Knowing a few simple breathwork strategies can be a valuable tool for nurses during a hectic workday. While you’re probably most familiar with the pursed lip breathing technique you use on your patients who are short of breath, other types of breathwork can be beneficial to you, the clinician, as an active self-care activity. Breathwork can help you feel more relaxed, lessen anxiety, energize you, and experience an overall reduction in stress–all things you need when your job places you in intense situations from time to time. Since breathing can be both an unconscious and conscious activity, a common belief among various mind-body practices is that breathing is a way to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the nervous system, enhancing your sense of well-being. The following breathing techniques are easy to use while you’re on the go, and they will help you inhale and exhale your way through challenging situations.
1. The Five Count Breath
This breathing technique is borrowed from Pilates as a way to oxygenate your body and diminish muscle tension (particularly in your rib cage and thoracic spine). Begin with a long inhale through your nose as you count to five. As you take a breath, picture your lungs filling up with fresh, restorative air. Next, count to five as you slowly exhale all the air out of your lungs. Imagine wringing the stale air out of your lungs. If possible, close your eyes while doing this exercise to envision the inflation and deflation of your lungs. Repeat this cycle five to 10 times as needed to reduce stress.
2. Belly Breathing
When your body is tense, your breathing has a tendency to become quick and shallow. Whereas, when you’re in a relaxed state, your breath flows more deeply from your abdomen. The belly breathing technique helps to bring your body back to a state of calm and can be used in settings where you’re trying to remain inconspicuous. In his book, The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, clinical psychologist, Dr. Edmund J. Bourne, PhD, lists some benefits of belly breathing, such as:
- Enhancing the connection between the mind and body.
- Better concentration.
- Increased feelings of tranquility.
- A quieter mind.
Belly breathing isn’t difficult to perform. To begin, Inhale through your nose and let the breath first fill your lungs with air and progress to filling your abdomen. If you were to place your hand on your belly, you could see it rise during inhalation. Next, slowly exhale your breath through your nose emptying out as much air as possible. If your hand was on your abdomen, it would now be falling toward your spine. Do this sequence 10-15 times, and you should feel an increased sense of serenity.
3. Alternate Nostril Breathing
This yogic breathing technique may look a little silly doing it in front of others, but it’s meant to bring harmony to your body, integrate the right and left sides of your brain, energize you, and encourage focus. It’s a caffeine boost minus the caffeine. To start, use your thumb to press your right nostril closed while you inhale deeply through your left nostril. When your lungs are full of air, press the left nostril closed using your ring finger and exhale through your right nostril. Continue this cyclical pattern of inhaling through your right nostril and exhaling through your left for approximately 30 seconds to reset your body. Although it might take a few tries to get this breathing exercise right, once you’ve got the hang of it, you should feel more at ease and settled.
It’s no secret a busy nurse will spend most working hours indoors. During the winter months, you will probably arrive at your job as the sun is coming up, and you leave when the sun is going down. However, remaining in the same environment every day can lead to feeling bored, tired, or unmotivated. With just a few minutes a day, going outside can improve your mental and physical well-being and help you take on any challenge. Here are a few reasons to get outside each day.
1. Enhanced immune function
A recent study published in Scientific Report by Georgetown Medical Center proposed exposure to sunlight may strengthen your immune system by way of mechanisms that are entirely independent from Vitamin D. Researchers suggest the visible, blue-light from the sun might trigger critical immune cells and increase their motility. While this is still an emerging area of study, it looks like your immune system would certainly benefit from some regular time in the sun.
2. Reduced stress
Are you feeling burned-out and overwhelmed? Depending on the setting you work in, it can be challenging to find convenient, green spaces to get some fresh air. However, heading outside at least once during the day is worth the effort. Research shows even a five-minute nature fix helps lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can’t get outside? As you’re walking by a window, stop and gaze out for a moment. Reports show that viewing nature through a window can also lower your stress levels.
