Self-Care for Nurse Leaders – 5 Lessons Learned

nurse leaders In today’s healthcare environment, it can be challenging for nurse leaders to maintain a healthy balance between the demands of their work and their own needs for rest and recharging.  During one of my research projects, I interviewed a new nurse manager who confessed to me that she was working 12-14 hours each day and sometimes slept in her office.  I stopped the interview. I talked with her about how she would not be able to maintain this pace of work, and would soon burn herself out.  This can be a difficult to convey to new leaders who are trying to make a great impression and meet all their role demands.  Here are 5 lessons that I have learned about self-care from my research and work with nurse leaders:

1.  Rest is an investment in yourself, your team and your future.

We know from work studies involving nurses that a lack of rest leads to fatigue, problems with concentration, difficulty controlling emotions and poor decision making.  Leaders too experience these problems when they work long hours and stimulate themselves with caffeine to keep going.  Caring for self is not selfish behavior on the part of leaders.  This investment in rest will actually make you feel better, be more alert and better able to process the many challenges that leaders confront today.

2.  Recharging your battery will make you a better leader.

Leaders sometimes worry about what will happen if they take time off.  The reality is that recharging your battery will both make you a better leader and reduce the likelihood of role burnout.  Taking periodic planned vacations is very important.  This recharging of your mind, body and emotions allows you to be at your best so you can be of service to others.  Over the course of their careers, nurse leaders learn that life and work moves on even in their absence.  Wise leaders know that often the strongest gauge of their leadership is how well they have developed others to function when they are not there.

3.  Find an activity outside of work that brings you self-renewal.

Leaders should take the time to find at least one activity outside of work that quiets your mind, soothes your soul and re-energizes you.  This activity could be meditation, yoga, walking, reading, cooking or prayer.  The choice of an activity is highly personal. It should be something that enhances your well-being and something you can commit to doing frequently.

4.  Make time to reflect on how you use your time and energy at work.

During a 2005 commencement address, Steve Jobs the now deceased CEO of Apple spoke about how remembering that he would soon be dead is the most important tool that he had encountered to help him make the big choices in life.  He told these graduating students that “all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose.  You are already naked.  There is no reason not to follow your heart”.  This is good advice for nurse leaders who sometimes believe that their units or departments cannot function without them or are hesitant to change their work patterns.  Time in self-reflection is an important step in learning how to re-balance your work and life.

5.  Leaders set the example for self-care on their teams.

In talking with younger nurses, they will often tell me that they are concerned about taking leadership positions because they see the imbalance in the life of their own leader.  Leaders set the example for self-care.  If it appears to your staff that self-care and leadership are mutually exclusive from observing your behaviors, then this will be the impression that they have about leadership.  To achieve a healthy work environment, leaders need to promote the idea of self-care and role modeling is a powerful way to do this.  Attention to our own self-care will both keep us vibrant and establish it as a strong value in our work culture.


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