As a nurse, you have dedicated your career to caring for others. But with extended hours, high stress, and emotionally taxing work, it is easy to put your mental health in the background.
Nurses encounter numerous difficulties and stresses at work that may lead to physical and emotional fatigue, a cynical attitude, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment.
According to the American Nurses Association, 84% of registered nurses report symptoms of burnout, and only 42% feel that their employer values their mental health.
When nurses are overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out, they may not be able to provide the best care possible. Additionally, when nurses prioritize their mental health, they can serve as better role models for their patients, colleagues, and loved ones.
So, let us discuss nine practical tips to help overworked nurses maintain their mental health.
1. Foster a Sense of Personal Accomplishment
One way to maintain your mental health as an overworked nurse is to focus on your personal and professional growth. Continuing your education and actively seeking career developmental opportunities can provide a sense of direction and purpose, ultimately leading to increased job satisfaction and positive mental well-being.
However, taking time away from work and physically attending classes can sometimes be difficult for nurses. In this e-learning era, colleges and universities offer multiple nursing programs online. These online programs offer flexibility to work around your schedule, making balancing work, family, and other commitments easier.
Registered nurses with a BSN degree can now opt for an online MSN degree to enhance their career and professional development. An MSN degree can open new career paths and opportunities, such as nursing leadership, education, or specialized clinical roles.
2. Set Boundaries
As an overworked nurse, it can be easy to fall into the trap of constantly saying yes to extra shifts and taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. However, setting clear boundaries in your personal and professional life is crucial for maintaining good mental health.
Setting boundaries means being clear about your limits and communicating them to others. It means recognizing when you need to say no to additional work or delegate tasks to colleagues and being comfortable asserting your needs and priorities.
By setting boundaries, you can create a healthier work-life balance, reduce stress and burnout, and feel more in control of your life.
3. Prioritize Sleep
Getting enough quality sleep is crucial for maintaining good mental health, particularly for overworked nurses. Sleep plays a vital role in repairing and rejuvenating the body. Lack of sleep can lead to various health problems, including stress, anxiety, and depression.
Some strategies for improving sleep quality include:
- Try sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, even on weekends.
- Avoid screens before bed because the blue light can interfere with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Keep your bedroom calm, dark, and quiet, and invest in comfortable bedding.
4. Stay Physically Active
You might get accustomed to working long hours without focusing on physical activity. However, regular exercise can help improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and promote better sleep.
Here are some suggestions for incorporating exercise into a busy nursing schedule:
- Take the stairs – Use the stairs instead of the elevator. It can be a fantastic way to get your heart rate up and squeeze in some exercise during your workday.
- Go for a walk – Take a quick walk during your break or lunch hour to get your body moving
- Do some stretching – Take a few minutes to stretch during your shift, as it can help reduce muscle tension and improve flexibility.
5. Commit to a Brain-healthy Diet
As a busy nurse, it can be easy to turn to comfort foods, but committing to a brain-healthy diet can help you feel better and have more energy throughout the day. The foods we eat directly impact brain function and can affect our mood, energy levels, and cognitive abilities.
Some brain-healthy foods include:
- Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Fatty fish, nuts, and seeds
- Lean proteins (chicken, fish, and tofu)
6. Practice Self-care
Nursing can be demanding and stressful, requiring critical decision-making and emotional support to patients and families. With all these demands, it can be easy for nurses to forget to take care of themselves.
Some beneficial self-care practices include:
- Taking a few moments to relax in a warm bath or shower can help reduce stress and ease tension in the body.
- Massage therapy can help reduce muscle tension, improve circulation, and promote relaxation.
- Spending time in nature can have a therapeutic effect on mental health. Consider taking a walk in the park, going for a hike, or sitting outside and enjoying a cup of tea.
7. Embrace Mindfulness
As an overworked nurse, incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine can help you stay focused, reduce stress, and remain calm and centered, even in challenging situations.
Some suggestions for incorporating mindfulness practices are:
- Practice deep breathing – Taking slow, deep breaths can effectively calm your mind and reduce stress.
- Try guided meditation – Many free guided meditation apps can help you focus your mind and reduce stress.
- Take a mindful walk – Taking a mindful walk can help clear your mind and focus on the present moment. Try to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you as you walk, and focus on your breath.
8. Seek Support
As an overworked nurse, it can be easy to feel isolated and overwhelmed, mainly if you are dealing with complex patients or challenging work conditions. A support system can provide the emotional and practical support you need to cope with stress and stay resilient in adversity.
If you feel overwhelmed or stressed at work, consider talking to a trusted colleague who can provide support and guidance. Your friends and family can also be an excellent source of emotional support. However, if you are struggling with persistent stress or anxiety, consider seeking professional help from a counselor or therapist. Remember, seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Nursing can be incredibly rewarding but highly stressful and overwhelming. Nurses need to remember that taking care of their mental health is not a selfish act but rather a necessary one.
By implementing these tips and prioritizing mental health, nurses can continue to provide excellent care while also taking care of themselves.
So, be kind to yourself, take breaks, and seek support when necessary.