If you have ever traveled in an airplane, then you’ve heard the safety instructions provided by the flight crew before takeoff, reminding you to put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting other passengers. This is an essential part of the survival chain because if you run out of oxygen, you won’t be able to assist anyone else.
With National Nurses Week starting on May 6, this example from the airlines is a relevant metaphor for nurses as well. The job of a nurse is taking care of others and as a result, we can forget about first putting on our own “mask,” so we shouldn’t be surprised when we run out of “air.” That is why as nurses, we must learn to how to FLY, First Love Yourself, by adopting self-care practices.
Self-care is doing something that nourishes and refreshes your body, mind and spirit. It doesn’t have to be sophisticated, expensive or lengthy. Just consciously pausing for 10 seconds to take a few cleansing breaths to reset during the day is a first step for self-care. Taking those few seconds improves your mental and physiologic state and can serve as your pre-flight checklist.
Preparing to FLY
Before a plane ever leaves the ground, the flight crew conducts a rigorous set of checks to make sure all equipment is performing properly and all necessary supplies are on board the aircraft. Equipment failure at 30,000 feet can have catastrophic consequences. Similarly, nurses can experience compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma and emotional exhaustion. The results can manifest in many ways such as inability to complete tasks, poor decision-making and lack of concentration, apathy, decreased motivation, anxiety, depression and making uncharacteristic errors. Any one of these could put both nurses and patients at grave risk for harm.
The first step in the nurse’s pre-flight checklist for self-care is being self-reflective. This enables you to proactively manage stress by noticing negative patterns, such as stressing over things things that are out of your control. It also helps you keep your life balanced by facing areas of concern, and helps you to make decisions based on your training, experience and conscience.
The tragedy is that we have become so accustomed to our self-neglect that we don’t notice the change in our mood and physical symptoms until we are forced to pause. We amplify our negative experience by failing to properly hydrate ourselves, feed our bodies and even put off taking a necessary bathroom break.
Start FLYing today
Choosing to first love yourself through self-care benefits everyone in your life! A healthier, happier and more engaged nurse is a better caregiver, spouse/partner, parent and friend. It is not about a singular activity or method, it is about developing a self-care practice routine rooted in personal investment and facilitated by a self-care toolkit.
In order to establish a routine, do your practices daily. Be creative (and a little patient) with stress management efforts by trying things aimed at the mind and the body. Consider activities such as visualization techniques, color or art therapy. Activities like yoga, kickboxing, running or just walking are also good stress reducers. Let technology help through one of countless smartphone applications you can download from the App store or Google Play to guide and manage self-care. Examples of applications include, Stop, Breathe & Think, The Now, Insight Timer, Relax Lite, and many others that can be found by searching terms like “stress relief,” “mindfulness,” and “breathe.”
As you build your personal self-care practice, be sure to include those things that bring joy and resiliency to your life and opt out of those activities that do not. Remember, it doesn’t take much time or resources to refresh, renew, revive, reenergize and restore your mind, body and spirit. It just takes a personal commitment to secure our own mask first to truly learn to FLY!
About the author. Walsh is an education specialist and nurse residency program coordinator at Yale New Haven Hospital, Center for Professional Practice Excellence (CPPE). Her career began as a clinical nurse on the orthopedic unit, followed by daily operations (float) pool before moving to CPPE. As the nurse residency program coordinator, she nurtures, guides and supports all newly licensed nurses through the first year of their clinical practice. She is a certified wound care nurse (WCC) and certified medical-surgical nurse (CMSRN). Walsh most recently presented "Stressing the Importance of Stress Management" at the 2017 Vizient Nurse Residency Program Annual Conference in San Diego.