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Self-Care Tips for Nurses: Staying Balanced in a Demanding Profession

Self-Care Tips for Nurses: Staying Balanced in a Demanding Profession

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and as part of our commitment to caring for healthcare professionals, we have created this guide to inspire self-care for those who focus their efforts on caring for the rest of us. We’ll discuss everything you need to know, emphasizing the crucial importance of self-care for nurses, providing self-care tips for medical professionals, and guiding you on creating a nurse self-care routine and plan. 
Managing stress as a nurse is undeniably challenging. Yet, despite the years of struggle to balance work and personal life, nurses demonstrate remarkable resilience. Their unwavering dedication, the essence of their practice, can sometimes lead to burnout and exhaustion. However, it's essential to recognize and appreciate that nurses can provide exceptional care while prioritizing their well-being. Let’s explore how.

How to Avoid Burnout in Nursing:

Often, burnout creeps in unnoticed; its signs present for weeks, months, or even years. Then, one day, you hit a wall. The thought of administering one more medication, staying late for one more shift, or answering one more call tightens your chest and stirs up a deep-seated sense of anger and frustration. You realize you've grown more despondent with every missed soccer game, movie night, or family dinner. The career you once cherished and worked so hard for has consumed your entire being, and you're left wondering who you are. But remember, this is not the end. It's a signal for change, for a renewed love for your career. 
 Fortunately, fleeing the profession is not the only solution! There are ways to repair your relationship with your career and develop a renewed love for it.
 
  1. Take a break. It sounds impossible, especially in a world of shortages and financial stressors, but you must take some time to reset. Whether it’s a long weekend or a 3-month sabbatical, take some time away from your work and relax. Avoid using the time to catch up on household tasks or other duties. Instead, do something that elicits a feeling of refreshment. Whether that means binging your favorite drama while munching popcorn, jogging on a peaceful path, having lunch with friends, or finally reading that book you’ve been dying to absorb, please do it.

  2. Once you’ve refreshed, a major re-prioritization is in order. While your career might be high on your list, if you’re burned out, you’ve likely lost track of your priorities, and work is somehow topping your list. Please list your priorities, ensuring work is where it truly belongs.

  3. Make a plan. Now that your priorities are listed in their appropriate order, consider how your life would look if you could give each area the time and attention it deserves. Then, start planning for change. Do you need to change your shift? Position? Workplace? Hours? One fabulous thing about nursing is its flexibility, so take a deep breath and start formulating the plan.

  4. Now, the hard part. Set the plan in place. Prioritize your health by clearly communicating your needs to management. Let them know precisely how you’re feeling and how much you’re willing/not willing to give.

  5. Once you’ve rested, reprioritized, and made changes, maintain your new lifestyle by creating solid boundaries. While denying work requests may feel out of character, it’s what you need to do for yourself. Decide what you want to do, and be direct when communicating your decisions. 

How to Manage Stress as a Nurse:

There are few things more stressful than knowing if you make a mistake, someone could die. It’s a heavy burden, yet nurses carry it every day. Pile on managing a heavy caseload, interdisciplinary politics, hefty documentation requirements, and shift changes, and you will have a recipe for dangerous stress levels. 
 As a nurse, you must prioritize your mental health. While it will look different for everyone, there are some basic ways to stay balanced. Let’s review a few…
 
  1. Start with time management. Developing healthy and effective time management strategies will make your load feel lighter, even when nothing else has changed. 
Identify your top priorities and evaluate how you plan your day. Do you use a paper reporting sheet? Is it practical for you? How do you complete your tasks throughout the day? Consider using a physical paper sheet that identifies your daily tasks and priorities, helping you to stay on track. 
 Delegate tasks when possible. Although delegating tasks to other team members can be complex, it is essential for good time management. Consider each team member’s role and assign tasks accordingly.  
Cluster care for individual patients. Please plan to complete multiple tasks for a patient while you’re with them. Avoiding the jump from room to room will save you time and leave your patients feeling you’ve spent time genuinely caring for their needs. Before you leave the room, always remember to tend to nourishment, comfort, safety, and toileting needs.  
Avoid multitasking. While it sounds good in theory, multitasking is a time killer and increases your chances of making an error. Studies have repeatedly proven this, yet we’re easily fooled into thinking we can do two or three things simultaneously. Let go of the notion and focus on one activity at a time. This simple change will show up in your available time and the merits of your work. 
  1. Utilize nurse relaxation techniques before, during, and after your workday. Doing so will prepare you for your day, help you maintain good mental health throughout your shift, and allow you to decompress and enjoy your off time when it’s over. 
    Start with positive thinking. Simply deciding to redirect your thoughts to those that are more positive will significantly impact how you cope with stress throughout your day. Start by journaling positive thoughts, listening to positive podcasts, or spending time with friends who think positively. 
    Cut back on caffeine. While many of us rely on the boost to get moving, it can do more harm than good, leaving us anxious and exhausted. Replacing caffeinated drinks with water, a healthy diet, and intentional exercise can go a long way to keeping you relaxed during your workday. 
    Practice mindfulness. During the quiet moments of the day, take a deep breath and practice a form of meditation known as mindfulness. Take the time to become aware of your physical and emotional feelings. If you’d like, you can even utilize audio tracks to help you on your mindfulness journey. 

