Too many nurses prioritize career success over their own mental and physical health, without realizing that you need to take care of yourself first in order to be the best nurse you can be. Here are a few suggestions to help!
As a nursing student, you already know that nursing school is both a challenging and life-changing experience. Between balancing your family life, coursework, and clinical, there are some days where you feel like you're at the end of your rope. Knowing how to stay healthy in nursing school will help prepare you for a rewarding career. Research has found that a significant number of nursing students nearing the end of their program experience physical health problems, extreme levels of fatigue, and burnout because of the pressure, stress, and long hours of studying and clinical rotations.
Making your mental health a priority is an important factor in your success as a nursing student and can help you develop great habits for staying healthy as a nurse. The following are eight steps you can take to help maintain good mental health throughout your nursing school experience.
Schedule Time for Self-Care
Self-care can be one of the most important things you do for yourself. As a nurse, you will be spending your life caring for others, but it is just as important to care for yourself. Being on your feet for hours during clinical rotations, running from patient to patient can wreak havoc on your physical health, so make sure to see your doctor for any unusual aches, pains, or symptoms that you might have.
It is also essential to take time to ground yourself. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi can give you the tools to calm your anxiety before an exam, relax after a long day at the hospital, and help you keep a clear head when you feel overwhelmed.
Nursing school can be very stressful, despite its many rewards. It might feel like you don't have enough hours in a day to do your schoolwork, learn your practical skills, study for certification exams, and practice self-care. However, you don't need to carve out hours a day – just 10 or 15 minutes a day to drink a cup of tea and read a newspaper, take a hot shower, meditate, or call a friend might be all you need to recharge and ground yourself.
Prioritize Good Sleep
As a student in nursing school, you likely have pulled a few all-nighters studying for exams. However, as a nurse, it is essential that you can think clearly, have good reflexes, and be able to make critical life and death decisions with very little time.
Sleep deprivation, a common occurrence in both students and nurses, can cause a multitude of problems, including poor eye-hand coordination, difficulty staying awake during the day, high blood pressure, heart disease, slower reflexes, increased irritability, and a lowered ability to think and react quickly. Sleep deprivation also increases anxiety and lowers your ability to cope with stressful situations.
While it is difficult to get a good night's sleep every night, try to make quality sleep a priority. Create a relaxing sleep routine in the evening to help you destress and unwind after a stressful day at school. In addition, avoiding caffeine and using television, computers, or your phone in the evening can help your body fall asleep quicker and have a more restful sleep.
Join a Study Group
Some of the best people to support you through your nursing program are other nursing students. In addition to the mental health benefits of socializing, you’ll also be likely to learn more. After all, you're all in the same situation. Joining a study group can give you a group of like-minded peers that understand not only your coursework but also the stress of nursing school. Together, your group can prepare for exams, debrief after difficult clinical days, and cheer each other on as you achieve various milestones in your program.
Socialize with Friends Outside of Your Nursing Program
Just as it's important to make connections with peers who understand what you're going through, it's just as important to spend time away from everything related to nursing school. Your friends outside of your nursing program may not understand what day-to-day life is like for you, but that offers you an opportunity to have conversations that don't revolve around books, symptoms, or grades. Separating school from your outside life can help produce positive mental health outcomes for nurses.
During holidays and breaks from school, try to make a point to reconnect with neighbors and friends over dinner, on a trip, or even during an evening workout. Nursing school can sometimes feel isolating, especially if you feel like you're always too busy to go out with friends and have fun, but spending even a few hours during school break socializing with friends can be just what you need tend to your mental health and be ready to tackle another semester.
Find Time for Exercise
As a nurse, you might feel like you are constantly doing cardio exercises throughout your entire shift running from patient to patient. That might be true, but by taking time in the evenings or on weekends to engage in exercise, you enjoy can help you combat stress, avoid burnout, and keep up your strength and endurance for those marathon work sessions.
Frequent exercise is important for increasing your flexibility, endurance, stamina, balance, coordination, and strength. In addition, it can help reduce depression, improve mood, decrease feelings of soreness and pain, and improve memory. Each of these important benefits will help you not only feel better but also be a more efficient and capable nurse!
Avoid Self-Medication with Drugs or Alcohol
One of the dark secrets of nursing is that research has found that there is a higher rate of addiction among nurses than in the general public. Alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana addiction are some of the most common forms of substance abuse in the nursing field. While some might say these substances provide stress relief, nurses know firsthand just how dangerous a substance abuse disorder can be.
There are many reasons for this, including the high levels of stress that nurses face on the job, long working hours, increased pain in the body, grief and trauma after the death of a patient, and feeling overwhelmed by high patient loads or unfavorable working conditions. To avoid falling into the trap of alcohol or drug addiction, it is essential to avoid self-medicating for anxiety, depression, or pain. If you are suffering from mental illness or physical pain, seek help so that you can be properly treated.
Nourish Your Body
As a college student, there are likely days where you have gotten home after a long day of class and work and realize that you haven't had a full meal all day. When this continues, your body will begin showing signs of malnourishment, including poor concentration, increased anxiety and depression, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, confusion, irritability, difficulties regulating your blood sugar, and slowing metabolism.
Eating healthy meals is important for maintaining both your physical and your mental health. Try to eat a healthy meal before class and again before your work shift. Your school's cafeteria likely has options for on-the-go meals, such as fruit, yogurt, salads, or sandwiches. When you meet with your study group, consider meeting in the cafeteria or at a local cafe where you can all enjoy a healthy meal while studying. Finally, pack granola bars, fruits, pretzels, whole-grain crackers, or cottage cheese in your bag to snack on throughout the day to avoid blood sugar crashes.
Seek Professional Help for Grief and Trauma Care
Quality mental healthcare for nurses helps improve our healthcare industry as a whole. As a nursing student, you might have your first real experience with caring for a dying person. It might be a child who fought cancer for years or it could be a new mother who died during childbirth. Regardless, facing death and traumatic situations might cause you to feel grief unexpectedly, and in some cases, you might develop signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It is essential to seek professional help for coping with trauma and grief associated with nursing. There is no shame in talking with a therapist after a stressful situation at work. Some nurses even continue with weekly or monthly counseling appointments to help combat stress and feelings of burnout and to have a safe outlet to decompress and avoid bringing stress home.
It's likely that you are well on your way to a long and successful nursing career. With these eight tips, you will be better able to cope with the stresses of nursing, balance your school, work, and home life, and maintain or improve your mental and physical well-being.