Self-care can be defined as ‘the practice of taking a deliberate action to preserve or improve one’s own health,’ whether that be physical or emotional.
Therefore, it is true to say that self-care is vital for all humans to survive; however, it may hold more importance in professions like nursing and midwifery that can be more stressful. If the effects of the job are allowed to take their toll it can result in increased levels of sickness, poor mental health and staff leaving the NHS.
Last year, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) found that there was a 25% rise in the numbers of nurses leaving the profession. However, with more importance being placed upon self-care at university for students like myself, these rates could begin to decline.
So, how do we ‘do’ self-care? Well, it can be practised in differing ways dependant on the individual’s preferences.
“Nurses may want to take a more emotional approach to self-care”
For example, there are more physical forms of self-care, like taking time out to exercise and keeping a healthy diet, which contribute to improved health short and long term. It may even be as simple as ensuring nurses are well rested, as research suggests that self-care strategies for nurses promote better sleep, which in turn improves focus and concentration to provide the best care of their ability. Also, this allows the body to recover from an intense 12-hour shift, which in turn helps to strengthen the immune system leading to less time off sick.
Nurses may want to take a more emotional approach to self-care. This is key in giving yourself time to process, understand and reflect on events like death that can be emotionally taxing. As simple as it sounds, seeking help and asking for debriefs is a form of self-care.
Research suggests that 70% of nurses put the wellbeing of their patients beyond their own, I have witnessed this countless times seeing midwives not taking their breaks in order to help with the busy ward.
lthough it is important to support patients, it is just as important that nurses are aware that it is OK to need some support for themselves.
Of course, not all self-care techniques have to be so thought out, after a long shift ordering a pizza instead of having last night’s leftovers can work just as well.
These examples of practising self-care are not only applicable to qualified nurses and midwives, but also to students. When we are on placement, we work the same hours as staff, yet this work is unpaid, on top of this we are learning continually.
Therefore, the combination of tiredness and stress can lead to overwhelming feelings of not being able to cope; I know I have experienced this myself as a student midwife.
To manage this, I ensure my self-care techniques are constant, not just after one tough shift. While on our placement blocks, every day off I do something for myself. Whether that be baking my favourite cupcakes, reading, watching a film, or walking to Starbucks to get a coffee, of course all alongside plenty of rest. I also find it beneficial to talk to family, as I am currently living away from home, a FaceTime with my parents for some comfort always helps.
In my experience of self-care so far, it has allowed me to recharge, reflect and feel prepared both physically and mentally for my next shift. It is a skill I have learnt that I will be continuing to use throughout my career.
So, in conclusion, I hope that healthcare students can see that although it is our job to look after others, we cannot do this until we are caring for ourselves.
Beth Edwards is a second-year student midwife at the University of Leeds and 2022-23 Nursing Times student editor