Saturday 16 June 2018

The Importance of Self-Care as a Student Nurse

Jess shares her experience of being a second year student nurse while juggling self-care and trying to find a healthy work-life balance.
- Jess

As a student nurse you're taught from day one about the importance of compassion, care and empathy towards patients, and reminded to look after yourself as well. However, in reality fitting self-care into a busy routine can be very difficult.

As a mature student I already had a well-established job, my own home and a long-term relationship under my belt. I'd established my foundations but felt that it was time for me to do my nurse training. When I started my course however, I became increasingly anxious; I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious and was thinking too far ahead into the future.

I'm an inward thinker but my thoughts started to keep me awake at night. The constant overthinking began to have a negative impact on myself, so I decided that because my nursing means so much to me, that I couldn't let my anxiety take control and I started seeing a counsellor.

Initially I kept things to myself, I'd never been great at talking about my feelings and because I've always managed to appear composed, I felt like I could continue in that way. I'd stay composed when I needed to and then try and deal with the fallout in private, alone.

I felt like I was living two separate lives. I had the professional, hardworking side that was exceeding my own and other’s expectations. Then this other side of me that behind closed doors, had never cried so much, worried as excessively, or felt as deeply unhappy.

Counselling helped me gradually with being able to gain some control back. It took a long time as progress was slow but eventually it became less intense. However, I couldn't see that as the anxiety lessened because I'd subtly gone into overdrive. Alongside clinical placements and studying, I was working part time, and my relationship reached its conclusion; I had no time to see friends or take time out and I wasn't looking after myself. The worst part is that I didn't care either.

My appetite disappeared, I couldn't muster the brainpower to make simple decisions like what to eat. I was managing on very little sleep and eventually I was running on empty, and unsurprisingly my mood plummeted. I heard people saying I looked unwell, but I didn't listen, not until it became more frequent and I decided that whilst counselling was helping, I needed to see my GP and admit that I'd become depressed.

I didn't want to start medication, but I needed to. Thankfully I had a positive experience with my GP. He listened attentively, empathised with me and acknowledged that I was genuinely at a low point and struggling.

Slowly I started to open up to people around me, don't get me wrong I didn't start shouting it from the rooftops but I did talk to people I trust, and admitting I was struggling started to lift some of the shame and guilt I felt.

Looking back, it's as though I had to learn the hard way to recognise the importance of taking care of my own mental and physical health. I can't effectively care for others if I'm not taking the time to be compassionate towards myself.

I know there'll be times when I struggle in the future, but I've gained invaluable coping skills from counselling. I have a stable base with medication and know now that it's ok for me to say when I'm struggling and that it doesn't mean I won't become a good nurse. If anything it allows me to be more empathetic towards those that I will look after throughout my career.

My name is Jess and I'm currently studying Adult Nursing at the University of Bradford. I wanted to share my experience because it's difficult to admit you're struggling with your mental health when your chosen profession focuses so much on looking after others, making self-care very difficult at times. Hopefully this will help other nursing students to look after themselves throughout their training

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