Coming off a year of being worked to the bone, burnout is more common than ever among nurses everywhere, and it’s about time we begin feeling better again. Prioritizing self-care is not selfish. Your emotional wellbeing matters and will help you show up as your best self at work and at home. I invite you to take a moment to pause, regroup, and figure out what you need to operate in a state of sustainable wellness for the sake of yourself, your loved ones, and your patients.
Here are some of my go-to strategies for navigating this time and living a balanced life:
1. Use Your Resources (You May Have More than You Realize)
For nurses working in a hospital setting or at a larger institution, there are often resources available that promote mental health and wellness, even if they are not well advertised. At Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), we offer coaching in both one on one and group settings to help nurses voice and face a variety of fears in a safe environment. Educate yourself about your options and take advantage of resources your employer provides. Joining committees or support groups will help new nurses in particular build a foundation and feel like an integrated part of the hospital community. You don’t have to go it alone. If you are struggling, raise your hand.
2. Leave Work at Work
Carving out time for yourself can be a challenge, especially when so many of us in the nursing workforce act as caretakers both in our personal and professional lives. Daily time to reflect, take stock of how you feel, and allow yourself to think about something that brings you joy, even if they are small moments, can make a world of difference. Whether it is listening to a good audiobook on your commute, meditating before bed, or (for me) bird watching on your days off, find the activities that replenish you and remember you cannot take care of others if you are not taking care of yourself.
3. Give Your Body What It Needs
Our minds and our bodies are inextricably linked. When one is unwell, often so is the other. Making sure you are exercising during the day, getting a full night’s sleep, drinking enough fluids, and eating in a way that promotes health is essential to overall wellness and will boost your mood and increase your energy levels. Personally, I monitor how many steps I take in a day to ensure I’m maintaining a high level of activity and turn to Pilates after work to keep my body strong. Giving our bodies what they need to function at their best has a domino effect on our ability to think clearly and process our feelings.
4. Focus on Gratitude
Emotional fatigue is common and not your fault. Caring for others both physically and feeling invested in their well-being emotionally can take a toll on your mental health. For me, one of the key components of weathering this experience is gratitude. Recognizing the pieces of my daily life I am grateful for, and expressing gratitude to my colleagues and peers for their contributions keeps my spirits up and promotes a work environment where people feel appreciated and valued for all their physical, mental and emotional labor. A little thank you can go a long way.
5. Talk It Out
In an emotionally draining job like nursing, the buddy system is not just comforting, it is essential to persevering. Processing your experiences and sharing them with others helps both you and your colleagues feel supported and provides opportunities to learn from each other. Figure out who you communicate best with at your organization, and check in with them weekly to discuss the challenges you are both facing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be honest about your emotions. For young nurses, it is immensely beneficial to hear seasoned colleagues share their stories, and know that they are not alone.
6. Get Vaccinated
Wellness means doing everything in your power to promote a healthy life for yourself and those around you. Today, that means protecting yourself and others from COVID and the Delta variant by getting vaccinated if you are not already. A big concern for many nurses is compromising their own health and spreading disease to their families as a result of caring for infectious patients. Take that worry out of the equation, ease your mind, and increase your sense of security by getting your shot as soon as possible.