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Nurses must practice self care or risk physical consequences

Photo: Health Times Magazine
While nursing is one of the world’s most rewarding careers, a significant downside can be time away from those you love the most - and without proper self-care, the gruelling hours can have an impact on your physical health.
“I think the mentally toughest times for me are being rostered on shifts when I know I’m missing out on family events,” says registered nurse, Candice Canon.

“Working blocks of nights can sometimes make you feel very disconnected from the real world.”

But while mentally it can be a strain, the expected shift-work that comes as part of nursing can take its toll on your physical wellbeing, if you’re not careful.

“On those extremely busy days, where you barely sit down, you can finish a shift quite fatigued.

“It’s essential that nurses take care of their backs and always use appropriate equipment to protect us from any injuries when moving patients etc.
“I’m not sure about anyone else, but nightshift rotation can often cause my skin to become dull and breakout, so I always aim to drink plenty of water and do an at home face mask once my nightshift rotation is over.”

With the normal circadian rhythm being disrupted, Ms Canon the risks can go far beyond a bad back and fatigue though, which is why it’s crucial to take steps to minimise them.

“Risks can include weight gain, stomach upsets and constipation, low mood, altered cognitive function – which increases the risk of a motor vehicle accident - and some evidence suggests there’s an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and potential breast cancer.”

Nursing generally works in split shifts within an acute hospital setting, either for eight or 12 hours.

“I started out doing eight hour shifts, however the last 3.5 years have only done 12 hour shifts.”

With these sorts of hours par for the course for those in nursing, Ms Canon takes carefully considered steps to keep herself fit and healthy.

Many of those steps relate to ensuring she gets enough sleep to ensure she’s on high alert during her night shifts.

“I block out all light in my house, have a warm shower before bed, have earplugs if it’s noisy outside, ensure my phone is on silent and I don’t look at it before bed.

“I try to eliminate all the usual stimulation of daytime so I can optimise my resting period.”

With a career dedicating to taking care of the needs of others, Ms Canon makes sure she nourishes her own soul too, finding time to do the things that make her personally happy.

“I always make sure I take time out for ‘me’ days. I love my job and caring for others, and it’s essential that in order to give 100 per cent at work, nurses take the time to recharge.

“I take time out by walking my dog for an hour every day, visiting the beach at least once a week, taking adult ballet class once a week and visiting my family.

“I find having a little weekend away or trip booked in the calendar is a great way to prevent burnout, or even just a little bit of annual leave for a ‘staycation’ and having no plans can be the recharger I need.”

For Ms Canon, spending time with her family is equally important as caring for her physical health, so she tries to schedule time together as much as possible.

“We always try to have dinners together when I’m on day shifts, and at least one weekend day together.

“Prioritising family is essential for me.

“If I’ve got a big block of nights our Sunday family dinner, with grandparents, uncles etc, will take place earlier so I can still spend time with everyone and then head off straight to work.”
Despite the effort that Ms Canon puts into taking care of herself, and prioritising the things that matter the most to her, she says it’s all worth it.

“Nursing is an extremely rewarding career.

“There’s nothing like leaving work knowing you made a difference in someone’s life at a time where they were extremely vulnerable and unwell.

“Nursing is such a great balance between critical thinking, clinical skills and direct patient care.”

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.