Nursing can take an emotional toll on even the most resilient practitioners. The heavy mix of working with trauma, working long hours, and working in a field where empathy is a requirement can lead to compounding stress and eventual burnout. Being the person that someone turns to on what is often one of the worst days of their lives has an impact, and as a result, mental health can suffer. It’s important that you remember your own mental health is paramount too. After all, we all learn on an airplane to put our own masks on first before helping others.
There is no one size fits all approach to taking care of your mental health as a nurse. It depends on the type of person you are, and where you find your comfort. There are, however, some simple coping strategies that can help you put things into perspective and boost your overall mental wellbeing.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health As a Nurse
1. Step Away
A change of scenery can do wonders for the mind. It doesn’t mean you have to take a trip to a far-flung exotic island (though that would be nice!) but instead, look for opportunities to find some solace in nature nearby. The Japanese call this practice shinrin-yoku or forest bathing and it has been practiced for centuries. Of course, the causes of mental health issues are complex and varied but studies have shown that for people who live in urban areas, spending time in nature can be hugely beneficial.
The average American spends 93% of their life indoors
, so take some time to breathe and reboot without any distractions and take in the scenery.
Find a safe place, take out your headphones, put that podcast on pause, and allow yourself to be truly present. It can be challenging at first to be mindful so be patient with yourself. Start by listening to the sound of your breathing and focus on counting your breaths. Notice the way the air smells, or the way the ground feels beneath your feet. Mindfulness is not about clearing your mind of thoughts, it’s about noticing them. Allow your thoughts to come and go, acknowledge them, but pay them no mind. If you have a busy schedule and are not sure how to fit in your daily dose of nature, just taking some time to head to a green space over lunch can be a lifesaver, by creating a physical boundary between the you that’s working, and the you that needs to take time.
2. Keep a Record
Journaling is another simple technique for keeping on top of complex feelings. If you are naturally anxious you may have tried some form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This is usually done under the supervision of a mental health practitioner but it doesn’t mean you can’t use some of anxiety management techniques in your day-to-day life.
Keeping a simple gratitude journal and noting down three things every day that you are grateful for can help to put things into perspective. Set a time where you can do this uninterrupted and just take a few minutes out of the chaos to really think about the things you really value in life. Do you have supportive friends and family? Write that down. If you have kids, do you value the love of your children? Make a note. It doesn’t have to always be deep, maybe you’re really grateful for your favorite pizza after a long hard day? Keeping a record of all the best things means you can return to them after a bad day, or when you need a little boost of joy and ultimately help stave off burnout
3. Find the Balance
Looking after others, and putting others first is noble, but so is finding a balance. When was the last time you did something just for yourself? Do the things that feel frivolous and make you happy every once in a while and don’t feel guilty about doing it. Nurses’ hands go through a lot and get dry after constant hand washing. So why not treat yourself to a manicure and have someone else take care of your hands for a little while? Or maybe you play sports and find the feel-good endorphins in exercise? Carve out that time and protect it because it’s precious. It’s easy for the things that bring us joy to fall behind when we’re busy. Putting them off because we’re too tired, but they’re so important in bringing balance.
Ultimately it’s up to you to find the things that work for you, so experiment with time-honored practices and lean into the ones you find most useful. Remember most of all to be kind, loving, and patient with yourself. There will be rough days, weeks, and sometimes even months, but brighter skies are always ahead. There is always something on the horizon that will bring happiness. Reach out to fellow nurses, share your experience, and above all, be kind.
If you found this post helpful, make sure to check out the following posts:
How to Stay Healthy As a Travel Nurse
Questions to Ask in Your Nursing Interview if You’re Looking for Work-Life Balance
This post was written by Aaron Smith an LA-based content strategist and consultant in support of STEM firms and medical practices. He covers industry developments and helps companies connect with clients. In his free time, Aaron enjoy swimming, swing dancing, and sci-fi movies.
Kylee is a Neonatal Intensive Care (NICU) nurse passionate about making travel affordable and accessible to nurses. Inspiring nurses to travel both near and far, Kylee began Passports and Preemies in 2017 while volunteering in Skopje, North Macedonia as a way to reach nurses and advocate for the prevention of nurse burnout by traveling. Kylee is the original creator of the “8 Day Vacay” – a vacation geared towards nurses who aim to take advantage of the potentially 8 days off between work weeks with no need to use PTO.
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