Self-Care: The New Nurse's Guide to Taking Care of Your Body

  • 19 October, 2022

Nurses are caregivers. We are great at taking care of other people's bodies! We do a terrific job of promoting long as it is the health of someone else! But we often struggle at putting the care of our own body as a priority. In your 20s, it is easy to underestimate the effect a 12 hour, physically and emotionally demanding shift can have on your body. But your 40-year-old self will thank you for paying attention to some of these things early in your career.

Self-Care: The New Nurse's Guide to Taking Care of Your Body

Try paying attention to these five areas to take better care of your body as a new nurse and throughout your nursing career.

1. Know Your Own I's and O's! - We all know that closely watching our patient's I's and O's (intake and output) is vital to their care. But as a nurse, it is easy to forget about managing our own I's & O's while we are working.

Think about your intake:

When did you last eat? It can be easy to get so busy trying to manage the needs of all your patients that you don't stop for a proper lunch break or even have a snack. (Please don't skip your breaks!)

Are you making healthy food choices? If you only take a quick break, you may not stop long enough to make healthy choices. Make sure you have balanced meals during your shift and be sure there is at least one form of protein included. It is best to start out your shift by having a good protein-packed meal already in you. If you work days, be sure your breakfast is more than a doughnut or bagel. If you work nights, plan your evening meal to have a decent serving of protein. I highly suggest meal-planning for the week to help you make good food choices while at home and at work! Taste of Home offers some meal planning tips to help you get started. During this stressful time of adapting to your new career, and maybe adapting to 12+ hour shifts for the first time, you might find that ordering grocery pickup or delivery or even a complete meal delivery service can help make having healthy food choices easier. (Be sure to look for free trials or promo codes before signing up for any of these services!)

Are you drinking enough water? I like my iced tea or Diet Coke, but most of my friends and co-workers are coffee drinkers. All of those drinks are great, and I would never dream of telling you to skip those - let's not have a whole bunch of tired, cranky nurses with headaches trying to run a hospital! But water is vital for really caring for your body! A lot of people say you should drink one ounce of water per pound that you weigh. But Everyday Health has a quick hydration calculator you can use to figure out how much water you need.

Have you taken a bathroom break? Now that we've talked about what you're putting IN your body, don't forget to think about what comes OUT! I can't tell you how many 12 hour shifts I worked without taking a bathroom break! I would be absolutely miserable by the time I drove home, but I obviously wasn't taking proper care of myself by going that long! (The ability to hold your bladder for 12 hours does come in handy on road trips though!)

2. Get Sweaty - It is estimated that most nurses in a hospital setting walk at least 4 miles during their 12-hour shift. I found one report from the U.K. that estimated nurses walk the equivalent of a marathon during 1 week of work (no finish line to cross or medals to be awarded for this one though!). While all those steps are great and definitely burn calories, it may not be at the level of aerobic activity needed to gain the full health benefits. So, be sure you have ways outside of work to get your body moving. Join a gym (maybe your employer even has a discount fitness program available!) or schedule a time to go walk through a park or around a lake. Find a dance class, boxing gym, or yoga class - whatever helps you have some fun and gets your heart pumping! As a bonus, exercise also releases endorphins to help your mood!

3. Go to Bed - Nurses often have difficult schedules for sleeping. New nurses may end up working overnight shifts, which can wreak havoc on a healthy sleep schedule. Plan your week ahead of time and set a bedtime based on your work schedule.

4. Spend the Money - It can be tempting to buy cheap work shoes or clothing, but a small investment in quality can be so beneficial to the long-term care of your body. Good shoes are essential! When you have to be on your feet for hours, you need supportive shoes that fit correctly. Ill-fitting or unsupportive shoes can lead to foot, knee, hip, or back pain that may haunt you for the rest of your life. Compression socks (yes, compression socks...but not the ones your grandpa wears!) can save your legs and provide a lot of comfort through the day. Thankfully, many of the uniform companies have cute compression socks available for nurses now, so you can have a little fun with your fashion! Be sure to look at the compression socks available at your local scrubs store and find some cute ones on Amazon. A pedicure can also make a difference in the comfort of your shoes.

And for all the nurses with larger a good bra! Seriously. Wearing an old or unsupportive bra is setting yourself up for back and neck pain. You are worth the price of a good bra!

5. Be a Good Patient - You may have heard that nurses are known for not being the best's true! It is actually very simple to be a good patient though - keep up with preventative exams, take medications as prescribed, and monitor your vital signs and lab results. As tempting as it might be, don't expect to get all your healthcare needs met by stalking your favorite doctor to ask for the prescription you need. Be respectful of them and schedule an appointment in their office so they can help you take care of your total health!

I hope these 5 tips will help you keep your body in the best condition possible to continue being able to care for others! If you are a young nurse, you have so many years ahead of you in a great career. But I promise, your 40- or 50-year-old self will be so appreciative of the small investments you're making now to take care of your body!

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About the Author: Lana Wilkins, MSN, BSN, RN

Lana Wilkins is a Registered Nurse with over 16 years of professional nursing. She is a nursing educator, consultant, Subject Matter Expert, and writer with a passion for helping students and new nurses. She holds a B.S. in Nursing from the University of Oklahoma and a M.S. in Nursing Education from Western Governors University. Outside of the world of nursing she can be found managing the chaos of 2 kids, a husband, and a cat, being crafty, or spending time with friends.

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