Staying Fit and Healthy While Training and Working as a Nurse

The following tips can help any nurse or trainee nurse to remain physically and emotionally resilient throughout their work.

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December 23, 2019
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Working as a nurse is one of the noblest undertakings that any person can embark upon. However, it is also one of the most challenging careers to break into because of the nature of the work. Nurses deal with difficult situations on a daily basis, and it is therefore essential that they are able to look after themselves.

The following tips can help any nurse or trainee nurse to remain physically and emotionally resilient throughout their work.

“It is not how much we do – it is how much love we put into the doing.”
– Mother Teresa

Develop a Sleep Schedule and Practice Good Sleep Hygiene

One of the hardest aspects of health for nurses to manage is their sleep schedule. The nature of the job means that developing a consistent sleep pattern can be more challenging for nurses than for most workers. However, you should aim to develop as much of a sleep schedule as you can. That means that whenever you have a day off, you should be going to bed and getting up at the same time wherever possible.

It’s unlikely that you will get very far into your nursing career before you experience difficulty relating to your sleep – it’s an occupational hazard. It can be very jarring to go from a relatively consistent sleep pattern to the often-hectic schedule of a nurse. However, your body is good at adapting to new situations and that includes a chronic lack of sleep. As long as you are sleeping sensibly on your time off and making sure that you get at least 8 hours of sleep as often as possible, you should be able to combat any sleep deprivation from your job.

If you are someone who has trouble staying asleep or getting back to sleep after waking up, make sure that you have a dedicated space to sleep in at home where you will be free of any potential disturbances. This includes your electronic devices as well as the people that you live with. In fact, you should try to turn your bedroom into a sleeping sanctuary. When the time comes for you to put your head down and get to sleep, you want your bedroom to provide the perfect environment.

A common trap that nurses fall into is turning to a couple of glasses of wine regularly after work to cope with a stressful day. There is nothing wrong with drinking now and then, but alcohol will interfere with your sleep schedule and your quality of sleep. Even moderate drinking can significantly reduce the effectiveness of any sleep that you do manage to get. You want to be taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way for a proper night’s sleep, so try to keep the amount of post-work drinking to a minimum.

While nursing can complicate getting a good night’s sleep, the same basic rules apply when it comes to your sleep hygiene. You might not be able to maintain the same level of sleep hygiene as other workers, and you might need to make some adjustments to the following rules for your situation. However, below are the essential elements of good sleep hygiene.

  • Consistency: When you are working as a nurse, it is going to be difficult to maintain the same waking hours every day. For one thing, you will inevitably be spending at least some of your nights at the hospital sleeping in an on-call room. But while it might be difficult to maintain a consistent sleep schedule in the long-term, if you make an effort to be consistent with your sleep schedule whenever you can, you will minimize the impact that an erratic schedule can have on your health and wellbeing.
  • Quiet: When it comes to having noise around you when you sleep, some people find it almost impossible to sleep when there is any noise at all, while others find that the opposite is true and they have trouble getting to sleep without some kind of background noise. There is no right or wrong approach in this regard. However, it is important that you create a sleeping environment that is suitable for you. That means that if you require a total absence of noise, you give yourself a quiet environment to sleep in where you won’t be disturbed. On the other hand, if you need some noise to help you get off, try to choose something that is not going to keep playing and potentially wake you up once you are asleep.
  • Dark: Along with noise, excessive levels of light are the other common barrier to a good night’s sleep. But the relationship between light and the quality of our sleep is one that many people still don’t fully understand. It has now become quite common for people to go to sleep with their electronic devices playing media right by their heads. That means that, even with their eyelids closed, lots of people are getting a steady stream of light shone directly into their faces. Even if you do manage to sleep through this, the presence of light can interfere with your sleeping schedule. Not only do you want to ensure that your sleeping area is as free from light as possible, but you should also use the blue light filter on any electronic devices that support it. This will mean that your devices emit a more orange light – one that is less likely to interfere with your circadian rhythms.
  • Healthy Living: Diet and exercise both impact our health in a number of different ways. Both physical and emotional health suffers when we neglect our diet and exercise, and this includes your sleeping schedule. During sleep is when your body carries out essential maintenance. This maintenance work requires access to biological building blocks, most of which come from the food that we eat. Adopting a more well-rounded diet and more consistent exercise routine are both effective techniques for improving the quality and reliability of your sleep.
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Always Eat Before Your Shift

Undereating can be every bit as unhealthy as overeating. However, most of us are much more likely to skip a meal than we are to overindulge in one. Nursing is a much more hectic lifestyle than many new recruits are prepared for, and it is easy for things like your diet to be thrown out of sync by your new circumstances.

