The Importance of Self-Care and Self-Healing
by Rebecca Cohen RN, EdD, HNB-BC, eNews Editor

According to the AHNA, self-care and self-healing is a critical component of being able to provide holistic nursing because holistic nurses recognize that they cannot facilitate healing unless they are in the process of healing themselves.  So important is the concept of self-care to holistic nursing that it was incorporated into the AHNA Standards of Holistic Practice in 2003 and the AHNA Scope and Standards of Practice, Core Value 5, in 2007.  According to Carla Mariano, past president of AHNA, self-care results in the empowerment of nurses to take a more assertive role and to have their voices heard regarding the practice environment ( And, according to new research conducted by Experience in Motion, if we want to heal healthcare, we must make a paradigm shift from caring for others first to caring for self first. This shift can be accomplished by making self-caring an organizational priority ( ;  Andelt, D., 2010).

The New York State Nurses Association considers self-care so important for its members that it issued    a position statement on the concept of self-care which not only talks about self-care in terms of the work place, but also related to nursing education, research, and advocacy. The position statement was initially approved by the NYSNA Board of Directors on March 19, 1992 and has since been revised and approved again. It is their position that (

  • Basic nursing education programs should build principles of self-care into their curricula. Some ideas for self-care for nursing students have been identified by Lucia Thornton, past president of the AHNA (Thornton, 2010);
  • Nurses should advocate for work environments that are healing and nurturing for staff and patients; 
  • Research should be conducted to determine the relationship between nurses who practice self care and the benefits to the patients for whom they care.

Dorothea Orem states that self care “comprises those activities performed independently by an individual to promote and maintain personal well-being throughout life” ( ). Going even further than this definition, the research conducted by Experience in Motion (; Andelt, D., 2010) reveals that there are five dimensions of self-caring:

a. Personal practices at home: (examples)

  • Develop a short list of top priorities for each day
  • Minimize procrastination and maximize a sense of control
  • Stay in the present, focus on the now and on the positive
  • Create an exercise routine each day, if even for a few minutes
  • Get a massage, take a yoga class, meditate, use visualization
  • Eat a healthy diet, using conscious eating
  • Take time to laugh

b. Personal practices at work: (examples)

  • Set and maintain professional boundaries;
  • Make sure that you take time for lunch and breaks, and don’t ignore the bodily needs of drinking water and going to the bathroom;
  • Use lunch or breaks for listening to relaxing music, talking with co-workers, or taking a quick walk, even 5 minutes;
  • Before committing to a project, assignment or committee position, consider your needs and available resources and whether it will lead to overextending yourself;
  • Stretch every so often;
  • Give your brain a rest by doing something physical. Also balance the right and left sides of the brain by touching your hands to opposite knees, or look up/left, down/right, up/right, down/left;
  • If you feel scattered, tense or have too much or too little energy, ground yourself by bringing awareness away from your mind and into your body. Feel your feet connected to the floor. See an invisible cord from the base of your spine to the center of the planet and release any tension or built up emotions down it and into the earth;
  • Take some deep breaths to get oxygen moving through your body and brain;
  • Try smiling to diminish the stress hormones and increase endorphins;
  • Stand up and shake and shimmy your whole body as a way to release stress and re-energize.

c. Interactions with others: (examples)

  • Communicate kindly;
  • Use language that guides and includes rather than demands and excludes;
  • Praise staff that use positive, kind language;
  • Don’t engage in gossip and ask the gossipers to stop the conversation.

d. Clinical and business processes:

Rather than just reporting and reprimanding disruptive behavior, the organization needs to help everyone become an active participant in recognizing outward behavior as an unmet need in someone. People need to be supported in seeing that their behavior is a call to examining their life and healing the painful spots. 

e. Business model:

We need to create a healthcare model that focuses on self-caring. Each aspect of the business needs to be examined to find out how it does, or could, support staff in experiencing well-being of mind, body and spirit throughout the work day. This might include considering new shift slots and reorganizing schedules that support each person to be at their best.  In addition, we need to rethink the role model of working longer hours than we would ever suggest to our patients.

In summary, it all comes down to BALANCE. One quote that I think says it all if you don’t achieve balance is this: “if you don’t find balance between pressure and pleasure, your epitaph is going to read, ‘Got everything done, died anyway.” (Paul Pearsall)

Experience in Motion (EIM). Retrieved on March 2, 2011, from

Andelt, D. (October 22, 2010).  The Heart of Sustainability: Self-caring as the Keystone of the Experience Strategy. Sustainable Healthcare and Hospital Development Magazine. Retrieved March 2, 2011, from .

AHNA. What is Self-Care? Retrieved March 2, 2011, from:

New York State Nurses Association Position Statement on Self-Care. Retrieved March 2, 2011 from:

Thornton, L. (2010), Self-Care: Your Tool for Empowerment, Imprint, 57(2)34-37. Retrieved March 2, 2011 from:



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