Happy Saturday lovely readers! I love Saturdays in the Fall – football, a crisp breeze in the air, coffee (not pumpkin spice though), boots…and plaid, all the plaid. At least in Tennessee Fall is when people start looking like lumberjacks, and being a mountain girl myself… I see nothing wrong with that situation. In my current state I am almost halfway through my last semester of nursing school (and halfway through deployment, yay!). Let’s be honest here, I’m too poor to go out and buy Starbucks, so I am sitting at home with my good old fashioned homemade coffee, a protein shake, and a fiber one bar. This post is going to be a little different. It is going to be about something that I have struggled with the last few months. This post is about self care and the art of saying ‘no’.
Recently, the American Nurses Association added an extra code to our Code of Ethics stating that not only should nurses care for their patients…but they should take the time to care for themselves. If we do not care for ourselves, we will not be in a position to care for others. It is now IN OUR CODE OF ETHICS because it has been such a big deal and nurses have not been able to do it. As a nurse it is often our personality to take care of others before we care for ourselves. Our Dean of Nursing put it to me this way… you know when you are in an airplane and they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before you put it on someone else? We need to do that. If we can’t breathe, we can’t help someone else breathe.
Self care is an important aspect of anyone’s life, whether you are a healthcare professional or military member or stay at home mom. Everyone needs to do it, but we rarely do. It is something nurses are taught in school that we should do, but it is a LOT easier said than done. Especially when you are in school, working as a nurse extern, have a boyfriend deployed, need to maintain your grades, and also have social relationships you need to maintain between your family and friends. It can be very easy to get caught up in caring for your patients (as in not peeing and/or eating for a 12 hour shift), staying up all night to write papers, putting off your time to yourself, and a myriad of other things. You can get so caught up in trying to do everything for other people that you overschedule yourself, overexert yourself, and then, depending on your stress response…get sick.
Case in point- Me.
I called in sick to work yesterday for the first time ever at this job. This past month has been one of the most stressful in nursing school, and to be honest, it feels so jumbled up to me that I can’t even pinpoint one reason why. The part that is stressful is that you cannot miss a beat. If you schedule your 12 hour practicum shift on a day when you have 12 hour clinical, you are screwed. If you don’t count your scheduled hours for practicum and clinical correctly and miss one hour, you don’t graduate. If you forget you have a team leading clinical (where you teach the freshmen nursing students), you fail a class. To complicate matters, your critical care clinical may be day shift, while your practicum is night shift… which means you lose an entire day of scheduling a clinical around your classes because you have to sleep (good luck with that). And you cannot schedule any clinical or practicum when you are supposed to be in class. Which blocks out three days of the week where you cannot do clinical or practicum, which might be the only days your preceptors work that week. Add to that scheduling work days, which are also 12 hours…that adds working at least three 12 hour shifts a day (maybe 4), on top of three 8-12 hour class days a week…6-7 days a week, and you only get paid for two. That is our special brand of nursing school logic for you.
Nursing school logic:
Oh you needed that weekend to be a bridesmaid in your best friend’s wedding that you committed to before you were even in nursing school? You’d better schedule your ER practicum for the night before you leave and just go to the wedding exhausted, followed by another night shift ER practicum the day you return from it…. If you don’t you FAIL. (This was my weekend last weekend in a nutshell, true story).
Oh you need to cook dinner? Sorry… go grab some Chick Fil A and forget about trying to eat healthy and lose weight before your boyfriend comes back. Side note: Thank god for grilled chicken nuggets and the Panera drive thru…
Oh you need to work out? Ain’t nobody got time for that… you need to apply for four jobs this week and also go to some interviews, which happen to be during your class time, so you’ll have to email your professors and ask if you can leave early.
Oh, you’ve been trying to stay up to talk to your boyfriend who’s deployed? Sorry, you’re so tired you’re going to pass out before he calls.
All I can say is… I needed to call in to work. Both for my physical health as well as my mental health. On Monday, I burst into tears in class. Although I complain about the scheduling in nursing school, I do have to say that our professors are some of the kindest people I have ever met. My professor whose class I broke down in happens to be the Dean of the nursing school (embarassing), and all she did was come up and hug me. As a nurse, she could tell it was something I needed. She didn’t judge me for it, and didn’t even really say anything. Just hugged me.
I was also lucky that one of my best friends came into town from 13 hours away. She has been having a rough time as well, and so all of my best friends from college…my ride or dies…my squad… came to meet us halfway to have dinner. It was something she needed, and I needed as well. They reminded me to have fun, laugh, vent, and not be so uptight. We spent hours talking about life, giving each other advice, having a few beers, and ended up dancing to Zac Brown Band in the middle of the street in the tiny, middle of nowhere town we picked to meet in. There are only so many people I am willing to dance in the middle of the street with in life, and I’m so lucky I have them. I didn’t want to leave, and I cried when I did.
