How to Unwind After Work as a Nurse
Stress in the workplace is inevitable, but being a healthcare professional has its own set of challenges that the general 9-5’ers can more easily avoid. Compassion fatigue, burnout, PTSD, and workplace stress are a few common side effects of nursing (especially these days, with COVID-19 taking up the bulk of your waking day).
Stress is not only an occupational hazard to the hospital, but also potentially a contributor to long lasting mental-health issues. If you’ve ever flown in an airplane, you’ve heard the following phrase: “Please put your own mask on before assisting others around you.” These words are transferable to the world of nursing.
And yes, while it's true that many of these stressors related to workplace environments or conditions may be largely out of your control (at least in the short term) -- and it shouldn't be your sole responsibility to cope with less-than-ideal realities of the workplace -- it's your choice to deal with them in the ways you see fit.
Dealing With Stress as a Nurse
As a nurse you simply cannot help those around you without giving yourself a little love first.
Let’s be real — being a nurse is hard work (and that’s an understatement)! It’s important to compartmentalize your thoughts so that you don’t bring your stress home from work. Be real with yourself!
When you’re stressed, your body gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol -- you may experience faster breathing, an elevated heart rate, and tightened muscles. Listen to your body; you cannot help yourself without identifying the issues at hand. The key to stress management is acknowledging the stressors from your day -- being true to yourself is already half the battle.
Once you acknowledge that you’re burnt out or stressed, consider trying some of the following methods to help unwind:
Meditation or conscious breath work
Sitting down to practice mindfulness can be extremely daunting, especially for those who are new to the practice. For seasoned meditators, try incorporating the meditation practice into your daily routine for ten minutes before, after or even during your breaks at work.
Conscious breathwork has also been found to be extremely effective -- attempt the “box breathing” technique. Simply breathe in slowly for 4 counts, hold for 4, exhale for 4, and hold again for 4 before resuming the cycle again. Breathing is a great way to reduce stress, by mindfully re-connecting the brain with the body.
Take a warm bath or shower
The temperature of the water increases your body temperature, relaxing your muscles. Consider adding Magnesium Epsom bath salts, known to reduce aches and pains and calm the nervous system. Some may incorporate a “healing shower meditation” routine by imagining the running water washing away the stress, negativity, and frustrations of the day, bringing you peace and well-being!
Look to your community
Join a social group! Talk it out! Some of our in-house Trusted Nurses said their favorite way to unwind was to talk about their day with their fellow nurse friends or family over dinner or breakfast post-shift. Talking to someone who knows what you’re going through will ensure you that you are not alone in your feelings. They can even make you feel more supported in your role.
Sweat it out
Perhaps take a new hiking route or sign up for a new pilates class you’ve always been thinking about joining. Exercising is mood boosting -- it can help release endorphins, temporarily taking your mind off your stressful triggers from work earlier that day (even a short jog or uphill walk).
Get out a piece of paper and something to write with, and rate your stressors on a scale of 1-10 to identify common triggers and patterns. This will help you prepare for stressful situations or devise plans on how to avoid stressful situations. You can also...
- Write down how you feel so you don’t bottle things up (even if you just throw away the paper afterword and never look at it again)
- Express gratitude, write about things you’re grateful for; this is a good way to start a day or end one
- Jot down questions, concerns, or thoughts you have about things; you can return to them later when you’re ready or have more information
- Make a list of things you need to get done as opposed to just holding them all in your head (that takes energy in itself!)
And don't forget nutrition!
Eating right. It can be tough to make sure you’re eating the right foods and in the right amount when you’re tired, stressed, or just plain busy. But this part is crucial. If you’re already operating at less than optimal levels, eating something unhealthy, “empty calories,” is just going to bring you down further. Drink lots of water, eat whole foods, and don’t forget to sleep when you can!
While nothing above, on its own, will solve your problems, in unison, these strategies can certainly make your life easier, especially while dealing with large physical, mental/emotional, or even existential crises.
Ultimately, a lot needs to be done at the policy and facility level to improve the conditions nurses and other healthcare professionals face, but while we push for those changes, we can’t ignore the incremental efforts we can make on behalf of ourselves.
Looking to mix it up and try something different (new unit, new hospital, new state)? Speak with a Nurse Advocate today to find out where you could be!