Every detail matters
Jennifer Smith MACN
In the previous edition of The Hive, Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward CEO ACN stated that “Almost one-third of Australian nurses and midwives are considering leaving the profession due to work-related stress and burnout”. Stop for a moment and consider what this means. In fact read it again and again. Imagine your own workplace with one-third less nurses or midwives. But also stop and consider that that one-third of nurses are currently working under so much stress that they are wanting to leave the profession in which they have worked so hard to qualify, and would have loved in the beginning.
Admittedly nursing is not an easy profession. Nurses face all sorts of challenges in our work day and work life and they are not limited to what we experience with the patients in our care. Very few go into nursing not knowing this. Nurses are people on the whole who are prepared to jump in, boots and all, roll up their sleeves and get right in it up to our elbows… so to speak.
So what is it that is resulting in high levels of burnout and being under so much stress that we would rather do anything but nursing? Yes in the last edition our workplace cultures were very much discussed, as was the quality of our education and how we can work together to create positive workplaces. All of this is hugely important. But where are we in all of this?
I was one of those ‘one-third of nurses’ who was actively looking for a ‘way out’ of nursing and I invested a lot of time, effort and money for this to be a reality. Fortunately, this didn’t quite work and I am still nursing. I have gone from what I used to call the ‘reluctant nurse’ to one that is deeply committed and I enjoy so much more of what I now do. The secret was not about getting a new job (even though I did along the road, but the shift was happening along way before the new job). The secret (which really isn’t a secret) was about the way I cared for and tended to myself.
I began to run my own personal self-care research project. At the time I was feeling very tired, if not exhausted, and I began by asking myself a few questions:
– “What happens if I go to bed when I begin to feel sleepy, instead of falling asleep on the lounge?”
– “What happens if I take myself out for a walk?”
– “What happens if I give myself a little more time to prepare for my day?”
Slowly but surely I began making a few changes; going to bed when I felt tired, which was often before 9pm – that was when I was working a morning shift; I started walking (outside of work) and I gave myself a little more time to get prepared for my work day (or night – whatever the shift was that I was working)
Then I began to observe that how I felt began to shift. I began to observe that;
– I felt less tired and no longer exhausted
– I was more engaged in my work and genuinely enjoyed it.
– I realised that I really did care about people and enjoyed people, because I was beginning to take greater care of myself and wait for it…
– I loved nursing. I really never thought I would say that.
I also began to realise that self-care was much more than the tasks I did for myself each day, it was about the way I attended to them; in fact, it was the way I attended to everything. The way I approached how I cared for me.
I found that I could care for myself in every moment of everyday, simply by the way that I was with myself through my day. It was tending to the details of caring for myself, just like I tended to the details of how I approached my nursing work. It wasn’t in attending to the details to get them done and complete, it was coming down to the quality in or the way in which I attended them. I found that the more gentle and tender I was with myself, I was being that way in all that I did, including my work. There was a very clear ripple effect, in which I was finding a new ‘spring in my step’.
It was the way that I walked in and out of patient rooms, the way I washed my hands, the way that I sat down and offered myself that opportunity during a busy shift when I was taking a patient’s observations, it was the way that I placed a blanket over someone and assisted them into bed. It really was the way that I was with everything. I realised that every detail mattered.
As a result, I began to learn that my body was the greatest indicator of how I was taking care of me. I found that when I listened to my body, my body responded with less tension. If I was being hard on myself in some way or if I was overriding the very clear messages my body was giving me, such as ‘go to the toilet’ or ‘have a drink of water,’ my body responded to say that doesn’t feel so good.
What I have found through my personal research project of self-care is that caring for myself is never boring, stagnant and is not a ‘tick-box’ list of things to achieve in my day to make myself feel better and it didn’t need a budget. Caring for me has become a foundation for living my whole life and it’s a foundation that I gradually keep building on that I find so supportive in the work that I do as a nurse.
Yes, I still feel stressed and overwhelmed at times and I still have days at work that are challenging, for it’s not about perfection. But I know what to come back to when I feel this way to support myself and the most amazing thing is, that I still enjoy every day of my nursing work. I want to be at work, I am very happy to be there and I can’t imaging now wanting to do anything else. A far cry from the ‘reluctant nurse’ I was only a few years ago.
Self-care does make a difference.