Health & Wellness

How Nurses Can Stay Healthy at Work

Chelsea Rolfes, RN
June 24, 2020
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I bet you’re thinking - oh, another “how to stay healthy at work” article for nurses, as if I haven’t read enough. This is nothing ground-breaking here, but rather a reinforcement as to why we are constantly reminded to take care of ourselves and make conscious decisions that allow us to live optimally mentally, physically and emotionally. 

I’ve read my fair share, too, and as a former bedside nurse, now a “tech nurse,” can relate to the stress and fast pace of the 12-hour shift life. Candidly, whether it’s 8’s, 12’s, 10’s, days, nights, or weekends, there’s a blatant common denominator amongst the nursing profession.

We spend our shifts as educators, instructing patients and families on how and why any combination of medications, procedures, food choices, or activities are harmful or helpful to their health. Yet, we so often struggle to follow any sort of instructions we create for ourselves, particularly when it comes to building healthy habits or promoting self care and a healthy nurse lifestyle. 

stack of mason jars with a variety of healthy snacks inside staying healthy at work as a nurse

Living a Healthy Nurse Lifestyle at Work

Before I throw a list of helpful ways to stay healthy as a nurse at you, let's touch on perspective quickly. The power of a positive mindset cannot be underestimated, and it’s easy to overlook this within a career as taxing as nursing

Our mental and emotional attitude has a significant influence on our actions, relationships, and ability to find success in any goals we set for ourselves. Take one of the more chaotic nursing shifts you may have worked.; it’s inevitably fast-paced and exhausting, but how did you talk to yourself during those 12 hours? 

Maintaining an optimistic mindset is a fundamental part of preventing fatigue, emotional distress, and ultimately avoiding burnout. In the short term, it helps you work more efficiently throughout your shift. 

Do your best to limit time with those who have a negative energy, shift your inner voice to speak kindly to yourself, embrace any appreciation or praise you receive, and most importantly, make your own needs a priority as much as possible. 

Of course, it’s ok to be frustrated, annoyed, or impatient, but just don’t let those feelings take control of your outlook on the entire day or night. Feel them, accept them, and either let them go or channel them into something constructive.

Armed with a positive mindset and optimism, I encourage you to use these tips to help you stay healthy throughout your shift! 

1. Breathe 

It’s not just about breathing and making it through the shift, it’s about how we are breathing. Research has backed the impact that slow, deep, diaphragmatic breathing has on our sympathetic nervous system. 

As nurses we often live in fight-or-flight mode without even realizing. Keep this breathing trick on your back pocket for any moments during your shift where you feel that extra rush of nerves. It’s also a perfect way to start and end your shift. 

2. Hydrate

Dehydration is something we are all chasing on and off the clock, and it’s the culprit of feeling extra fatigued. Get a large reusable water bottle and refill it throughout your shift. Keep it in your workspace at all times possible so it’s not out of sight out of mind. 

You can even get your unit on a water challenge and track how many cups you are drinking each shift. Aim for 1-1.5 ounces for each pound you weigh per day. 

3. Nourish

Set yourself up to have healthy and nourishing meals and snacks throughout the week while you are working and during your shift. Meal prep before your shift or your stretch of shifts so you can bring your own lunch and snacks to work and have healthy choices for when you walk in the door (often famished) after your shift. 

Aim for whole foods rather than processed grab-and-go, an easy snack substitute is homemade energy bars. Instead of reaching for your second coffee when the mid-afternoon slump hits, try a matcha tea or herbal alternative.

4. Establish Routine

The easiest way to get off track is by not having a track from the get-go. For those working 12-hour shifts, it can be very hard to feel like you are establishing any sort of routine. Don’t look at your entire week as needing routine, rather build structure and habit into the days you are working. 

Build a simple routine that best sets you up to start your shift with the right energy and mindset and also allows you to unwind the night before/after working. This can really help you stay on track! 

5. Move

There aren’t a lot of hours left in a day to sneak in a workout when working a 12-hour shift, I know. But regardless of what shift you’re working, the thing to keep in mind is that anything is better than nothing - even if it’s 20 minutes of exercise. Movement is one but the most efficient ways to re-energize and is also key to helping you get your best zzz’s. 

6. Step outside

The reality is, we don’t always have the luxury of taking a break significant enough to get outside during the day. If you’re fortunate enough to have the resources and staff in place to send you off to your lunch, take advantage of that time to get off your unit and walk outside to clear your mind and get some fresh air. A quick dose of nature and sunshine is such a great way to reset throughout the day!

Now, I know all of the above can seem easier said than done, but just try one a day for six days straight and see how you feel. It only takes small incremental changes to make a lasting impact on your life!

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Chelsea Rolfes, RN

Chelsea, an Ohio native, is a Medical-Surgical nurse who began her nursing career in Chicago and soon after became a travel nurse. Chelsea’s zest for life and adventure has brought her to Seattle, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, and Austin. She has developed a true passion for health and wellness and aims to be an inspiration for those around her. She uses her Instagram account, @healthy_withchelsea, as a platform to showcase her recipes, food photography, and her active, healthy lifestyle from city to city. She can’t wait to see where her enthusiasm for living a happy, healthy life will take her in the future!

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