How to reduce stress and stay healthy as a nurse

How to reduce stress and stay healthy as a nurse

Nurses devote their working lives to providing the best possible care and advice to patients. This desire to help others in need is what makes them a crucial part of the healthcare industry, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of their own physical and mental wellbeing.

If you are a nurse and struggle with tiredness, stress and even illness, it is time to wrestle back control of your daily life. Following a few relatively simple steps and theories can boost your mood, immune system and overall health so that you are happy at home and work and capable of delivering the expert assistance and guidance that people need. 

Get enough sleep

People still underestimate the importance of sleep, especially busy workers who are likely to cram in tasks either very late at night or early in the morning. Getting a good night’s sleep can transform how you think and feel, which will have a hugely positive impact on your mental health. Nutrition expert Cynthia Thurlow believes that sleep is “foundational to our health” and recommends getting at least seven hours each day.

Sleep is important because it flushes out the toxins in your brain and gives your mind and body the time to rest properly. This will enable you to wake up refreshed with energy for the working day ahead. To ensure that you get a long, rewarding sleep, try to switch off any electronics and ideally your smartphone 60 minutes before bed. During this time, you could read or meditate to get ready to drop off when your head hits the pillow. Your bedroom should also be dark and cool throughout the night.

Start the day with an energy-boosting breakfast

Breakfasts are called the most important meal of the day for a reason. Research shows that adults who start the day with healthy and tasty ‘power’ foods will have more energy and better brain function for the tasks that lie ahead. This means that you should avoid sugary cereals or pancakes. Instead, eat a bowl of oats with fruits or a vegetable omelet. The aim is to get a mix of protein, healthy fats and carbohydrates that will set you up for the day. Drinking one cup of coffee is also recommended, but don’t overdo the caffeine as you can ‘crash’ later on. 

While it can be tempting for nurses to skip breakfast due to the busy nature of work at hospitals and health centers, prioritizing a nutritious meal early in the day can transform how you think and feel. You will also benefit from taking your own meals and snacks for lunch and dinner so that you don’t load up on carbs and sugar at the canteen. Eating a few nuts and fresh fruit can also keep your energy levels up between meals. 

Get some moderate-intensity exercise

Nurses are on their feet for most of the day and usually get enough steps in to meet a healthy daily walking goal. However, the CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week for adults, so try to incorporate a gym session or a run or light jog every other day. Health expert Amy Lewis notes: “Physical activity is important in keeping your immune system strong. Exercise causes the body to release endorphins that reduce stress levels. With exercise, our body also releases a hormone called cortisol.”

Like the right foods, exercise can boost your mind and body, but don’t overdo it. Lewis says that really intense exercise can often lead to a spike in cortisol levels, which can be detrimental to your wellbeing, especially if you don’t have time to rest afterwards. If you are struggling to find time for exercise, you could go for a brisk 15-minute walk or climb up and down the stairs during a break. Activities such as swimming, dancing, yoga and tai chi are also great ways to get your exercise blocks in during the week. 

Optimize your worklife balance

Busy nurses might scoff at the idea of trying to prioritize their lives outside of work, but it is important that you don’t lose your sense of self and forget entirely about your personal hopes, hobbies and ambitions. It is understandable that maintaining a worklife balance for nurses is challenging, but small acts of self-care can add up to a happier, more content and fulfilled life at home and at work. This also applies when studying to become a nurse, as courses can often be quite rigorous and demanding. Walsh University’s MSN and DNP programs stress the need for ‘mindfulness’ and being able to accept things as they are without worry, simplifying your daily routines to reduce stress, and defining your personal goals and purpose in life and outside of work.

This is important for your long-term health. Research shows that people who work long hours with the scales tipped fully in favor of their job are more likely to be unhappy, stressed and have poorer personal health. Being able to combine your work with family commitments if you have children, and your personal life, will be difficult in a demanding nursing environment, but it’s something that you should actively work on each day if you want to be happier and healthier.

Organize your daily tasks

One way to make time for the people and things you love is by using smartphone apps to create to-do lists and schedule your daily tasks. Nursing is a hectic and stressful profession, so it can be easy to lose track of what you are supposed to be doing from one hour to the next. Writing down your schedule and creating reminders for these tasks can reduce the mental burden of work as you will essentially be outsourcing these thought processes to your mobile device. Not having to constantly think about where you need to be will minimize the stress and hassle of daily work.

Scheduling will also help you create more time for recreational activities and other life events outside of work. You might find that you can squeeze in exercise and downtime to unwind during the day by planning ahead more effectively and setting stricter limits for meetings and conversations. This is also a reminder of how technology can be used to make you more organized and productive at work and at home. Smart watches, phones and speakers can automate specific tasks so that you have more time for the important things in life. 

Manage your stress levels

Constantly feeling stressed and burnt out is a fast track to poor health. Therefore, it’s important to actively manage the emotional strain of work so that it doesn’t get too much and negatively affect other areas of your life. Nurses will say that this is easier said than done considering how busy and demanding the job is, but again, it’s all about making a small amount of time to take stock of your thoughts and feelings and trying to address the imbalance. Thurlow says that stress can be more of a problem when we are in tune with the “sympathetic side of our nervous system”, which is likely to be true in nursing. 

She adds: “We need to make a larger effort to decompress and use proven strategies like connecting with nature, grounding with the earth, meditation, gratitude journaling, etc. These all reduce cortisol, which helps lessen our stress response.” Failing to decompress can see stress snowball into exhaustion and sickness, so try to prioritize at least one or two relaxing activities every day.

Get enough water and vitamins

Drinking enough fluids during the day can be an afterthought for busy workers, but staying hydrated is another important factor for overall physical health. The US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend a daily intake of 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) per day for women and 3.7 liters (15.5 cups) per day for men. Most people don’t drink enough water. While cups of coffee and tea count toward water intake as part of a balanced diet, drinking bottled or tap water is best overall. 

Most importantly, drinking water will prevent dehydration, which will make it easier for you to concentrate on important work tasks. It also regulates the body’s temperature and helps to transport nutrients to cells. You can buy a reusable stainless steel water bottle and fill that up several times a day to ensure that you always have fluid close at hand when you need it. You could also add a fruit flavor to it if you don’t like the taste of water on its own. Juices and smoothies are also good, but check the sugar content beforehand.

Nurses are also likely to spend most of their working days indoors, so it wouldn’t hurt to take vitamin supplements, especially vitamin D during the winter to make up for the lack of light and sunshine. These supplements can help you feel better and boost your immune system as it fights potential illnesses and infections. All of these tips are realistic and manageable. While it might take some effort on your part to make the necessary changes, making sure that you have a balanced diet made up of natural foods, getting enough exercise, managing your schedule, and working toward a better worklife balance all contribute to a happier and healthier you. 

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