If you think of a nurse and then consider their health, the first thing that will probably come to mind is their physical health. After all, we all know that nurses are on their feet for most of the day (or night, if they are working a night shift) and that they might not always get to eat, or they’ll eat unhealthy food because it’s quicker and easier, for example. However, although this is true, and although nurses really must take care of their physical health in, they are going to help their patients in the best way, it’s their mental health that we are focusing on today.
Nurses will see many things in their careers. Some will be joyful, such as births or a patient recovering from an illness, for example. Some, however, will be traumatic. Nurses see death a lot, and they will have to deliver bad news too. They will see grief and despair. As a nurse, it’s their job to take care of people in their most vulnerable and terrified states, and they will need to be as empathetic as possible in order to do this well.
As you might imagine, this will take its toll. This is why nurses must look after their mental health as much as possible, not only so they can be there for their patients, but so they can be happy in their own lives and not burn out and run the risk of deciding that nursing is just isn’t for them.
How Nurses Can Take Care Of Their Mental Health?
If you are a nurse or you know a nurse who needs help taking care of their own mental health, read on; here are some useful tips that should make things easier.
One of the most important things a nurse can do if they want to ensure their mental health is in good condition is to sleep well. This can, of course, be a difficult thing to do, especially when shift work is involved and when you also have other responsibilities such as a family to take care of. However, it’s crucial that you sleep as well as possible despite this because otherwise, you will become sick and not be able to take care of anyone at all, including yourself.
Sleep is a key component to good mental health. You can feel it yourself. When you have had enough good sleep during the night, you’ll wake up feeling refreshed, energized, and happy to do whatever it is you need to do during the day ahead. On the other hand, when you have not slept well, either because you didn’t sleep for long enough or the sleep was of poor quality because you kept waking up, you’ll feel bad; you won’t have any energy, your mood will be low, you might even be irritable – none of this is conducive to good nursing. The difference is amazing, and the interesting thing is that we all know this already; we’ve felt that difference many times in the past.
To put things into perspective, adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night, so it’s important to think of this first. Next, you’ll need to work out what time you have to get up in the morning and work backwards, ensuring you get to bed at the right time to give you enough sleep. Ideally, you’ll have a proper sleep schedule in place, meaning that you go to bed and wake up at the same time each day; soon, your body will get used to this, and you may not even need an alarm clock anymore. If you do still need an alarm, it could be because you’re still not getting enough sleep.
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If you find you’re unable to sleep when you go to bed, even if you’re tired, it could be that you are stressed, and your brain won’t stop worrying about things. Try using a sleep app, reading a book, or listening to music to help you feel calmer. Plus, make sure you remove any electronic devices from your room since these will emit a blue light which can affect how well you sleep.
If you always assumed that therapy was for other people who had much bigger problems than you, it’s time to think again; therapy is there for anyone who needs it, no matter how seemingly small their issues might happen to be. If you’re entirely honest with yourself, there is sure to be something that it would be beneficial to talk to a therapist about, whether it’s something that happened at work, at home, or even during your childhood. Everyone worries about something, even if they’re not entirely sure what it is. When you go to therapy, you’ll be able to discuss everything, and a good therapist will help you determine what it is that’s making you anxious and stressed. They’ll also come up with a plan to help you deal with that issue.
As a nurse, you may well have seen how useful therapy can be for your patients. Perhaps you’ve even recommended it to them yourself. So why not do as you’ve told others to do and try therapy for yourself? It’s one of the best ways to take care of your mental health; the relief and feeling of calm once you have tried talk therapy and let out your emotions and feelings is immense and will make you feel so much better.
Nurses have to be careful about their emotions. They need to be empathetic, but this means they also need to be compassionate and caring, and comforting; therefore, they can’t break down in tears over a sad situation, and they can’t be scared for a patient. Or rather, they can’t show that sadness or fear; they have to stay strong as this is how they can best take care of the patient’s needs. However, keeping everything bottled up like this is bad for your mental health, so talking to a therapist and letting it all out will enable you to process what you’ve seen and had to deal with in the best way.
If you truly don’t like the idea of seeing a therapist or your budget won’t stretch to doing so, then find someone else to speak to. Of course, they may not be able to offer any advice, but talking things through with a family member or good friend, or even someone in an online forum (without giving away any personal information, of course) can be a big help and perhaps would allow you to lighten the load and protect your mental health a little more.
Make Time For Fun
It’s easy to fall into the trap that you won’t be able to do anything except work when you’re a nurse. It’s full-on, even if you’re only working part-time (mainly due to shifting work which can mean part-time hours become much longer ones, and full-time hours can feel never-ending), and there is certainly always something to do. Add to this the fact that it’s hard to switch off after a day taking care of patients, and you might feel as though any kind of social life is beyond you. You are a nurse and nothing more.
This is not a good state of mind to be in. In fact, it’s could even be dangerous. Once you start to think in this way, you’ll stop looking for ways to have fun and enjoy yourself, at which point burnout becomes a very real possibility. Burnout occurs when you work too hard for too long without a proper break and without giving your body and brain the chance to wind down and relax. So if you’re doing a lot, such as working and studying on an RN to MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Program and taking care of a family, it’s crucial that a nurse finds ways to have fun when they aren’t working (and even when they are) to prevent this from happening.
Fun can take many forms, and it will depend on your own preferences as you what you want to do. It could be that you take the time to hang out with friends and family, even if you’re tired (the truth is that once you start to have fun, your energy levels will increase, so you might be tired at the start, but you will feel much better by the end). Perhaps you have a hobby, and you ensure you spare the time for that. Maybe you just want to chill out and do nothing. Work out what fun means to you and add it to your life so that you don’t overdo it, and you can ensure your mental health is in the best condition it can be for you and for your patients.
Exercise is an amazing and yet underused method of improving mental health. Apart from being excellent for your physical health, it can relieve stress, anxiety, and even some of the symptoms of depression. Exercise does this in a variety of different ways. The first is that it makes us look – and feel – healthier. When we look good, we feel good, and that relieves stress and makes us happier, which relieves even more stress.
Another way that exercise can help is that it releases hormones into the body. These are ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin, which actively fight against stress hormones such as cortisol. This is why exercise boosts the mood so much. As well as this, when our hearts beat faster due to exercise, we feel more alert and can be a lot more productive. This circles around once more and makes us feel happy because we’re achieving whatever it was, we set out to do.
Can you see how exercise can have a number of amazing benefits when you’re a nurse? Fitting exercise in, of course, isn’t always easy, and attending regular class may not be possible due to shifts. However, it’s entirely possible to leave home early and attend a gym or even work out at home with online videos. Just a ten-minute brisk walk at lunchtime can have an effect. If you think carefully about it, you should be able to fit in exercise in some way every day.