5 Barriers to Self-Care for Nurses That Have to Be Overcome

When you are a nurse, you’ll have a lot of people to take care of. Most of the time, these people will be complete strangers; they will be your patients. Nurses will take care of their patients not just in a physical sense but emotionally and even mentally as well. On top of these patients, you’ll also have your family and friends to take care of. 

For many nurses, this is the end of it. The list of people to look after is a long one, but there is no one else they can think of to add to it. This is their first mistake; there is one other person to add to the list, and they are the most important person on it. It’s you. When you are a nurse, you must focus as much on taking care of yourself as you do on taking care of others. They say you can’t pour from an empty vessel, and this is true; if you are not happy, healthy, and emotionally refreshed, it will be impossible for you to truly do your best for anyone else. 

Yet although self-care is evidently important, and although nurses know this to be true, knowing and doing are two different things, and there are often barriers (real and imagined) in the way of becoming the kind of nurse who can focus on their own self-care as much as they focus on the care of others. With this in mind, let’s look more closely at some of these barriers to understand why they exist and how to get past them. Read on to find out more. 


For many nurses, the idea of taking time out for self-care is something that just feels wrong. It feels selfish. After all, the whole point of studying so hard for so long, of gaining experience, of even progressing your career, was so that you could help other people. You didn’t do all of that to help yourself and spend time indulging in relaxing hobbies and pampering sessions. When you do it, there can be a big sense of guilt that comes with it, meaning that any chance of relaxing and re-setting your energy, physically and mentally, is undone. 

The truth is that guilt is not a useful emotion in any situation and particularly not one in which you are doing something for yourself. As a nurse, you’ll work hard, your shifts will be long and exhausting, and you’ll need to take time out, otherwise, you’ll experience burnout which will force you to take time off because you’ll be unwell. Wouldn’t it be better to have the choice and be healthy when you’re not working? 

As a nurse, it’s crucial to understand the difference between self-care and self-indulgence. The first is necessary and must become a part of your life, whereas the second could be detrimental to your career. When you practice self-care, guilt should never come into it. 

Having Unrealistic Expectations 

As a nurse – just as with any other profession – it’s important to have goals to work towards. Setting goals means that you can make decisions more easily and that you have something to reach for, so you never wander aimlessly. The key, however, is to set goals that are achievable, not ones that are so huge that they can feel impossible – these kinds of goals may as well not exist at all, as they are so big that it’s easy to give up on them, feeling they are not something that can ever be achieved. 

Having goals that are unrealistic means that you can become discouraged and feel as though you’re not working hard enough. This will have a direct effect on how much of a work-life balance you have and how much self-care you practice; if you think you’re not working hard enough, you’ll forgo self-care and work more, but of course, this will lead to problems in itself, as we’ve said. 

Therefore, although goals are crucial, they must be goals that are realistic. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have big, bold goals if you want to – it would be a shame to discourage that. However, if your goal is a big one and one that some might even call unrealistic, it’s important to break it down into smaller goals that are definitely achievable. When you do this, you’ll be more encouraged to continue as you see how far you’ve come, and you’ll gradually reach your end goal by achieving these smaller ones. In other words, don’t try to do everything at once or you’ll find you skip your vital self-care. 

Not Adjusting Well to Change 

Implementing self-care into your life is important when you are a nurse because it’s what will keep you happy, healthy, and able to help your patients in the right way. Yet if you’ve been neglecting it, it’s going to mean making some changes to your life to ensure you can start including it. This can be a problem if you aren’t easily able to adjust to change. It might be appealing to think that your life can become better, but if that means putting changes in place, it can feel distinctly overwhelming, which means it never happens. 

This is a big barrier in terms of adding much-needed self-care into your life as a nurse, yet it is something that must be overcome. It all starts with acknowledging the changes that you need to make and then taking them slowly. As mentioned above, when we discussed having goals, trying to do everything at once is just going to be too much for most people – it’s far better to take things slowly. So, when you know what needs to be changed, you can take things piece by piece and make one small adjustment to your life at a time.

You Feel Alone

No one likes to feel alone. Human beings are programmed to work in groups most of the time, and community is a big aspect of good health and happiness. In the past, this was perhaps more obvious, but even today, when we are disconnected in many ways, we are still connected to others, often thanks to technology. 

Another self-care problem is this feeling of being alone. If you feel as though you’re the only one who wants or needs to do something, it can be hard to do it – the guilt we mentioned earlier will often set in, plus you might not know who to go to for advice. Again, you won’t want to feel weak. 

It’s crucial to know you’re not actually alone when it comes to self-care. Everyone should do it, and you might be surprised to learn that a great number of your colleagues have some kind of self-care in place. This might be reading every day, listening to music or a podcast, taking a long soak in the bath, watching the sunset or sunrise, or anything else. Something that can help you understand this is to look for groups to join. If you’re a Christian nurse, there might be a prayer group for you to be a part of. If you love reading, perhaps there is a book club, or perhaps you could start one. Maybe aromatherapy is your favorite way to unwind; ask your colleagues if they have ever tried it. Knowing you’re not alone means the fear that you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be will disappear and you can truly enjoy your moments of self-care, no matter how brief they might be. 

Thinking That Self-Care is a Sign of Weakness

Often it is the psychological effects of the idea of self-care that can be so problematic rather than the fact that a nurse might not have a lot of time to practice this kind of positive work for themselves. A lot of the time, it can feel as though taking the time for self-care is a sign of weakness; it’s something that people who are experiencing mental health problems have to do, or those who are getting older and are no longer as fit as they once were. It’s something that denotes an issue in life, either mentally or physically, and that’s not something many people want to admit. 
The truth is very different. The truth is that without self-care, mental and physical health problems can occur, rather than the other way around. It can be hard to get into this kind of mindset for a lot of people, and it is certainly a barrier, but in this case, it should actually be an easier one for a nurse to get past. After all, don’t nurses encourage their patients to rest and take care of themselves to promote healing? Don’t they help to create exercise and diet plans to keep people healthy? If this is the case for your patients, why should it not be the same for you? The fact is, it is exactly the same, and if you would ask your patients to practice self-care to keep themselves healthy, it makes sense that you would do the same.

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