If you’re one of the 60-65% of nurses who regularly works 12-hour shifts, it can be hard to find time to sit down for a break. Of course, on some shifts, it may feel like there isn’t even time for a bathroom break, but you really don’t want that to become the norm, do you?
Working at that frenetic pace makes it hard to get the nutrition you need, the sleep your body requires, or the overall care that’s essential to your well-being. As a result, it’s easy for nurses to run themselves into the ground. But you can’t pour from an empty cup, and no matter how passionate you are about your work, sacrificing your own wellbeing will not help you or your patients.
Think about the things you ask patients about their daily diets and activities, perhaps even where they buy groceries or how often they go for walks. As a nurse, you can also offer great constructive advice on healthy eating, sleep hygiene, and exercise habits.
Are you following your own advice, though? Have you ever suspected that you might look less healthy than some of your patients? If you know that you’ve been cutting corners, the time to reconsider your daily routines and habits is NOW. However, like many nurses, you might well ask at this point, “Get real: is it even possible to get enough sleep, exercise, and eat all my fruits and veggies on such a crazy schedule?”
The answer is yes. Your skillset as a nurse makes you an outstanding planner, and by now even a scout might be cowed to see how well you prepare yourself for just about anything. So here are three basic principles to building a healthier lifestyle on an impossible schedule…
Establish a (doable) routine
You might not have the exact same work schedule each week, but chances are you’ll have the same number of days off. After a while, you’ll get to know the flow of your work schedule, and you can adjust the rest of your life around it.
Once you’re able to do that, establish a routine for yourself with your well-being in mind.
Routines make it easier to stick to healthy habits and practice self-care every day. They also allow you to not only set realistic health goals but reach them through small daily acts.
While everyone’s routine will look different, yours might include things like
- Waking up at the same time each day
- Cooking a healthy breakfast
- Exercising for 10-30 minutes
- Household chores
- Socializing with friends or family
- Spending time outdoors
- Going to sleep at the same time each night
In addition to helping you reach your health goals, routines have been known to improve mental health, especially by reducing stress. When you have a career that often feels overwhelming or uncertain, that can make a big difference.
Apply your planning skills to manage on-the-go fuel supplies
When you’re in the middle of a 12-hour shift and haven’t had a chance to sit down for a meal, it can be tempting to go for whatever is available. Thus, cops really do down sugary donuts with their coffee, first responders grab 50% of their day’s allowance of fat in a fast burger, and hospital workers throw cash into the nearest vending machine. The latter sounds almost healthy by comparison, but are you really winning if you select the marked-up (and slightly stale) trail mix or sunflower seeds over a marked-up (and slightly stale) candy bar?
If you have a hard time finding healthy snacks at work, use those planning skills that helped you get through nursing school and do some quick “prepping” on your days off. There are plenty of healthy, on-the-go snacks you can bring to work in an insulated snack bag, including
- Fresh Trail mix (even if you like the usual vending mix of all peanuts and dried dates, your own will be tastier and less costly)
- Fruits and veggies (berries, bananas, apples, raw veggie sticks – anything portable and not messy that can be eaten with one hand)
- Protein bars (should have at least 8 grams of protein and less than 13g of sugar – otherwise it’s little more than an expensive, high-calorie candy bar)
- Smoothies/protein shakes
You can either carry these snacks around with you or leave them in a specific place at work and quickly give yourself a bit of fuel whenever you have a minute or two. Here are some solid “do/don’t” tips that may help as well.
Start with what you KNOW you can do
You might think that because your schedule is so busy, you don’t have time to fuel your body properly, stay active, or even get enough sleep.
That isn’t true, but it might take a few adjustments and creativity to take care of yourself properly. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to start small.
You don’t need to go to the gym each day for an hour-long workout. Instead, maximize short physical activities and get in longer workouts more sporadically. Shorter workouts are easier to commit to and will keep you motivated to stick with an exercise regimen, even when you’re busy.
When it comes to nutrition, meal prepping is your friend. We touched on packing snacks for yourself, but it’s also easy to pack healthy meals for work as well. Here are some savvy fast-but-healthy lunch suggestions from Reddit nurses.
And when it comes to sleep goals, it can be tempting to give up, but if you didn’t give up on nursing, finding ways to get more rest should be a breeze.
Small changes can make a big difference to your overall health. As a nurse, your well-being matters. Keep these ideas in mind to dedicate yourself to realistic whole-body nutrition, better sleep, and more physical activity to keep you healthy, so you can provide the best possible care to others.