By Pam Cormier, MSN, RN
Caritas Coach and Professional Development Manager, Primary Care

pam cormier headshot

Pam Cormier

It’s no secret that those of us in the caring professions often neglect our own needs for self-care. We are so devoted to caring for other people that putting ourselves first and practicing self-care can feel selfish, even though we know it is essential.

According to the American Nurses Association Code of Ethics, nurses “owe the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to promote health and safety, preserve wholeness of character and integrity, maintain competence, and continue personal and professional growth.”

And nursing Theorist Jean Watson’s work on the Theory of Human Caring “is founded on the principle that practicing kindness, compassion and equanimity toward yourself is an important process to go through before you can be caring, loving and compassionate—or caritas—toward another person. Self-care is integral to a nurse’s job.”

We are encouraged—even required—to practice self-care, but what exactly does this mean? It is important to recognize that self-care will look different for every individual. For some, time at church or meditating is energizing. For others, a hike or simply getting outdoors feels like medicine. Others may prefer to read novels, write in journals, go to the movies, work on craft projects or volunteer as a way to rebalance and reconnect with themselves and what brings them joy.

How do you go about recognizing what you need for your own wellness and, even harder, find time in your busy life to do it? The new year is a time when people often make a commitment to focus on an aspect of their lives they want to improve. In that spirit, I offer you a five-step “nursing process” to evaluate your own self-care habits and develop a plan to implement a new practice.

  1. Complete an assessment: This widely-used self-care assessment tool can help you rate your current self-care practice. This includes identifying activities you engage in on a regular basis that contribute to your well-being, enjoyment and health; how you care for your emotional and spiritual needs; and  whether you are exercising, eating well, going on vacation, or otherwise doing things that promote health and wellness.
  2. Diagnose a self-care deficit: Be honest as you examine the items in the self-care tool where you scored a 1 or lower. This will help you target your self-care plan to areas where you may need some work.
  3. Plan a course of action: Think about what could bring a neglected aspect of your life into balance. No matter where you choose to start, there are actions you can implement to improve your overall health and happiness. However, I caution you to be thoughtful and reasonable about the plans you make. No one can sustain numerous lifestyle changes all at once.
  4. Implement the plan: Choose one or two things on your list that you find meaningful and enjoyable. Develop a plan to begin or increase that activity. Be specific and reasonable with your goals. For example, if your self-care goal is to spend more time in nature, you could set an achievable and measurable goal, such as: “I will hike in one of my favorite nearby hiking spots twice weekly over the next three months.” The specificity of the plan is crucial; make it measurable, achievable, action-oriented and time-sensitive.
  5. Evaluate your progress: Finally, when you’ve initiated your interventions, evaluate how you’re doing overall. If your goals were too lofty, adjust your plan. Perhaps two hikes a week is too much right now, so you cut back to one and feel thrilled if you sometimes manage more. The key is not to judge yourself when you need to adjust your plans. Evaluating effectiveness and making changes to your plan is what you do when working with patients; this is no different. As Watson states, “When nurses are practicing self-care, they have more compassion, are less judgmental of themselves and are, therefore, less likely to judge others.”

This month marks the start of a newly formed BWH Wellness Workgroup made up of the cohort of Caritas Coaches across the Department of Nursing. We will assess the wellness activities available to all employees and develop plans to broaden and expand this work. We look forward to partnering with nurses and care givers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital to promote health and wellness in meaningful ways for everyone.