proven that getting 8 hours of sleep enhances your memory, makes you more creative, gives you more energy, keeps you slim and lowers your food cravings. It also protects you from cancer and dementia, wards off infections, lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It makes you feel more happy, less depressed and less anxious and best of all it is free!
If you want to read more about the science behind these facts, read:
Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker, PhD. There are many “Apps” that help you track your sleep (for example Sleep Cycle), or you can use a wearable device like a Fitbit. Tracking your sleep helps you understand if you need to be in bed longer just to get your 8 hours of sleep because you wake up during the night. Dr. Walker recommends no caffeine and no medications to help you sleep and outlines methods to improve your sleep. There is a cliff note version of the book but I highly recommend reading or listening to the full text.