How Nurses Can Prioritize Self-Care

dog spa


Before any aircraft takes off, the hostess gives a demonstration of what to do in case there is a lack of oxygen.  She talks about first putting the oxygen mask on yourself, then helping your child.

Many nurses are so caring they want to put the oxygen on the child first; or in this case, the patient, -so they tend to ignore themselves. To take care of others, you need to care for yourself first, so you have the energy and health needed.

What exactly is self-care?

Self-care includes any intentional actions you take to care for your physical, mental and emotional health.

The world Health Organization defines self-care as; ‘what people do for themselves to establish and maintain health, prevent and deal with illness.’

For many nurses, this can be a challenge because you are always busy, and nursing is a never-ending job. Eventually, many nurses suffer from burnout, physical illnesses as well as emotional problems.


I have a neighbor who loves her dog. Her dog’s name is Pinto.  I noticed every Friday she went out with Pinto, and when she returned, Pinto looked so clean and pleased. One day she saw me looking at her dog with a quizzed expression. “Oh! We just got back from the Dog Spa.”

She went on to explain how Pinto got a 15-minute massage, teeth brushing, and a 5-minute skin conditioning treatment. Pinto got her nails trimmed and a hairstyle and brush, as well as a ‘paw-dicure’ nail color. Imagine a pedicure for dogs!


If a pet can get that much care, nurses need to make self-care a priority.

In this article, I want to talk about four things you need to say ‘No’ to -so you say ‘Yes’ to yourself.

1.    Say No to overtime when you are exhausted

Working overtime is often tempting particularly when you look at your paycheck. However, consider what it is doing to you physically. Over time, the constant exhaustion catches up with you. Your body needs to rest and rejuvenate, and it may mean saying ‘No’ to that over time no matter how attractive it looks.

2.    Say No to lack of sleep

I know a nurse who works double shifts five days a week. By the time he gets home past midnight, he gets about three to four hours sleep, and it’s time to get up and start a new day.

Three to four hours sleep after a 16-hour shift is not adequate sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to depression, the risk of stroke, obesity due to eating at odd times and eating fast foods, lack of focus particularly while driving, and making a myriad of med errors.

3.    Say No to poor stress management techniques

Poor stress management techniques are using negative methods to deal with stress. These include: drinking too much alcohol, smoking, taking drugs, eating comfort foods, zoning out for hours in front of the TV and lashing out at others.

4.    Say No to toxic people

Minimize the negative influences around you. These are people who like whining, complaining and have poor attitudes. You may not be able to avoid them completely, but you can minimize your interaction with them.



Having said No to these four things, say Yes to the following six:

  • Say yes to fun and hobbies
  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive helpful people whenever possible.
  • Say yes and take time to relax.
  • Say yes to attend retreats.
  • Say yes to daily meditation.
  • Say yes to travel and adventure.


This post is written as part of the Nurse Blog Carnival. More posts on this topic can be found here:


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  1. Beautiful post Joyce. I like the simplicity of the NO’s so that we can incorporate more YES’s in our life that nurture us.

    • Joyce says:

      True Eileen.
      Saying No can be hard for many nurses, but it is the beginning of self-care.

  2. Great framework for encouraging healthy “Nos” and “Yeses”. I agree that both are important for joyful lives and rewarding careers. Isn’t it exciting to see nurses trending towards better self-care?

    • Joyce says:

      True Beth.
      Self-care has to be on top of the list for nurses if thy hope to be balanced in all aspects of their lives.

  3. Greg Mercer, MSN says:

    Great advice, thanks! Whenever nurses accept fatigue or distraction, they also accept patient risk. Statistically, most deaths result not from huge risks, but low-level risks present in large numbers all the time. Fatigue won’t get anyone killed or hurt, most of the time, but it will happen, and does happen every day in large numbers.

    • Joyce says:

      Greg you are certainly right. A few nurses have also had road accidents coming from work when they are tired, sleepy and fatigued. Also, most med errors happen when one is too tired to focus.

  4. Joyce
    I need to say no to lack of sleep. I often work a 12(14) shift and when I come home have a hard time winding down, I want to relax, spend some time with my children/husband, read, watch tv, and before I know it I only have 5 hours until I need to wake up and do it all over again… I am working hard to getting to bed at a more reasonable hour when I have to work the following day.
    and PS I got a pedicure today!!

    • Joyce says:

      Kelly. I want to congratulate you first and foremost.
      Yes! Wonderful and good for you on getting your Pedicure!
      Just keep taking baby steps to saying ‘No’ to things that take away your Sleep.
      With a husband and young kids, please don’t do overtime…
      They grow so fast and before you realize it, they are gone to college.
      Treasure these moments and enjoy your family.

  5. Saying ‘No’ to others = ‘Yes’ to ourselves! That’s what I always teach in my workshops and webinars. It’s a fun shift and it really helps people realize who they are saying ‘no’ to all of the time. I love your points about toxic people; we really do feel the energy of the company we keep. Great article, Joyce.

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Elizabeth. I like that you hold workshops about saying Yes to ourselves.
      It really is a shift in our thought patterns.

  6. Such great advice!

    The example about Pinto was spot on! Many nurses take better care of everyone else…even their pets.
    High time for all of us to listen up… self-care matters for everyone.

    • Joyce says:

      Lets keep reminding nurses to care for themselves, hopefully, they’ll realize how important self-care is.
      Yes..-nurses are caring people -but tend to care for everyone else…

  7. Love the pet analogy and saying NO to toxic people. Terrific section on YES too! Well done!

    • Joyce says:

      Thanks Annette.
      Toxic people are very draining emotionally and spiritually. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Great article! So important for nurses!

    • Joyce says:

      Yes Naomi, nurses do a great job. They need to care for themselves.