3. Increased PMA
Positive mental attitude: Who doesn’t want to approach life with more positivity and less negative thinking? One study found that more frequent exposure to natural elements correlates with lower feelings of depression, greater workplace satisfaction, and commitment. Furthermore, a brisk trip outside boosts your mood and increases your creativity, which, when dealing with a variety of personalities, can come in very handy.
4. Better sleep
If you have trouble sleeping, that’s all the more reason to make stepping outside during the day a priority. A study conducted by St. Louis University demonstrated the power of natural sunlight to help set your body’s internal clock to signal when you need to eat and sleep. If your sleep problems are severe, you’ll require more exposure to sunlight than the five-minute stress relieving recommendation mentioned earlier. In fact, the study suggests you’ll need 30 to 60 minutes of direct sunlight for sleep patterns to change drastically.
5. Improved energy
Are you feeling drained during the work day? The answer to feeling depleted may lie in getting outside your physical workplace. Studies show that people who connect with nature tend to feel more energized and revitalized–two key factors to help make your job easier. Furthermore, the energizing effects of going outside seem to be amplified with social interaction. So, whenever possible, grab a colleague and head outside for a change of scenery.
You’ve been moving nonstop all morning–taking care of your patients, going to meetings, charting. You name it. And you’ve hardly had a moment to catch your breath. Suddenly, it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and your energy takes a giant nosedive. Yawning, you wonder how you’ll make it through the rest of the day. Does this common, afternoon slump sound familiar? The good news is there are a few things you can do to beat afternoon fatigue and keep you on your toes for the rest of your shift.
1. Stay hydrated.
Fatigue is one of the first signs of dehydration. The Mayo Clinic reports even mild dehydration can zap you of your energy and make you feel sluggish. With your attention on everyone else, it’s easy to overlook your needs. But how much water do you need to drink while you’re working? The Institute of Medicine suggests the adequate intake for men is approximately 13 cups of beverages per day. For women, the daily recommendation is roughly 9 cups of total beverages. So, if you’re feeling run down, try a refreshing glass of water.
2. Have a snack.
When your afternoon energy wanes, avoid grabbing chips or Cheez-Its from the vending machine and replace them with simple snacks consisting of protein, fat, and carbohydrates to refuel your body. A few, healthy alternatives include half a banana with peanut butter, trail mix with nuts, raw veggies with hummus, and a hard-boiled egg with an apple. The complex carbohydrates help sustain your energy levels, while the protein and fat control your blood sugar and keep you more awake.
3. Drink a glass of green tea.
Green tea tends to have less caffeine than a cup of coffee, and it provides you with a subtle energy boost for an afternoon pick-up. Bonus: Because green tea contains the relaxing amino acid theanine, you’re more likely to experience a calm alertness rather than feeling jittery.
4. Ditch the sugar.
Skip the sugary treats (like cookies, donuts, and candy bars) that might be lurking in the break room. Foods high in sugar will give you a short-lived spike in energy followed by a serious crash as your blood sugar levels sink. Instead, if you must satisfy your sweet tooth, reach for a piece of dark chocolate–the darker, the better. Dark chocolate stimulates the brain’s release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine, so you feel happier, more focused, and avoid the workday drowsiness.
5. Stand up and stretch.
Feeling lethargic or tense? Stand up and stretch in a way that feels good to your body. Try reaching your arms up toward the ceiling, a gentle spine twist, or touching your toes. Whichever movement you choose, stretching will get your blood flowing, ease muscle tension, and increase energy. Best of all, it can be done in a minute or two when time is a precious commodity in your day.
Remember when you were so excited to start your job as a nurse? However, as the years tick by, it’s not uncommon to lose some of your joy and enthusiasm. You may find yourself stuck in a routine or cruising on autopilot; you do your job, then you leave, and you repeat this pattern the next day. The good news is that the delight you once felt for your job doesn’t have to be lost forever. Here are four ways to find joy in your job again.
1. Develop a support system.
Create a circle of coworkers who have similar life interests and values as you do. Knowing you have a supportive network of nurses and other health professionals to rely on eases stress and gives you a friendly environment to share your feelings. Job pressures tend to decrease when you surround yourself with people you consider friends. Don’t have any friends at work? Sometimes you have to make the first move to get to know your coworkers.
