Many people consider a career in nursing to be one of the most fulfilling ways to earn a living—especially people who love to serve others. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of realizing your actions contribute directly to saving lives and helping patients get healthy.
However, working as a nurse can also be highly stressful at times. Shifts can be long, schedules can be unpredictable, and the work is sometimes physically and emotionally exhausting. Combined with a global pandemic and the added pressure it’s put on healthcare workers, there’s little wonder 95% of nurses say they’ve experienced some level of burnout in the last three years.
Because nursing attracts selfless people who can seemingly give to others endlessly, nurses sometimes forget to prioritize their own well-being. To help maintain work-life balance and all-around wellness, nurses and nursing students need to establish good self-care habits that support their physical, mental and social health.
Fortunately, there are many simple and low-cost strategies nurses can implement to promote self-care. We’ve pulled together our top 15 self-care tips for nurses to live a healthier lifestyle and avoid the compassion fatigue that’s contributed to so much turnover in recent years.
16 Easy Ways to Improve Self-Care for Nurses
1. Prioritize Quality Sleep
The more we learn about sleep, the better we understand its critical role in physical, mental, and emotional health. Even if you think you can get by on five or six hours a night, a growing body of research shows that a full seven to eight hours of sleep provides significant benefits to your mood and cognitive function.
2. Get Regular Exercise
Making the time to take a walk, hit the gym, or do some stretching every day is one of the best self-care strategies for nurses or anyone in general. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress and release mood-boosting endorphins—both of which are important after a long, hectic day in a hospital or clinic.
3. Eat a Balanced Diet
Food is fuel, and what we put into our bodies significantly impacts how we think, feel, and perform. While nurses understand the importance of nutrition better than most, the fast pace of the job often tempts people into eating less-than-ideal diets with lots of fast or processed foods. A balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fiber, protein, and healthy fats is a vital self-care step for any nurse looking to live a healthier lifestyle.
4. Meet with a Therapist
Semi-regularly meeting with a counselor, social worker, or psychologist is a great self-care strategy for nurses or anyone looking to stay up on their “mental hygiene.” Working with a professional to understand and process your emotions is part of maintaining your overall well-being, just like an annual physical from your doctor.
5. Take a Social-Media Break
Many people spend hours every day scrolling social media. While staying connected to your friends and family is good, it’s also important to recognize that online time can become an addiction rather than serving as authentic self-care. Taking an occasional break from your smartphone, tablet, or computer can have major benefits for your mood, sleep, and attention span.
6. Start a Journal
Journaling can be a fantastic way to process your thoughts and reduce stress levels, especially for nurses in fast-paced environments. Writing something down often helps your brain “let go” of whatever’s on your mind rather than creating a feedback loop of anxiety. You don’t have to write a lot for journaling to be an effective self-care method—even a few sentences at the end of each day can make a difference.
7. Practice Meditation
Meditation can take many forms, but any of them benefit nurses looking to establish a better self-care routine. The human brain is a muscle, and the more you practice remaining calm, focused, and present in your environment, the better you’ll manage stressful situations with patients at work.
8. Spend Time in Nature
Humans evolved to be outside, and if you’re spending most of your time under fluorescent clinic lights at work or staring at a screen at home, you may be missing out on one of the most important self-care strategies for nurses. Even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy, simply walking around a park can boost your mood and provide much-needed clarity.
9. Establish Healthy Boundaries
Because most nurses are caring people, it can be challenging to say no to friends or family members who need a favor or a supervisor who wants you to pick up extra shifts. It’s important to regularly check in with yourself and how you’re feeling, and be honest about when you can take on more responsibility and when you’re already spread too thin.
10. Declutter Your Home
It’s difficult to quiet your mind and feel truly relaxed if your home environment is cluttered and chaotic. Conversely, when your environment is serene and calming, it’s easier to unwind and de-stress. While many nurses are understandably exhausted after a hectic shift, spending an hour or two every week to keep your home clean and organized is an important self-care tip many overlook.
11. Spend Time in Natural Light
Research shows getting at least 10 or 15 minutes of natural sunlight every day can have significant benefits for your sleep patterns, energy levels, and mental health. While this health tip may be challenging for nurses who work long shifts, even stepping outside for a few minutes is better than nothing.
12. Be Aware of Your Social Battery
Some people are extroverts and recharge themselves by spending time in large groups, starting conversations with strangers, and generally being social butterflies. More introverted nurses may find these things exhausting and find joy and replenishment in lower-key activities with smaller groups. It’s important to be honest with yourself and your friends about what energizes you and strike a balance between maintaining a healthy social life and taking care of yourself.
13. Nurture Healthy Relationships
One of the best things nurses can do to practice better self-care is to build and maintain healthy relationships with loved ones. It can be easy to lose sight of personal relationships when stressed out at work. Ironically, this is when you need the most support from your closest confidants.
By the same token, sometimes people end up in friendships with people who take more than they give. Limiting how much energy you give to one-sided relationships is essential for anyone, especially nurses who already provide so much of themselves at work.
14. Read a Book
Remember teachers and parents always encouraging you to read? They may have been on to something. Research shows that reading increases brain power, reduces stress, and even slows aging. Even a few pages per day as you’re winding down before bed is a self-care habit that’s well worth establishing. And it’s much less disruptive to your sleep than absorbing blue light from your smartphone screen.
15. Pamper Yourself a Bit
Treating yourself to a massage, a new haircut, or even just a nice hot bath may not sound like a big deal, but for nurses who spend so much time being selfless, it’s the act of focusing on your own happiness that’s important. These small acts of self-care add up, especially when combined with other strategies for staying mentally, physically, and emotionally healthy.
16. Take Time Away From Work
Many nurses are prone to letting their vacation time stack up and never taking time away from the job. While it’s good to be dedicated to your work, taking some much-deserved time off, for at least a couple of weeks every year, is important to give your mind and body a rest from the demands of caring for patients. Planning a vacation also gives you something to look forward to, which can help you stay centered on those days when work gives you one challenge after another.
Start Your Career as a Registered Nurse
While a career as a registered nurse is rewarding in many ways, it can also be demanding sometimes. Nurses who prioritize these self-care tips will be better prepared to handle the hard days and provide patients with the care they need while maintaining their health, happiness, and quality of life.
Ready to start working toward your exciting new career as a registered nurse? Learn more about the BSN program at Provo College, and start planning for your future in healthcare.