Self-care for caregivers

Written by: Melanie Wong

Hospitals are always open, regardless of whether it is 2pm in the afternoon or 2am in the morning. They have to be, of course, because health problems wait for no one, but when you dig a little deeper, what does this constant state of being ‘switched on’ mean for those giving their own time to care for patients in hospitals?

There are many common health issues among nurses due to the hospital environment. Shift work presents a myriad of problems, as does the physically and mentally demanding nature of nursing.

Shift work varies depending on whether you’ve got the day shift or night shift and while both can attest to a poor diet, limited exercise and strange sleeping patterns, there’s no denying that night shift amplifies these problems. Especially when hospitals or care facilities are understaffed, shifts can often be long and frequent. When time is short, regardless of day or night shift, nurses often can’t afford to find the healthiest and financially viable food options, let alone squeeze in a ten-minute walk around the ward.

In addition to this, the physical nature of nursing, with long hours of standing and lifting patients or heavy equipment, can lead to musculoskeletal conditions that start off as back or joint pains and become progressively worse over time. Another health issue faced by nurses is that of poor mental health. While nurses working in different wards will undoubtedly have different experiences, it’s not hard to believe that nursing is mentally and emotionally taxing. This, in conjunction with the stress of the job, can lead to nurses turning to smoking and drinking to relieve stress. However, while these may be temporary rituals of relaxation, long term solutions can have a much more significant impact on a nurse’s life.

A lot of the time, nurses know all this. They know that smoking is bad, that they probably shouldn’t be eating fast food at 7am, that they should get as much sleep as possible before the night shift. But knowing this doesn’t mean that nurses have the time, or energy, to change old behaviours and this is especially so given nurses’ busy schedules.

However, despite the grim outlook, there are small routines that nurses can incorporate into their daily lives that, with time, can develop into healthy habits.

  1. Food from home

It seems fairly obvious that the best way to counter fast food is with food you make yourself but the actual execution of this is a little trickier. When would you have time to make food? Better yet, when would you have time to go grocery shopping? These questions can be hard to answer, especially when shift work doesn’t allow for much week-to-week stability but making a lot of food in one go and boxing it up in your fridge can really simplify your morning routine when you’re in a rush for work.

  1. Give yourself breaks

This might not be possible in busier shifts but squeezing in some breaks is a must. Depending on what you need most that day, you can sit down for a nice cup of tea, chat to a friend or take a walk to the cafeteria or garden. A change of scenery can help trigger a change of mindset if you’re feeling particularly drained – until your shift ends, at least.

  1. Give yourself ‘off’ hours and downtime

Sometimes, it’s hard to switch off after work when nursing is so demanding. But clocking off is an absolutely essential part of a nurse’s routine to keep the work/life balance. In an environment where work stability isn’t always attainable, it’s a good idea to create your own little rituals that you can ground yourself in.