2. Learn a new skill.
It’s frustrating to feel like you don’t have the right tools in the toolbox to help the variety of patients you see every day. Use this frustration as an opportunity to grow as a nurse and seek additional training in your areas of weakness (to build your confidence) or interests–whatever sparks your professional passions. Ultimately, you’ll find your job becomes a lot more engaging when you stretch your professional comfort zone to include new skills.
3. Ask for help.
Your attitude as a caregiver is critical to your patient’s health care. But it can be hard to maintain a positive attitude when you’re feeling overworked and overwhelmed. If you find yourself in a negative head space more often than not, maybe you need to ask for help from a fellow nurse, the office staff, or your manager. If you need something changed to have a happier work environment, be bold enough to ask for it. It’s possible you’ll get what you want and rekindle the joy of your job in the process.
4. Learn to let go.
Nursing involves a great deal of emotional labor–or the process of regulating feelings and expressions to fulfill the requirements of your job. If you’re seeing a patient within the context of a health facility, then you already know you’re not seeing them at the best time in their lives. Unfortunately, you might be on the receiving end of someone’s battle with pain, illness, or injury, and chances are it’s challenging at times (to say the least). By realizing a patient’s struggle isn’t a personal attack on you, you’re better able to “let it go,” shrug it off, and focus on the most rewarding parts of your day. It’s easier to feel joyful about your job each day when you focus on the good you’ve done for your patients.
If you’re like most nurses, you probably got into the nursing profession to help people and make a difference in their lives. At times, however, the constant demands of caring for patients can feel overwhelming and exhausting. By making your personal, self-care activities a top priority, you can help ease the burden that often comes with advocating for the health and well-being of others.
One such self-care activity is journaling. With just a few minutes a day, journaling your thoughts and feelings can help you cope with day-to-day challenges, work through difficult situations, and create a positive outlet for you to express yourself. Here are five ways journaling can improve your mental health and help make your job (and life) a little easier.
1. Journaling provides a safe space for your feelings.
It’s easy to be overly critical, wondering if you should have done or said something differently during a situation in your place of work. You might be upset, angry, or frustrated by the outcome; and you may think you have no one to talk to about these feelings. Maybe you’ve grown accustomed to keeping your feelings bottled up inside. Through the magic of a pen and some paper (or your computer), the University of Rochester Medical Center endorses journaling as an avenue for honest, positive self-reflection and a private place to help you pinpoint negative thoughts and behaviors that might be holding you back.
2. Journaling can help you locate the source of your stress.
Once you’ve identified a problem or pattern in your life, journaling can help you recognize the cause of your stress and develop more desirable solutions to combat those stressors. When you write about troublesome experiences, you release the emotional magnitude of those feelings. The act of releasing intense feelings will leave you calmer and more in control.
3. Journaling helps lowers your stress levels.
Your journal is a place for you to be truthful about the things you’re struggling with while also honoring yourself for the brave choices you’re making towards self-improvement. Although it might seem more natural to journal about your problems, don’t forget to write about your successes. By recording the moments of victory in your journal, you’ll also reduce stress and be able to reflect back on your experiences when you need some encouragement.
4. Journaling helps you understand yourself better.
Psych Central, the Internet’s largest and oldest independent mental health social network, recommends a routine writing practice as part of your self-care activities. “You will get to know what makes you feel happy and confident. You will also become clear about situations and people who are toxic for you—important information for your emotional well-being,” says the website.
5. Journaling has been associated with significant health benefits.
You already know that journaling diminishes stress. But did you also know several studies have shown its effectiveness at decreasing anxiety and depression, enhancing creativity, increasing problem-solving abilities, lowering blood pressure, and boosting the immune system? That’s right! So set aside a few minutes every day, and let your thoughts flow onto the page. There are no rules, and you’ll soon discover it’s one of the cheapest and most nurturing acts you can do for yourself.