Nurses are known for our selfless work, where we focus on meeting the needs of others. Unfortunately, in our attempts at improving the overall wellness of our patients and their families, we often fail to make our own health needs a priority.
As a result, many of us experience anxiety, dehydration, urinary tract infections, back, joint and foot pain, chronic headaches, and much more. Many of us can even develop more serious complications like diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health issues that can be related to high stress levels, poor diet, and the strenuous physical, mental and emotional labor involved in caring for others.
In this article, we will focus on several strategies where you can find the balance in it all. We will discuss the importance of making self-care your first priority, the importance of building healthy workplace relationships, strategies you can incorporate into your typical workday to prioritize staying healthy while on the job, and explore how leading by the example can be the most effective form of influencing others to remain happy and healthy.
Let’s take a look at 10 strategies that you can use in finding the balance:
Self-Care While at Work
As nurses, we already know what we “should” be doing to maintain optimal health—basically, anything we would tell our patients to do – right!? Thus, our problem isn’t our understanding of what to do, but rather “how” to do it when considering the challenges within the workplace.
Many experienced nurses agree that they need to take care of themselves first before they can adequately care for others. This includes taking breaks, staying hydrated, eating healthy meals and/or healthy snacks throughout our daily grind. It’s crucial to communicate your needs to your colleagues and ask for help. By telling your fellow nurses and co-workers that you need to tend to your own needs, and ask for help, they can step in and cover you while your recharge.
In the event that all of your colleagues are too busy with their own assignments to cover yours, use your nursing judgement before leaving your patient assignment. Make sure your inform your patients and at least two team members of your plan: where you are going and how long you expect to be gone in the event that they need to find you, or step in and help out.
Self-Care For After Hours
In addition to making sure that you are being kind to yourself on the job, make sure to spend quality time time away from work. Get plenty of regular exercise, drink lots of low sugar fluids, eat a well-balanced whole foods diet, get plenty of sleep, seek spiritual fulfillment, engage in healthy and supportive relationships, and surround yourself with positive activities and positive people.
The time you have away from work should not not be considered a luxury, but your responsibility. Your time off should allow for you to recharge and come back to work rested, healthy and able to effectively work through the many stressors of your work day. By focusing on yourself first, you will have the agility and energy necessary to endlessly care for your patients and their families.
Be a Positive Role Model
Professionalism, dependability, and a willingness to provide solutions within the workplace are just a few of the characteristics that help foster healthy workplace relationships. Remember, your actions speak louder than words. By consistently demonstrating these desirable attributes, you will set the tone for how others should work alongside you.
Establish a Strong Support System at Work
Building a strong support system while advocating for peer accountability can drastically improve the work ethics and teamwork effort in any workplace. This is particularly true in healthcare where many different members of the healthcare team have a hand in delivering patient care. Nurses perform at their best when they have a support system that they can depend on, and people they trust to hold them accountable.
Go Beyond Your Normal Duties
The smallest acts of kindness can go a long way. The occasional box of gourmet pastries, or small jars of homemade jellies, are always welcome in a workplace that is often overwhelmed with time sensitive tasks and life or death situations. By doing nice things for your colleagues on occasion, you are showing them that you are invested in them beyond the job and that you care about bringing them a little bit of joy, even if just for a few minutes at a time.
Stay Healthy by Being Well Hydrated
Staying hydrated is one of the most essential components to maintaining high levels of energy and mental clarity. Our own experience shows that nurses are among some of the worst at staying hydrated during their shifts. One of the main reasons is that open drinks or containers near workstations or patient care areas is considered an infection control issue, and we seldom have the opportunity to leave patient care areas.
One way to work around this is to have a completely closed container, such as a sports water bottle or similar that you can keep nearby, in a designated “drink drawer” or cabinet in the nursing station. Not all facilities will allow for a designated drink station on the unit, so another way to stay hydrated is to set reminders on your phone, or watch to drink every hour. If we can’t take care of our basic needs while at work, we won’t be the best nurse for our patients who rely on our expertise and skills to keep them safe.
Eat Healthy Snacks Throughout the Day
Instead of starving yourself all morning and afternoon, then frantically rushing to the cafeteria for a slice of pizza or something fried, you should bring healthy snacks to have throughout your shift. A few healthy foods items that are energy powerhouses and easy to eat on the go include: nuts, cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and fresh fruit. Another option could include things like protein shakes or protein bars, though nutritionists recommend getting energy sources from whole food sources first. By snacking on these nutrient dense foods throughout your shift, you are sure to stay focused and energized.
Avoid Too Much Caffeine
Many of us love our big strong coffee at the beginning of our shifts to get us pumped and ready to go – and that’s just fine. Caffeine is a stimulant, and in small to moderate amounts, it can be beneficial to one’s mental clarity. But like any other good thing, it becomes a problem when consumed in excess. It can cause nervousness, impaired ability to focus, and even worse—dehydration. The best way to prevent caffeine overdosing is to stick to one cup in the “morning” – for those night shifters out there, and follow with lots of water throughout the workday.
Lead by Example
Nurses spend a lot of their time teaching patients about various lifestyle modifications that can be implemented in order to help achieve optimal health. Unfortunately, we don’t always live by our own words. In order to have the greatest impact on improving the health of ourselves and our patients, we must practice leading by example and becoming the change we wish to see.
Just as children learn by imitating, we are all visual creatures and create habits based on what we see others doing. Thus, when a patient sees a nurse in a cafeteria eating a salad with fruit, they are more likely to take dietary advice more seriously. A patient also benefits indirectly as their nurse is in better shape to tend to their needs.
Join or Create a Healthy Nurses Program
One of the best ways to start leading by example is to either join an existing healthy nurses program at work, or to collaborate with your facility’s management to establish one. Many hospitals have already begun establishing programs that focus on providing wellness activities, education and support that are specific to each discipline staffed within the healthcare organization.
A healthy nurses program may include a variety of services such as: healthy cooking classes, exercise classes, health screenings, smoking cessation services, and mental health workshops. It’s easier to stay on track when you have others holding you accountable, and leading by example for your colleagues will have a trickle down effect for your patients.
It is our hope that you can find great value in these simple, yet effective strategies for maintaining a happy and healthy nursing career! So get out there and be the happiest and healthiest nurse possible!
If you have any additional tips and suggestions for maintaining a healthy nursing career, please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
The Nurse Link Team