Are you at—or well over—the brink of burnout? Do you feel like you give, give, give and cannot find the time to refill? Those are common feelings for nurses, whose profession is a service to humanity. Although our work is rewarding, it’s also physically, emotionally, and mentally draining. Never feel guilty or judge yourself for stepping away and taking time for yourself—it’s essential to maintain the high level of care you provide every day.

What the Research Tells Us

According to the American Nurses Association, more than 56% of nurses reported coming in early, staying late, and working through their breaks to accomplish their work. Lack of breaks from our work can cause inefficiency, mistakes, and less engagement at work. On the other hand, taking breaks can stimulate new ideas, increase productivity, and reduce stress. 

We are familiar with different variations of the oxygen mask announcement on a flight: “If the cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before helping others.” This is because when you experience oxygen depletion, you may not be able to help someone else. Metaphorically, this applies to us as nurses. We need to take care of ourselves so we can take care of others.

Who you are is more than just your profession. When we let helping others leave us with little to no time to meet our inherent needs, we run the risk of exhaustion or, in extreme cases, leaving the profession. Defining a work-life balance is crucial to prevent consequences like fatigue, exhaustion, burnout, mental fog, depression, and anxiety.

How to Practice

“When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself,” Brazilian novelist Paolo Coehlo said. Here are some ideas for how to put yourself first sometimes:

  • Make a list of the things you love to do but never seem to have the time for. Block off time on your calendar or take a vacation to get them done. Let the people that matter know of your plans and ask that they respect your “me time.”
  • On your days off, try to plan activities that include your own needs.
  • Schedule breaks away from the unit or computer. Go on a short walk and listen to your favorite calming or uplifting music.
  • Practice mindfulness.
  • Evaluate your inner circle. Do the people you spend time with lift you up?
  • It’s okay to say no. Consider telling them, “Unfortunately, I’m not in the position to assist at this time” or “I can’t do that right now, but I can help you later.” 
  • Remind yourself why you chose the profession and what you love about your job.

As nurses, we have a tendency to put everyone else’s needs first. As human beings, it is okay to put yourself first sometimes.