Increasing self-care and self-compassion in nursing
Long before COVID-19 exacerbated compassion fatigue in nurses, Anita Korbe, nurse practitioner and academic coordinator for Walden’s BSN program, believed that nurses have a duty to be kind and caring for themselves too. Throughout her 37-year nursing career, the Kansas native has experienced firsthand the struggles of nurses feeling compelled to put the needs of their patients before their own.
“People who become nurses have a passion to care for others and make a real difference in other people’s lives,” says Korbe, a mother of two adult daughters and grandma of two, who lives with her husband in coastal North Carolina. “But nurses also have to look after themselves and care for their personal well-being in order to provide quality care to patients.”
She’s the first to understand how challenging it is to practice what she preaches. Trying to live ‘healthy’ with busy work schedules, where the patient is the top priority is not easy.
“Nursing is a career where you might not go to the bathroom for several hours, you’re skipping meals and the workload is so heavy,” says Korbe. “But part of the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics is that you also have an ethical duty to adopt self-care, which you can’t do if you’ve martyred yourself. While there’s a stigma that caring for yourself is self-indulgent, being well rested, hydrated and nourished is actually self-care.”
Throughout her career in health care, Korbe recalled that self-care for nurses was never discussed neither when she was in nursing school nor at bedside patient care in hospitals. Having worked on the clinical frontlines for more than 20 years before teaching, Korbe has made self-compassion a core value in the nursing courses she teaches at Walden.
There is no question the increasing service demands of the last two years of the pandemic have exacerbated levels of work-related stress and fatigue. Between balancing the needs of patients, giving your all to support coworkers and “wanting to be 100 percent to all people,” burnout and feeling overwhelmed is always a risk. Korbe offers tips from her own well-being toolkit to help nurses take time for themselves.
- Customize your plan. Working a night shift certainly requires a different kind of decompression routine than if you get off at 6 p.m., she says. Nurses should tailor their well-being efforts to their own unique circumstances, and make sure self-compassion is top of the list.
- Be Mindful. Meditation and reflecting on what it took to get through the day are top priorities for Korbe’s own self-care. Ask yourself, “How do I feel right now? How can I feel better soon?” Additionally, don’t beat yourself up about anything bad that happened at work.
- Go for a walk. Even if it just means popping outside for a quick breath of fresh air, make taking care of yourself a priority. For Korbe, a brisk walk with an energizing playlist of music is her go-to self-care pick-me-up.
- Reach out to friends. Socializing is important so that you know you are not alone in your struggles or concerns. Talk to other nurses in the lounge and share your daily struggles. It’s important to feel connected to and supported by others.
Most importantly, “sometimes, you have to learn to say no to some situations,” says Korbe. “Something has to give, so it is important to prioritize self-care.”