As nurses, we are all too familiar with the need to set professional boundaries within our role. Details of these professional boundaries can be found in the NMC code, but those aren’t the boundaries I want to discuss in this blog. This piece is about the boundaries we should set to ensure we do not neglect our own health and wellbeing in the service of others.
In the role of a nurse or midwife, we know how to create conditions that encourage good physical, emotional and mental health for others. We may also want to use that knowledge to make changes to better look after ourselves. Often, it’s not that we don’t want to change our behaviour; it’s just we can’t find the time or feel guilty about taking it. There is a notion that it is selfish to want time for ourselves. If you feel or have ever felt like this, then I suggest checking out this video on why Self-care is not self-indulgence which may help alleviate some of the guilt you’re experiencing.
The Nurses and Midwives Resource Booklet on this website offers ways to support your wellbeing and acts as a directory listing available resources available in your workplace or community. Sometimes we all need to talk about our struggles with setting boundaries, especially the necessary boundaries that allow us to look after ourselves.
Since the start of the pandemic, some of us are being pulled in many different directions all at the same time. We find we have too many conflicting priorities, yet they are all equally important. This includes demands within work and in our personal lives. Being in the nursing profession doesn’t offer immunity from those same challenges faced by the wider population during the pandemic- the loss of a loved one, increased caring responsibilities, worries about children, their future and schooling, the cost-of-living crisis and more. With all of this going on, it’s easy to understand why making time for ourselves can slip, or even feel impossible. Just remember, the word impossible can be viewed in a different way…I’m possible…it reminds us to be open to the possibilities around us, even when times are hard. You do matter so please remind yourself of this perspective where you can.
When we are busy it drains our energy, we shouldn’t then take on additional guilt draining us even more! We may give ourselves a hard time because we haven’t exercised as planned, perhaps we have failed to eat that healthy diet, practice relaxation, or make time for our relationships. The list goes on. This can make us feel worse, as guilt creeps in. There is a chance we may even feel resentful of the fact that we don’t have the time we need. People who consider themselves to be caring don’t always want to admit when they’ve had enough. If that sounds like you, please check out this short piece about self-talk. Being aware of our self-talk is the first step toward helping us establish boundaries that work for us.
It is worth reflecting on the barriers which get in the road, those things that stop us from making time for ourselves. If we understand the barriers and why they exist, maybe we can find a way around them. Maybe we can even change or adapt them so that they don’t take such a personal toll on our own health and wellbeing.
Boundaries are not barricades. It can be easy to feel so overwhelmed that we just want to pull the covers over our heads and send everyone away. Under pressure, we may even think of changing our careers. Making a decision in a state of exhaustion is dangerous, it may lead us to make rash decisions that we later regret. This is why self-care matters, why finding time to practice self-care matters, and why boundaries matter! They matter for our own wellbeing, just as much as they matter for all the people in our care.
It can be hard to set boundaries when we have several demands on our time, but this can be when they are most important. Setting boundaries around our breaks, our start and finish times and our annual leave can alleviate the potential for burnout and overwork. Busy periods, lack of staffing and high demand are challenging, and they are also pressures that may be around for some time. It is important that we establish boundaries that work for us in all scenarios. Surely it is better to rest and recuperate by taking breaks regularly, that to push ourselves to the point of becoming unwell.
If you find you just don’t have time for yourself, especially if you are busy meeting everyone else’s needs, then the following wee postcard may be helpful. It can help you find time and manage others’ expectations of you. Remember this does not replace professional advice but it can be helpful to support you as you work through boundary issues. If this is an area you want to give more attention to, reading this wee postcard could be the place to start. The card is editable so you can download it and use the section on the back, if you like, to record a promise you plan to keep to yourself. A small reminder of something which has meaning for you.
Remember, you do matter, your life also matters.
“Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it.”
– Florence Nightingale