Nurses have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. It’s time they took care of themselves, too.
Nobody goes into the nursing profession expecting it to be easy. Nursing is a very physically demanding job, but it can also be very emotionally and mentally taxing as well. You will be expected to stay strong through very taxing situations, face up to suffering and tragedy, and also be able to continue to show compassion and empathy to your patients. Getting this balance right can be incredibly difficult.
Nursing is always a tough profession, but the pandemic has made it even harder, thanks to longer hours, losing more patients, and backlash from the general public. It has always been important for nurses to prioritize their own mental wellbeing, but it’s now more important than ever to take care of yourself. If you can do this, you will be a lot less likely to experience burnout and other issues, and be better equipped to continue to provide the best quality care that you can to every single patient.
Here are some of the best mental health tips for nurses that you and any nurses that report directly to you can easily start making use of today. Being able to care for your team and their mental health is one of the most essential skills for nurse leaders.
Don’t Wait For A Day Off For Mental Health Self-Care
When people think about self-care, they often imagine things like indulgent days at the spa, a vacation, or a luxurious wellness retreat. In reality, your self-care habits don’t have to take up your entire weekend, or most of your paycheque. In fact, it is much better to make time for self-care as part of your daily routine. Incorporate self-care into your daily practices, rather than waiting until you next have a day off to relax and take care of yourself.
Self-care can come in many different forms, depending on what you find the most relaxing. You could spend five minutes meditating. You could call a close friend for a chat, or relax in a bubble bath. You could read a chapter of your book with a cup of coffee, or watch an episode of your favourite TV show. Whatever you find relaxing, give yourself at least a few minutes every day to do it and do something that is just for you.
Commit To A Healthy Diet
As a healthcare professional, you already know how important it is to eat a balanced diet. However, the demanding schedule of nursing, and being tired, busy, and hungry, make it very tempting to prioritise speed and ease in food rather than health. After a long shift, it’s understandable that you want to grab a ready meal to throw in the microwave, order a takeaway, or buy fast food on the way home. When you’re tired out, this sounds a lot more appealing than preparing a healthy meal from scratch.
An occasional treat of some junk food isn’t going to cause you any major long-term health problems. However, making your junk food treat a regular habit isn’t going to do you any good, either for your mental health or your physical wellbeing.
It’s far better for you to eat high-quality foods that have a lot of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Foods like this nourish your mind and protect your brain from oxidative stress. Foods that are high in refined sugars are very harmful to the brain and your mental health.
If you struggle to find time to eat a more balanced diet, there are some tricks to make eating in a healthy way a lot more convenient. Meal prep is one good way to make it easier and less time-consuming. Next time you have a day off, get some fresh vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Prepare a few healthy meals which you can store in the fridge or freezer for the week ahead. On busy days when you don’t have the time or energy to cook something from scratch, you can just grab one of your pre-prepared meals and have something healthy and tasty to eat in just a few minutes.
During a busy shift, especially at the moment, it can be tempting to try and power through without taking a proper break. Many nurses feel as though they’re letting down their colleagues or patients if they leave them for a break. Stepping out for a few minutes of rest or some fresh air can seem like an impossible thing during a busy shift. But in fact, breaks are essential. A break refreshes you, allowing you to keep working. They’re needed if you’re going to afford burnout.
Stress can build on stress. The more stressed out you feel, the worse any additional stress will impact you. Stepping away, even if only for a few minutes of deep breathing, or sitting quietly with a cup of coffee, can help to release any of the stress and tension that has built up. After those few minutes, you can go back to work feeling more focused and energised.
Taking a break will make you less likely to make mistakes, lose patience with people, or struggle to contain your own emotions. A break makes you better at your job. Work together with your teammates to make sure that everyone can take the breaks that they are entitled to. Arrange to cover for each other when people need to go on a break. It’s also important to schedule time off during the year to relax and spend some time away from your work.
Find A Physical Activity That You Enjoy
Even if you’re someone who would rather visit the dentist than the gym, you need to find some kind of physical activity that you enjoy. If the thought of going to a fitness class or a boot camp doesn’t appeal to you at all, don’t worry.
You’re not alone in not liking the sound of fitness like this. One of the main reasons that people give up on their exercise routines is that they haven’t yet found a routine that they actually like and enjoy. Physical activity is an essential part of maintaining your mental wellbeing. Getting regular exercise is a great way to improve your mental health and make you more mentally resilient.
Exercise boosts and improves your mental health because exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, Both of these help to reduce the effects of stress and lift your mood. Exercise is also a good way to take time out for yourself, and it can count towards your efforts to find time for self-care and a break. A short walk on your lunch break, a swim in the evening after work, or a bike ride with a friend on a day off are all self-care activities. These are good ways to take time out from work and fit in some exercise while releasing those all-important endorphins.
In other words, whether you find that you enjoy cycling, swimming, pilates, weight-lifting, yoga, or starting the day with a walk around the block, you need to find a physical activity that you enjoy, so you can stay motivated to keep moving and getting regular exercise.
Seek Out Counselling for Mental Health
Whether you are struggling with a mental health condition like depression or anxiety, or have been through an especially difficult time with a patient, or are just finding your work particularly stressful at the moment for whatever reasons, it can be very helpful to talk to a professional and get some proper support.
It can of course also be very helpful to vent to your friends or family or to share stories and worries with your colleagues, and it is important to find someone to talk to in an informal way. However, when you’re struggling, a counsellor, therapist or other professionals can offer better help. This is because they can offer you advice that is professional and unbiased and help you to develop the tools that you need to be better able to cope with the stresses and challenges that you have to face every day in your life and in your work.
Some healthcare organizations offer resources to their staff, such as peer counselling or access to a professional counsellor, so that nurses and other members of the team can get access to the help they need whenever they need it. Find out if where you work offers something like this. If they don’t, it could be worth asking them why not, and putting in a formal request to create an offer like this. Taking care of the mental wellbeing of their staff is in the interests of the organisation after all, as staff are likely to need less sick time if they’re not stressed, and will be better at their jobs.
As a professional in the nursing industry, you have a lot on your shoulders, and feeling overwhelmed is common. Ignoring how stressed you feel is not healthy. Implement these mental health tips and make sure you’re prepared for the toughest parts of your job.
The original version of this article was originally published on Shout Out UK.
At LCC we have a dedicated and highly skilled team ready to help you. If you are struggling with your mental health, we offer low-cost counselling services in Letchworth, for those who struggle with affordability.