As personally satisfying as nursing is, it is no walk in the park. Research shows that approximately 27.6% of nurses suffered insomnia, 27% fatigue and weakness, and 13.1% had depression in recent years. Nurses’ mental health has significant implications for patient care and their own well-being. Unmanaged stress increases the risk of depression, lethargy, and anxiety. It has physical effects like weakening the immune system and causing respiratory problems. However, there are strategies you can use to manage such stress and cope with the workload of this demanding profession. With minor changes in your lifestyle, you will see a positive change in your routine and overall well-being. Below are several techniques you can use to manage your mental well-being.
1. Get resilience training
The ABC cognitive theory proposes that it is the beliefs (B), not the external event itself (A), that cause direct emotional consequences (C). How you interpret and respond to situations has a major impact on your mental well-being. Resilience training teaches you to face challenging circumstances while maintaining your mental stability. It focuses on emotional, cognitive, physical, and mental resilience. For example, it teaches you how to use relaxation techniques and support networks to become more resilient to stressful situations. With such training, you learn how to see challenges as opportunities and positively deal with stress and anxiety. It trains you to avoid negative and self-defeating thoughts.
Different types of nurses face different types of life stressors. Trauma nurses, for instance, are likely to experience more high-stress environments where their patients have life-threatening ailments. Nurse leaders will have to deal with staffing, budgeting, regulatory stresses. Whatever the kind of stress, resilience training teaches you how to avoid being overwhelmed by it.
2. Give yourself a break
There is no doubt that nursing is a highly demanding profession where you have a very busy schedule; however, everyone needs a break. Even if it is just 10 minutes, you can take out, step back and give your brain time to relax. In this time, do something you love – read a book, go out with friends, grab a cup of coffee, or sleep!
Stress is known to have a compounding impact; if you are already stressed, you will respond more intensely to further stressors. Taking a break allows you to release previously accumulated tension. So don’t forget to include some personal time in your schedule.
3. Remain physically active
Numerous studies report a strong positive correlation between exercise and better mental health. Physical activity reduces stress by increasing the body’s production of endorphins – the so-called ‘feel-good’ hormones – and improves mood. You don’t necessarily have to join a fitness camp; just select an activity you enjoy, like cycling, using a treadmill, or yoga, and take out time daily for it.
A study conducted on the impact of exercise on mental health showed that participants who exercised for four weeks showed better personal accomplishment and well-being than those who didn’t. They had less psychological stress and emotional exhaustion.
4. Maintain a healthy diet
Your diet has an impact not only on your physical but also your mental well-being. Yes, it does seem enticing to save time by stopping at the drive-through for a meal but remember not to make this a regular habit. You need sufficient minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants to prevent oxidative stress. The best way to achieve a healthy diet plan is to prepare meals during your free time, to store away for busy days.
5. Keep healthy communication with your colleagues
You never know when someone might be in dire need of a friend to talk to. Check on your colleagues regularly and work together as a supportive team. Having a proper support system minimizes stress greatly because venting out is very therapeutic. Such catharsis acts as an emotional release for built-up emotions. Holding in stress, frustration, or anger can be damaging in the long run.
Secondly, request a nursing manager to listen to the problems faced by nurses in your facility. This way, you can target the cause of the problem, be it excessively long shifts, too much workload, or a lack of structured instruction. By doing so, you will get involved in the decision-making process, and your superiors will address your concerns.
6. Consult a therapist
If you are having a hard time managing your regular work stress, do not hesitate to consult a therapist for guidance. A trained psychotherapist can help you identify the root causes of your anxiety and teach you effective coping strategies. Seek help, especially if you experience debilitating anxiety, depression, or unhealthy family relationships. Remember that your mental health is as important as your physical health. Just as you don’t hesitate before consulting a doctor for physical ailments, do not delay psychological help if you feel the need.
7. Practice meditation
Research has shown that physicians who practiced regular mindfulness and meditation had a reduced burn-out rate. Additionally, they had a better attitude towards patients, improved personal well-being and enhanced decision-making ability.
Meditation gives you time to self-reflect with a relaxed state of mind, reducing overall stress. You can easily find a mindfulness application online that instructs you in regular meditation.
8. Don’t miss out on sleep
Sleeping seems like a waste of precious time you could have spent catching up on work, right? Well, that is wrong! Sleeping actually does the opposite; it enhances productivity, improves your energy levels, gives greater mental clarity, and thus gives better overall efficiency. Sleep gives your body time to recover and your brain to consolidate all the information it gathered during the day. Research shows that sleep is strongly correlated with your emotional and mental health and has major links with anxiety, depression, and other such mental illnesses.
Manage your sleep schedule to get at least the minimum amount of sleep you need. Fix a bedtime and put away all electronics an hour before this time. Remember not to consume caffeinated drinks like coffee or tea before you sleep.
Stress at work seems natural for nurses, but that is not true. There are many ways you can promote better personal mental health. Take time for yourself, give yourself breaks, develop a strong support system, stay active, and eat healthily. With such a lifestyle, you can avoid the negative effects of your busy schedule on your mental health.