I’m writing this post to illustrate that we ALL have stressors, no matter what we do in life. As military girlfriends, wives, and moms, we have the general stress of military life added on to the daily stresses we already face with our careers, families, and friends. I know a big part of my stress is the fact that he is deployed, and although I don’t feel it every day… it is still there in the back of my mind at all times. Stress doesn’t just mean the things that eventually make you break down and cry or get sick, it is often actually a ton of little things you didn’t even realize were stressing you out up until that point. Stress can even be a happy event like the birth of a new baby, a promotion at work, or graduation!
Here are some things you can do for self care in order to help you cope with daily stress:
- Have a bedtime routine – I can’t stress this one enough (see what I did there?). Anyone who knows me knows that I have turned into a grandma in nursing school. I am legitimately in bed by 10:30 every night, and that is actually late for me. When I come back from work (whether it is night shift or day shift), I have a set routine. I walk my dog, take a long hot shower to wash off the MRSA, VRE, or C-diff I’ve encountered during the day, fill up my water bottle, take my vitamins, set out my clothes and lunch for the next day, put on my aromatherapy (hippie, I know, but it truly helps..we have aromatherapy in our hospital hallways), lotion my legs, set my alarm and read and cuddle my pup for a few minutes. Normally this routine takes me about 30-45 minutes…but it is completely worth it. If I don’t do it, I don’t sleep well.
- Plan out your week on Sunday – I used to be a fly by the seat of my pants kind of person…before I went to nursing school. Now my planner goes everywhere with me and if I lose it I could legitimately have a problem. I write down everything. On Sundays, I go through what I have already written down and add anything that I might have missed. I also try to plan out my workouts and food.
- Meal prep – Sometimes I am really good about this, sometimes I’m not… but it is really nice to be able to come home and just pull out something I’ve already made so I don’t have to buy nasty hospital food for lunch. If you’re watching your diet it is obviously also a lot healthier than eating out.
- Take time for yourself – whether that is walking your dog, reading, watching a few episodes of TV, or doing yoga… it is important. Don’t forget it. Make this time just for you. Not your significant other, not your friends, not your kids… just you. This can also end up helping your relationship because everyone needs their own time to just be by themselves. I know my boyfriend likes to have some time to himself to do the things he enjoys, just like I do. The key is finding a balance, and that balance can definitely be thrown off with things like returning from deployment and just getting busy with life in general.
- Spend time with your friends and family – My friends and family keep me sane during school, and also during this deployment. Even if they can’t help me out with something specific, they are always there to listen.
- Enjoy your life – do things that make you happy, make you laugh, and remind you that life isn’t all about work. In the immortal words of The Sandlot… “Get into trouble for crying out loud, not too much, but some.” This might mean going out with you friends, going on a trip, or even *gasp* playing hooky once in awhile.
- Exercise – This one is right up there with having a bedtime routine. Sometimes I’m great at it, sometimes I’m not. I’m not the type of person to say you must exercise every day of every week… sometimes you’re too exhausted. I know there are days I come home from work and my legs are swollen from being on my feet all day and they feel like lead weights. I don’t push myself on those days. I will say though, that I ALWAYS feel better after a good work out. It is time for me to be left alone with just my music, my goals, and my thoughts.
- Get a pet – pets are proven to relieve stress. We use service animals in the hospital for just that reason, and veterans who have PTSD often have service animals. Dogs especially have a certain sense of when their human is upset or stressed, and just petting them can calm you down. Studies have also shown that dogs understand what we are saying. Specific areas of their brain light up just like ours do when certain trigger words are said. Just be sure you have enough time and money to care for them properly – they deserve vet visits, walks, and lots of love.
- Aromatherapy – science is still out on this one, but I will say we use it in the hallway at our hospital and not only does it take away some of the bad smells, but it can be relaxing or energizing depending on which scent you use. Currently I am using a citrus scent since it is the morning and I have a paper to write after this. At night I use lavender.
- Budget – I am not going to lie… I’m not the best at budgeting either. Since I am subsisting solely on student loans and the little bit extra I make from my nurse extern job, I have about 1500 a month to work with (not a lot in Nashville). But as my graduation date comes closer, my student loans are looming at me out of the corner of my eye. This is something that has stressed me out to no end the last few months. I keep thinking “Oh my God, I have to pay back X amount of money each month, I have to find a job.. maybe a second job… maybe even a third job.” I have already told my dad (an economics and finance professor) that we are going to have to sit down and make a financial plan for me once I graduate. I’ve already told Dude (my boyfriend) that if we end up getting married, I do not want him to be saddled with my student loan debt, since he has none. Student loans are my debt, and my debt alone. I haven’t quite figured out my budget yet, since I still have a couple of months. I do know that once I graduate and start working, I am going to use my 6 month grace period to save up every penny that I possibly can and put it in an account specifically for student loan savings. In fact, I already opened that account and place all of my nurse extern money in it so that I do not touch it unless it is an emergency. I’ll write more on budgeting once I have actually made a budget. I have to graduate first. Priorities, people.
I know I just wrote a monster post about this… but it is something I also needed to do for me to remind myself to take care of my needs as well as others. When you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed…remember to put your own oxygen mask on first.