Tips for Staying Healthy as a Nurse
When you are working with ill patients and a stress-filled job as a nurse, keeping healthy yourself becomes a priority. Sure, there are precautions such as gloves and masks. But your health incorporates everything including staying physically, nutritionally and mentally healthy to do your best job and to enjoy life. Maintaining that ideal balance between work and life can be tough, but so worth it, says nurses who have been doing it for a while.
Here are their suggestions on several topics that can keep you strong, fit and happy in your career and life:
Exercise And Sweat
At least a few times a week, Carmela Marasigan takes 20 minute walks in her hilly neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. “I find that sweating is a great stress reliever. They say that when you sweat, you release all your toxins. Plus, at my age, if the walking helps give me some tightness in parts of my body, that’s another benefit. I want to look good, too,” she says.
She works as an assistant nurse manager in the Cardiac Care Unit at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and has been a nurse for nine years. She has been continually going to school the past 12 years, first getting an associates in nursing, then a bachelor’s and recently a master’s.
“Because of my hours (working 12 hour shifts at night), it’s been extremely challenging to be physically and nutritionally healthy,” she adds. “But when I do exercise, it always makes me feel better.”
Working weird hours and long shifts can take a toll on anyone. “But you really need to get some sleep in. Lack of sleep can contribute to fatigue and medical errors,” says Karen Urban, assistant professor of nursing at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo.
“If you are tired, you will be making errors. You can become physically sick yourself. Your body will shut down. And driving home from a long shift can become a safety issue if you are so drowsy.”
To adjust to shift work and get enough sleep, she suggests black out curtain, turning off the phone, exercising when you get up, not eating too much before going to sleep, and watching caffeine intake during your shifts.
Hobbies and Passions
Work can be so stressful as a nurse, that taking home your worries and thoughts can build that stress. Urban tells her nursing students to make sure they are doing something they enjoy when they get off work whether it is just meeting up with friends, gardening, reading a good book, taking a long hot bath or planning a vacation.
Urban has always been on the social committee wherever she works. She believes that you should also have an outlet with the people you work with and to share moments of fun, too.
Nursing means dealing with a lot of sad things such as the death of a patient you have worked with for days, weeks or even months. It can be heartbreaking.
“I tell my nursing students to be a part of that grieving process with other staff members or the family of the patient. It can be very helpful for a nurse,” Urban says. “I tell them to go to the memorial service or funeral or write a card to the family to express your feelings.”
Mental Health Happiness
Getting away from it all for a while can be the cure for many people. During all her years of going to school, Marasigan could never take vacations because of lack of time. But now, she recommends to others to definitely see the world. She just got back from Italy, and those memories help her push through bad days at work.
“I draw from my happy moments on the trip when things are a little crazy at work. The only stress during the trip was choosing whether I was going to drink red or white wine,” she says.
She calls these good memoires her “white porch.” It was a phrase she learned from an inspirational speaker years ago. It refers to a mental place of you sitting on your porch and doing nothing.
“You just watch people walk by. You let go and drink a cup of coffee. The stressful moments go away. It’s hard to do this in the middle of chaos at work. But it actually works. It takes practice, but I’ve been working on it for a few years,” she says.
As a nurse, germs are all around. “We promote protecting yourself and your patients all the time,” Urban says. “It’s all about hand washing, and keeping up today with our own immunizations. That’s a requirement.”
Humor can be very healthy and keep things in perspective, Urban says. “We need to be careful with it in a heath care setting and not to hurt anyone’s feelings. But it’s good to have camaraderie with your colleagues and laugh,” she says.
Related: funniest quotes of post-op patients
Marasigan makes a point to spend time with friends and family on her days off. “When you are a nurse, your work and life balance are even more important because you see so much, and it truly puts life into perspective,” she says. “I always schedule lunch or dinner dates so that I have something to look forward to when I’m stress at work.”
You need to have others in your life that you can just sit back with and enjoy life. Nursing comes with a lot of rewards, a lot of eye-opening experiences and a lot of anxiety.
To keep it all in perspective, nurses try to keep themselves healthy with mind, body and spirit. That can be easier said than done. But striving to be your best through good nutrition, exercise, time with loved ones, fun moments and laughter, the bad days can be better, and the good days can be amazing.
Next Up: Emotional Health Care For Nurses
Lee Nelson of the Chicago area writes for national and regional magazines, websites, and business journals. Her work has recently appeared in Realtor.org, Nurse.org, Yahoo! Homes, ChicagoStyle Weddings, and a bi-weekly blog in Unigo.com.