My mum told me that when I was younger that she thought I would grow up to be a hairdresser. Well that soon changed when I took the scissors to my friends’ hair, aged 12, and she had to request a grade 3 at the salon.
I don’t think I, nor my family, ever thought I’d be two months off qualifying as a mental health nurse, but here I am, three years at university and almost ready to validate my own patient notes.
“I think we often forget that we need love and support too”
I don’t think any of us become nurses for the fun of it. I know myself and all of you have been drawn to the career through personal experience and a burning desire to care for others. Because we are such selfless beings, I think we often forget that we need love and support too.
Our jobs are busy, we juggle essays with care plans, and we’re taught that our patients always come first. I feel as a student mental health nurse, that it is my duty to share my tips for looking after your mental health, because if you’re not okay, how can you help your patients to be okay?
Leave work at the door
Learning to wind down at the end of a shift is hard because you can’t just switch your patients onto ‘out of office’ mode and leave. I have had to practice giving myself 10 minutes to make sure I finalise everything that’s important, so I don’t have anything to worry about or lose sleep over.
I like a long car journey home, because it gives me time to digest the day. Also, make sure everyone in your household knows that you’ve been speaking to people all day, so you need half an hour to unwind after walking through the door.
I usually take a shower straight away; it makes me feel like I’m washing the day off. Many a time I have snapped at my partner if he’s asked me before my shower, “How was your day?”. My response being: “I had numerous restraints, then had to clear up vomit and then realised I have a 3,500-word essay due tomorrow, so yeah, a good day thanks”.
But after my shower my response is more like, “I’m so happy I chose this career; my patients are the best and I feel grateful for my amazing life”.
Sometimes I feel guilty when I think about my life and compare it to my patient’s. A very experienced nurse once told me that I shouldn’t, because everyone is different. Something that one person can tolerate, someone else cannot and this is influenced by different factors in our lives and upbringings.
Just because I think that things are awful for that patient, doesn’t mean that they feel that way. This advice really helped me to disconnect slightly, which may sound ‘uncaring’ or not very compassionate, however it’s extremely necessary that we don’t take everyone’s problems on to our own shoulders.
You do you
Most importantly, you do what keeps you sane. Go to supervision, or even therapy. Talking things through helps to put things into perspective. Go run five miles, or binge watch your favourite series. Take time out to look after yourself.
When we’re not on placement, we’re working or writing essays, but sometimes we just need to do nothing and not feel guilty about it.
Most importantly, when patients give you good feedback, treasure it like every last pen you take onto the ward. Read it when you’re feeling burnt out and remember all the amazing reasons why you became a nurse.
And finally, every day we dispense care, safety and human connection, without a prescription. So be proud to be a nurse, we rock.
Georgia Phelan is a mental health nursing student at Bournemouth University and author of the blog Georgia’s Marvellous Medicine.