    How to Maintain Good Mental Health as a Nurse:

    1. Seek Support. The most important thing you can do to maintain good mental health as a nurse is to stay aware of your stress level and reach out for support when needed. Signs that you are becoming too stressed, burned out, or overly tired include: 
                            -Feeling depressed or anxious regularly
                            -Feeling tired more often than not
                            -Difficulty concentrating
                            -Experiencing angry outbursts
                            -Losing interest in activities that typically bring you joy
                            -Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
                            -Changes in sleeping habits
                            -Changes in appetite
                            -Physical symptoms with no apparent cause
                            -Thoughts of death or self-harm

    If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of harming themselves or others, call for help immediately. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 988.        

    Seeking support should never be reserved only for moments of crisis. The sooner you reach out, the better. Whether you’re dealing with grief, burnout, or struggles related to a mental health condition, help is available.
    1. Maintain healthy boundaries. Boundaries are a challenging thing in healthcare. With staffing shortages running rampant and patients who need care, it’s easy to get caught up in feeling wholly responsible for their well-being. However, you are not solely responsible for covering every shift and taking on every task. It is okay to say no. You can even say no without a reason, explanation, or permission. If a request crosses a boundary you have set (or would like to place), respond and move on. It may not be easy initially, but you’ll appreciate and respect your boundaries with more practice.
    2. Enjoy activities that bring you joy, even at work. Do you love assisting a particular patient with her meal? Do you enjoy lunch with a co-worker? Jump at the chance to decorate the bulletin board for the upcoming holiday during your break. Find what makes you smile at work and do those things more often. Don’t skip them even if they aren’t “necessary.” The boost of happiness they provide will help carry you through difficult times.
    3. Wear terrific scrubs. Yes, wearing high-quality, professional scrubs is good for your mental health. For starters, being comfortable can make or break your shift. Imagine pulling your pants up every 5 minutes for 12 hours. That would leave even the most patient nurse on edge. The best scrubs fit and comfortably wrap you, meaning you don’t have to worry about adjusting your uniform during your shift. 
        There’s another benefit to wearing great scrubs, and that’s other people’s perceptions of you. When patients, co-workers, and management approach you and see that you look professional and well-groomed, they are more likely to treat you well.
        Being comfortable, being treated well by others, and wearing uniforms that give you confidence about your appearance are simple yet effective ways to boost your self-worth in the workplace. Do you struggle to choose the right scrub fit and style? Check out our handbook on everything you need to know about scrubs! 
        1. Create a self-care plan and stick to it. We’ll discuss this further, but embracing this tool in your personal life is critical to your future success.
           

          Creating a Self-Care Plan for Nurses:

          While a “care plan” can send shivers down your spine, you know they’re integral to ensuring a patient gets the best possible care. So why not make a self-care plan for yourself? Whether you’re a new nurse, just hitting the floor after graduating or closing in on retirement, you need self-care. Guarantee it happens with a self-care plan. 
          1. Develop personalized self-care routines. Like any good care plan, yours must start by identifying your needs. What areas of self-care need improvement? This can be anything from work stress management to regular dental appointments. Consider what you would do if you had no barriers. Once you’ve identified your needs, determine a plausible routine for making each happen. A self-care calendar may help by reminding you when tasks such as completing your vacation PTO request must be done.  
          1. Set realistic self-care goals. Self-care goals are highly personal, but whatever your goals are, make sure they are achievable. Consider your responsibilities and ensure your new goals fit your standing obligations. You’ll be rewarded with the satisfaction of reaching your goals and enjoying better self-care.
          1. Incorporate your plan into your daily life. Making a care plan and setting goals is only helpful if you take the steps to see it through. Set your plan into action and enjoy the benefits along the way. 

          2. Track your progress and make adjustments. As with any care plan, you must track your progress. Are you realizing good outcomes with your plan? Has your life improved? Do any of your goals require adjustment? Continue to track and adjust as you go along, always remembering that your plan should work for you, not the other way around.

          As we’re reminded to prioritize our mental health and check in on others this month, assess your well-being. Now is the time to start making changes that will lead to a healthier lifestyle. Above all, if taking steps to heal feels like an undertaking you can’t handle, ask for help.
           
           
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           A profile picture of a blog writer named Tammy McKinney.
          Tammy McKinney, a seasoned Registered Nurse, distinguished healthcare writer, and founder of HelpfulHospiceNurse.com, is committed to using her medical knowledge to educate, inform, and entertain healthcare workers and their patients. To connect with Tammy directly, check her out on LinkedIn.