Nurses have one of the toughest jobs, not only in healthcare but in the entire world. Nursing can be emotionally draining and take a toll on your body as well. That’s why many nurses decide to quit prematurely. The sad part is that many nurses could have avoided burning out if they paid attention to the early signs and took action immediately. Being willing to reach out for help when it’s needed is important as well. Let’s take a look at a few mental health tips busy nurses should live by.
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Understand What Self-Care Means
You’ll often hear that you have to dedicate some time in your schedule to self-care, but a lot of people have the wrong idea of what that means. You don’t have to wait for the weekend and spend the whole time in a spa for it to be self-care. Self-care is something you should do every day, and it can be small things such as practicing a fun hobby, taking a nice walk in nature, or engaging in a few minutes of meditation. So, take the time each day to do at least one restorative activity.
Disconnect Completely During Off Days
A lot of nurses have a very bad habit of working during their off days. This is not the time to work on big projects. Breaks are there to help you recharge mentally, so you should do as little as you can. Put your phone on airplane mode and see if you could do something fun with someone you love and feel comfortable with. This is the perfect way to recharge your batteries and come back to work refreshed.
Remember Why You’re Doing This
Nurses are needed at this moment more than ever, and you should take pride in what you do. As a nurse, you are the foundation of the healthcare system. Remember your mission and what got you into the profession in the first place.
If you feel like you don’t have the fire anymore, you might want to look at other positions that could allow you to still help without having to take as many responsibilities. Some nurses decide to move into fields like public health or academic roles as they get older, for instance. There is a need for knowledgeable healthcare professionals at every level, and, if you feel like you can’t take the stress that comes with working bedside, look for something that can still fulfill you while being gentler on your mind and body.
Be Physically Healthy
Our overall physical health has a huge impact on our mental health. The brain is still part of the body, and what you put in your body will make a big difference in how your brain performs.
You first have to take an inventory of what you eat every day. If your diet is full of simple sugars and you’re piling tons of caffeine on top of it, you’re asking for trouble. Simple sugars will only give you a short-term burst of energy followed by a debilitating crash. Coffee is even worse.
If you’re going to be drinking coffee, only use it at the beginning of your shift. If you want to have some additional energy during your days, you should first start with a good breakfast.
Your breakfast should be full of proteins and complex carbs. Complex carbs are what you’ll find in brown rice and whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and beans. This will give you a steady dose of energy instead of a huge spike. Protein will give you more mental clarity and will stabilize your mood. It will allow you to concentrate better and will also help you maintain your muscle mass.
Speaking of which, you should get in the habit of doing some strength training every week. Not only will you get a nice endorphin boost after each workout, but you’ll have much less trouble getting through your shifts.
Strengthening your legs will allow you to work long hours without getting fatigued. Working on your glutes and whole posterior chain will also help. You should also do some upper back exercises to increase your lifting power. All of these will contribute to not being completely drained at the end of your shifts.
We also suggest that you start planning your meals. This will allow you to prepare healthy meals in batches and always have something on hand if you need a quick meal at home or a healthy lunch for your shifts. Also, watch how you’re snacking during shifts. It’s ok to snack, but you have to be careful about what you graze on.
Your snacks should have all the nutrients that you need but have to be light and easy to digest. An example of a great snack for nurses is cheese, crackers, and a piece of fruit. This will give you all the proteins and good sugars you need to make it through a tough afternoon. Another great option would be something like tuna salad and veggies. This is the kind of snack that will sustain you for a long time and give your brain and body all the energy it needs.
Get Your Sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the first precursors of mental disease. If you’re already stressed at work, being sleep-deprived will only make matters worse. If your schedule makes it impossible to get the hours of sleep you need every night or prevents you from having a steady sleep schedule, you might want to reconsider it.
While there is no arbitrary number of hours you should sleep, eight hours is a good mark to reach for. So you need to look at your sleeping environment and habits too if you want to get the best sleep possible.
One of the worst things you could do before sleeping is looking at a bright screen, even if it’s your phone. This could be terrible for your circadian rhythm and throw your sleeping cycles out of whack. Instead of doing this, look for alternatives such as audio content.
You also have to make sure that your room is as dark as possible and that you sleep at the proper temperature. You may not know this, but there’s a certain temperature range that makes sleeping easier. This range is said to be between 60 F and 67 F. If you don’t have a smart thermostat, now would be a great time to get one, as it will allow you to keep the temperature in that delicate range while making energy savings.
Keep a Journal
Not enough nurses, or people in general, like to keep a journal. But many studies have shown the power of keeping a journal for mental help. Journaling has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety and can help improve self-awareness.
At the end of the day, a journal can be a great way to vent out your frustrations and keep tabs on your mental state. But it can also be used as a tool to promote positivity. You should use your journal to express your gratitude as well. Writing all the things you are thankful for can give you a much-needed morale boost and remember who and why you’re doing this for.
You should also get in the routine of monitoring your thoughts during the day. There’s a lot of chatter going on up there and paying special attention to your thoughts and how they’re affecting your body could help you identify issues before they spiral out of control.
If certain people or situations are stressing you, you will need to address them. Maybe you need to work in another setting or have a heart-to-heart with the person that’s bothering you. This could be enough to help you enjoy much better work conditions and less stress.
Be careful how you decide to let off steam after work. Having drinks with friends or co-workers after shifts can be good from time to time, but it shouldn’t be used as a coping mechanism. If you find yourself self-medicating with alcohol or other substances, this means that there’s something fundamentally wrong with work and you need some help immediately.
Take Advantage of Resources Available to You
Most healthcare facilities will have some sort of counseling service for nurses, so take advantage of it. Also, try to see if there are any support groups for nurses where you are.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, so go ahead and ask your nurse manager if there are any resources they could direct you to. In the rare event that there are no available free resources available, check if you can work with a professional counselor in your community.
These are all things that you can do as a nurse to maintain your sanity. Nursing is a very demanding job, but one that offers great flexibility and freedom, so don’t feel like you’re stuck and don’t hesitate to look at other options if you feel like your current position is the problem.