It was time for feedback from my placement. As I scrolled through the comments section one in particular caught my attention: “She needs to be encouraged to see that it is important to keep her health a priority as well”.
My first thought was a defensive one: I am healthy and know how to look after myself. But was I?
I considered: so maybe I had skipped a break or two; maybe I’d missed the odd night of sleep and had chips for tea on a few occasions.
These seem like small things, and let’s be honest we all do them. It seems inevitable that on a busy day you will have to miss a break to complete all your tasks. It becomes common for you to go for days without speaking to anyone outside of work.
“The more I thought about it the more I realised I was not looking after myself”
These things seemed normal for me and therefore healthy. However, the more I thought about it the more I realised I was not looking after myself. And if I was unable to do that, how could I look after anyone else?
It was time for me to make a change to my way of living when working.
Let’s start with a tough one: exercise. The last thing I want to do after a 12-hour shift is go for a run. I have many friends who go to the gym after a long day and I give them a look of disdain as I change in to my pyjamas and watch re-runs of Friends in bed.
“I am going to exercise with friends because then I can kill two birds with one stone by socialising as well as getting fit”
However, whilst resting is important I’ve come to realise that so is exercise. Nothing too strenuous needs to be done if it’s not your cup of tea but a little a day makes me less stressed and feel like I have achieved at least some semblance of a healthy lifestyle.
I recommend exercising outside. Most of us spend our day in artificial light inside a hospital environment and getting air and sunlight can revive and refresh you. I am going to try and exercise with friends where possible because then I can kill two birds with one stone by socialising as well as getting fit.
”I’m going to ask you to consider what we tend to tell our patients - advice we sometimes ignore ourselves”
Placements can be an isolating experience when you miss social events and have no energy to engage in small talk when you are free. This can damage your valuable support network. I try to squeeze my last drops of energy into contacting my friends because talking to people outside of work is one of the quickest ways I am able to de-stress.
Now I’m not going to lecture you about food like a parent, but instead I’m going to ask you to consider what we tend to tell our patients - advice we sometimes ignore ourselves.
We all know about balanced diets, such as five portions of fruit and vegetables, but when I need a fast meal I tend to think I’ll eat healthy tomorrow. Eating well (and enough) is an area that’s easy to improve upon and as an energy source it’s something we cannot go without for long.
”Food and drink in the evening does not compensate for what you missed during the day”
Making sure you take your breaks is part of this; food and drink in the evening does not compensate for what you missed during the day. Breaks allow us to relax for a while and recover with some sustenance. Missing them seems minor and often necessary but this is not the case if you stop and consider what my placement taught me: that you cannot effectively look after others if you are not well yourself.
So let’s make an effort to evaluate not only our patients’ health but our own as well. By doing this we can work to the best of our ability.
Lorna Sheaff is a second-year adult nursing student, University of Southampton