Trying to work an entire shift without any food in your system is an unsustainable approach to your job. No one can perform at their best on an empty stomach, but for nurses, the stakes are even higher than normal. Remember, it is always better to eat something than nothing. Even if you aren’t able to get in a full meal and can only manage a brief snack, they still give you an opportunity to refuel your body.

It is a good idea to keep a selection of high energy snacks in your locker at work so you’ll always have access to them in an emergency. The last thing you want is for hunger to strike during the middle of a shift and to provide a constant nagging distraction when you are trying to do important work.

Prepare Your Own Food

Clearly, maintaining a healthy diet is essential if you are going to keep pace with the demanding nature of being a nurse. The best way of ensuring that you are getting all of the essential nutrients that you need in your diet is to prepare your food yourself. Preparing your food before your shift will also so mean that even if you aren’t able to make it to the canteen, you will still be able to get a decent meal. Again, many nurses find it helpful to keep a selection of food or pre-prepared meals at work so they are there if they are needed.

Making your own food to bring in every day isn’t just a great way of staying on top of your diet. It is also an excellent way of saving money on a common expense for many of us. Sure, it’s easier to walk into the nearest supermarket and pick up a sandwich off-the-shelf. But when you compare the price of an individual sandwich to the price of a loaf of bread and ingredients, there is no competition.

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Use Your Free Time Wisely

Nursing is a career that demands everything from workers. If you want to survive in the nursing profession, then you need to be able to switch off and detach yourself from your work now and then. While you are at the hospital and on shift, your priority should always be the wellbeing of your patients. However, when you leave for the day and go home, your priorities should switch and you should be mainly concerned with yourself.

Using your free time wisely, giving yourself time and space to relax and unwind, is important if you are going to cope with the stresses of being a nurse in the long-term. Even the strongest nurse will sometimes struggle with the job, especially when they come into contact with particularly difficult cases. It takes time and experience to develop a thick skin and resilience to these events, and until then, you need to make sure that you are giving yourself all the space you need to process them.

For nurses who are still in training, using their time sensibly is essential if they are going to earn their qualifications. Whether you are training for an entry-level nursing qualification, or you are studying something like these RN to MSN programs in Michigan, if you allow your studies to dominate your life, then your work and your wellbeing will suffer.

Watch Your Caffeine Intake

On those days where you are feeling particularly tired and fatigued, a shot of caffeine can seem like a great idea to bring you back up. However, you need to be careful about your caffeine intake and not just devour it from the moment you wake up until you try to go to sleep. Not only does caffeine interfere with your sleeping schedule, but excessive caffeine intake is associated with higher levels of anxiety, and many people forget that caffeine is an addictive substance.

That isn’t to say that you should avoid drinking caffeine at all. However, it is a good idea to be more mindful of your intake and to try to keep it as low as possible.

Use Support Services If You Need Them

There are a range of support services available for nurses who are struggling with the intensity of their job. Most healthcare institutions will offer these services on-site, but if this isn’t the case, then you shouldn’t suffer in silence. The emotional toll of working as a nurse can rapidly become overwhelming for those who aren’t prepared for it.

There are also many nurses who make it through decades of their career before they encounter a difficult case that they can’t shake. If this happens, then you should seek professional counseling. When there are other things going on in your professional or personal life, it can exacerbate any issues you have at work. Nurses need to stay on top of their mental health and wellbeing more than most.

The steps we have outlined above will help nurses to ensure that they are able to stand up to the demands of their job. However, there is no getting around the inherently high-stakes of the work that nurses do, and it is important to ask for help when needed.

Working as a nurse in a hospital can be a very intense experience. No matter what department you work in, the life of a nurse is often difficult and stressful. Needless to say, it is incredibly worthwhile work and this is why so many people are willing to shoulder the burdens that are inherent in the profession. However, if you don’t look after yourself, then it is very easy for a nursing job to become overwhelming. If you are going to survive as a nurse, then you need to be able to watch your own health and wellbeing just as diligently as that of your patients.