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There’s no question that nursing is a stressful career. While it can be incredibly rewarding, one study found that 98% of hospital nurses reported their work is physically and mentally demanding.

The pandemic has added to that stress, not only due to increased fear but more recently because of healthcare staffing shortages across the country. Many nurses are struggling with their mental health now much more than they were before the pandemic began.

Needless to say, it’s more important than ever for nurses to prioritize their mental health.

As a nurse, your primary focus is likely always on your patients. But, you won’t be able to care for them properly if you don’t first practice self-care.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few ways nurses can prioritize their mental health.  These ideas can help you to avoid burnout, and be more present and focused for your patients.

Create a Relaxing Space at Home

Your home should be your sanctuary – a place you can “escape” from the stress of work. So, it’s important to take a look at your home environment and determine how it might be impacting you. Your environment has more to do with your mental health than you may realize. You can establish a more peaceful, calming home environment by:

  • Using neutral or calming colors in each room
  • Having a distraction-free zone
  • Decluttering as much as possible
  • Using calming scents like lavender
  • Keeping things cozy with extra blankets and pillows as part of your decor
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Adding things around your home that are known for reducing stress and improving mental health can also help, including houseplants. Throughout the pandemic, more people have become “plant parents,” but there are more benefits to owning a plant or two than just having something to take care of. Bringing nature indoors can be therapeutic. Plants improve air quality, reduce stress, and combat feelings of anxiety and depression.

Everyone’s ideal environment looks different. Consider the things that help you relax, and make sure your home is a reflection of that, so you’ll always have a place to go to combat stress.

Try Relaxation Techniques

Whether you’re at home, on the job, or out and about, you never know when you might feel overwhelmed or stressed. In those situations, it can help to have some relaxation techniques in your arsenal that can bring you back to the present and help you to feel calm.

Mindfulness and meditation are two wonderful ways to do that, and you can easily introduce them into your life as part of your routine, or as needed.

Many people have the wrong idea about meditation. It doesn’t require any special posing or chants. Rather, it requires you to focus on your breathing and clearing your mind. The practice of mindfulness is similar, ensuring that you focus on the present moment, rather than anything else. Other thoughts will come, but it can help to think of them like clouds passing by, rather than something you can grab onto.

It can take some time and practice to get used to mindfulness and meditation. Start by closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths.  Focus on those breaths, and how your body feels. By shifting your focus away from the world around you and looking internally, you’ll calm down quickly, and feel more relaxed when you get back to your day. As a bonus, these practices can help you to feel more productive at work, especially when you’re struggling with anxiousness on the job.

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The Little Things Add Up

As a nurse, you might work odd shifts. You probably also work a lot of long hours, and you might think you don’t have time to practice self-care each day. But, that isn’t true. There are some common misconceptions that self-care requires something luxurious or lavish.

In reality, taking care of yourself every day can mean doing something small, yet meaningful.

Even if you have a busy schedule, finding time to do small things can leave you feeling refreshed and less stressed every day. If you’re not sure how to get started, consider some of the following ideas that can make a big difference in your mental health:

  • Exercising
  • Eating healthy meals
  • Interacting with friends/family
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Going somewhere fun

Taking part in activities you enjoy can also help to boost your mental health. Try painting, journaling, playing a sport, or even listening to music. None of those things have to take much time out of your day. But, by making self-care a priority – even if it’s only for a short time – you will always have something to look forward to, and a way to remind yourself to relax.

Mental health care has always been important for nurses. Now, however, it’s in the spotlight because of the pandemic. Don’t let your own well-being suffer because of your career. If you feel like your mental health is struggling, reach out for professional help. In the meantime, use these ideas to prioritize your mental wellness, so you can be the best nurse possible while still finding joy and peace in your life.

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Adrian Johansen
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