How to Stay Healthy as a Nurse

One may wonder at the title of this article why I would write about nurses staying healthy, when nurses are obviously experts at helping people stay healthy. The simple answer is, we are not healthy. I am not speaking of blood pressure here; I am speaking of health in the holistic sense. What do I mean by holism? "Holism", "healing" and "health" come from the Anglo Saxon word "haelan," meaning "to make whole." It is a process of bringing parts of oneself (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) together at deep levels of inner knowing, leading toward an integration and balance, with each part having equal importance and value. As wounded healers, the first step in deciding an approach to your own healing is to find what good health is for you individually.

Beyond your physical regimen of health, include certain esoteric items such as:

  • A searching for your reason for living. Finding your "destiny" is easy. Look around you at all the absurdities in the world, pick one, and work on it.
  • A seeking of four very important kinds of power:
    • power of freedom: Check your feeling of freedom in work, relationships, and personal life.
    • power of action: See that you have impact on your life, in the work place, in relationships.
    • power of giving: Have something to give and do it. This is not the same as "I'm dying to take care of you."
    • power of joy: Change whatever stops the joy. You need it.

How does the mind work with the body for health and healing? Nurses have always known that our emotional health and physical health are interrelated. This is much more than "thinking positively." Emotions, beliefs, and desires actually have a role in extending life. Psychoneuroimmunology, the effect of personality and stress on immune function, is a term we hear now even in the newspaper. The immune system, the body's defense system, once thought to be important only in prevention of infection, is becoming a household word now, not only because of AIDS, but also cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis, recurring yeast infections and herpes. Biochemically, we know how stress, fear, and anger travel through the body and eventually exhaust the immune system. Then with exposure to something we wish we did not have to catch, our immune system fails us.

Practically speaking, if your imagination is filled with old hurts and pity; if your desires are filled with fear; if your expectations are filled with anger; if you are riddled with the anticipation of error or humiliation, it is hard to reduce stress, live life, or have fun, much less prevent or heal a disease that depends on immune function. So what is a nurse to do?

  • Work on your emotional healing. Ask yourself frequently, "How do I feel about this?" Express emotions responsibly. If it is not responsible to blow up at a co- worker, blow up in the privacy of your home, alone. Don't stuff the anger. Don't reward unhealthy cooperative behavior in yourself or others. Be assertive, not aggressive.
  • Constantly work to stop errant or negative thoughts such as "I'm so stupid."
  • Learn to love yourself. If you cannot stand in front of a mirror and genuinely feel love for yourself, and even say so, find out why not and heal the pain. Self loathing never leads to good health.
  • Release yourself from what you or others think you "should" be:
    • "I should be Super Nurse who works overtime to the detriment of his/her own lifestyle, with dangerously high patient assignments."
    • "I should be 115 pounds."
    • "I should have 17 year old thighs."
    • "I should like or love ___________."(fill in the blank).
    • "I should be a person who doesn't make mistakes."
    • "I should do everything perfectly".

Stopping "shoulds" is not the same as being irresponsible. Change your responsibilities if they have you faking any part of your life. Your body knows.

  • Keep a journal. We know it helps improve immune function.
  • Finally, take responsibility for your body, not blame if it breaks down. See your health care provider as a consultant in your health, not to be told what to do. Many feel responsible for not polluting the body of Earth, but continue to pollute our own bodies. Many take better care of our clients, children, cars, homes and yards than we take care of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Healers, let us heal ourselves.