No one goes into nursing expecting a cakewalk. This profession is not only physically demanding, but mentally and emotionally taxing, too. You’re expected to be strong in the face of suffering and tragedy while also showing compassion and empathy, and straddling this line can be difficult.
That’s why it’s essential you prioritize your mental wellbeing. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be less likely to experience burnout and better able to provide top-quality care to every patient.
Here are five mental health tips for nurses that you and your direct reports can easily begin leveraging today:
Don’t Wait for a Day Off for Self-Care
When people think of the term “self-care,” they often conjure images of indulgent spa days or luxurious wellness retreats. But the truth is, your self-care habits don’t have to consume an entire weekend or half a paycheck. In fact, it’s better if you incorporate daily practices rather than waiting until your next day off to “treat yourself.”
Self-care can come in the form of a five-minute daily meditation, a phone call with a close friend or enjoying a bubble bath and a good book after a long shift. Whatever it is, give yourself at least a few minutes every day to revel in something restorative.
Commit to a Healthy Diet
As a healthcare professional, you already recognize the importance of sticking to a balanced diet. But, when you’re busy, exhausted and hungry, stopping at a drive-through sounds much more appealing than preparing a healthy meal from scratch.
While an occasional junk food splurge isn’t likely to cause any long-term problems, making this a habit can wreak havoc on your mental and physical wellbeing.
“Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress,” says Eva Selhub, MD, in an article for Harvard Health Publishing. She also notes that foods high in refined sugars are harmful to the brain and, in turn, your mental health.
To make healthy eating more convenient, try meal-prepping. On your next day off, grab fresh veggies, whole grains and lean protein, and cook up a few meals to store in your refrigerator or freezer. Then, next time you’re in a pinch, you’ll have a nutritious meal ready and waiting.
Stepping outside for fifteen minutes of fresh air can seem like an impossible request amid a hectic shift, but breaks are essential to preventing burnout.
Stress can have a compounding effect — meaning, the more stressed you become, the more intensely any additional stressors will affect you. Stepping away for just a few minutes of deep breathing, or sitting in silence with a cup of coffee, can help you release your accrued tension and return to your work more focused and energized.
Work with your team to ensure everyone takes their breaks, and cover for each other when you do. Additionally, it’s important to schedule time off throughout the year to relax and spend quality time with your loved ones.
Find a Physical Activity You Enjoy
Would you rather have a tooth pulled than spend thirty minutes on the treadmill? Does the idea of attending a fitness bootcamp class make you want to cry?
You’re not alone. One of the main reasons people quit their exercise routines is because they haven’t found one they like. But physical activity is essential to your mental wellbeing, and regular exercise is associated with a reduction in poor mental health, according to a study published in The Lancet.
This mental health boosting effect is likely because exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, both of which can help reduce the effects of stress and improve your mood.
In other words, whether it’s yoga, pilates, weight-lifting, cycling or just starting your day with a walk around your neighborhood, it’s essential you find physical activities that keep you motivated long-term to keep moving.
Seek Out Counseling/Therapy
Whether you’re battling a mental illness like anxiety or depression, you’ve endured an especially difficult situation with a patient or you’re just feeling stressed, it’s helpful to talk to a professional. While venting to friends and family is valuable, a counselor or therapist can offer professional, unbiased advice to help you cope with the stressors and challenges you face in your work (and life).
Some healthcare organizations offer peer counseling so nurses and other staff members can get help as soon as they need it. If your workplace doesn’t, it may be worth putting in a formal request to create a program. After all, boosting everyone’s mental wellbeing will only further strengthen your nursing team.
As a nursing professional, you have a lot on your shoulders, and it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed. But ignoring your stress isn’t a healthy way to cope. By implementing these five mental health tips for nurses, and suggesting them to your team, you can ensure you’re prepared for whatever comes your way.