A health nurse is a happy nurse. At the time that I am writing this, the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is wreaking major havoc throughout the entire world. In my home state of Colorado, the governor has declared a mandatory closure of bars, restaurants, coffeehouses, and theatres. I don’t want this post to be all about COVID-19, because I think there are a lot of things to be learned during any highly stressful times. These times are what reveals our true selves whether that’s good or bad (like people getting into literal fights over toilet paper at the grocery store).
Obviously, I am human, I have flaws, and I am not perfect. But I aspire to be the type of person that shines the brightest during the difficult times. I aim to be strengthened by adversity, learn from mistakes, and remain positive during stress. I also try to remind myself that even though work may be crazy for a million different reasons, I still deserve to have restorative days off. If I don’t recharge on my days off, then there is no way I will be able to show up to the hospital with my A-game every shift.
I know this is a stressful time for ALL nurses. Don’t let the craziness of work keep you from maintaining your HEALTHY habits – whether it’s COVID-19, understaffing, a full moon or the apocalypse. When we are stressed, it’s so easy to let those healthy habits die and take up bad habits. Things like laying on the couch, devouring a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, binge watching Netflix while avoiding exercise and anything that resembles a vegetable. I am a full believer in everything in moderation, but stress is good at convincing us to throw our healthy habits out completely.
Instead of stressing about whatever is going on back at the hospital, use your days off to actually have a day off. Yes, stay informed and be prepared, but let yourself relax and practice self-care. There is nothing you can do about what’s happening at work when you’re not there anyway, so you might as well take the time to do some self-care. It’s even more important to practice self-care when things are the most difficult and stressful. Here are three quick tips for maintaining your healthy habits and self-care during those really stressful times as a nurse. Whether you read this during the COVID-19 pandemic or after the whole thing has been figured out, these tips for healthy habits are good for EVERYONE to remember.
Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to any nurse. It can happen at any point in your career – even for new nurses!
Read one of my other posts with a new tool from renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Heim, to prevent burnout.
1. Keep Up Your Regular Physical Activity
For me, that’s running! It’s such a great way to get out of my head and just put my feet to the pavement. It’s time that I get to spend with my dogs. I can listen to a new podcast or get lost in an audiobook or even just focus on my breath and let my thoughts go wherever they want. Physical activity is proven to help reduce stress and increase cognitive focus. Being able to recharge this way on your days off helps prepare you and keep you resilient when you do go back into work.
There are so many ways to participate in exercise. I have always been fond of the very introspective and individual exercises like running and yoga. They help me recharge after I have spent 36 hours in three days speaking to patients, providers, visitors, nurses, and a million other people. If you happen to be stuck at home on your days off practicing social distancing during COVID, you can take an online zumba or kickboxing class, you can practice doing as many push ups as you can, it really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you’re moving your body. Bonus points for dancing like nobody’s watching to some great new music you’ve found.
2. Maintain a Healthy Diet
This means well-rounded nutrients with lots of veggies! Don’t use this stress to allow yourself to just eat junk food. Also, don’t let night shift give you an excuse to just eat french fries and energy drinks. It’s important to have a full range or vitamins and nutrients in your diet. I have always found it really helpful to try to eat a rainbow everyday. This means trying to find a mixture of foods that naturally contain the full spectrum of colors, and thus theoretically most of the vitamins and nutrients you need.
“Eat a rainbow everyday. “
I’m also a big fan of intermittent fasting which helps prevent me from snacking late into the night. This was always a big issue for me because I would think to myself, “well, a few chips won’t hurt,” and then the next thing I know I’ve eaten half a container of salsa. Whether you are vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, keto, paleo, whatever, maintain the diet that works for you and provides you with all of the proper nutrition your body needs. As nurses, I know you’ve all taken nutrition and at least know a little bit about creating a healthy diet.
If you are on lockdown during your days off and all of the restaurants are closed, look up a new recipe and try that – granted only if you can acquire all of the ingredients, you don’t have to get too fancy. Just don’t let the stress convince you to make poor diet choices just because it seems like the easiest or most comforting thing to do. Eat a little comfort food to feel better, and then finish it off with good, nutritious foods.
3. Express Gratitude
Take this time of high stress to remember all of the reasons to be thankful for and all of the small blessings we have in our lives. With all of the bars and restaurants in Colorado closed, it just means that I get to spend my days off with my husband and my dogs. It’s forced us closer (literally) and I am so grateful to have this time with him. It’s nice to remember how much I love him. I get to be thankful that my family and I are healthy and alive.
Nursing allows me to work and still make money even though so many businesses and employees are unable to continue working right now. I get to be grateful for the ironclad job security of nursing. I get to be grateful that even though work is stressful, I get to help people and work with other caring and compassionate nurses, aids, doctors, etc.
One of the biggest things that I think it’s important to remember is that gratitude is meant to be shared. It’s wonderful to take your own personal moments to recognize the parts of your life that you can be grateful for, but it’s also really amazing to express your gratitude to the ones you’re grateful for. Be specific and tell people why you appreciate them and what they have done for you. When you express your gratitude, it doesn’t just brighten your mood, it benefits the one you share it with, too.
Amidst all of the craziness of our busy nursing shifts, it can be so easy to forget why we even wanted to be nurses in the first place. Read my post about how to reconnect to your WHY.
Don’t forget that you deserve to be healthy, too
Nursing can be so hard and so stressful that it’s hard to really leave it behind on our days off. It’s so important to allow ourselves to truly take our time off for ourselves to recharge and practice healthy habits. Especially during the really challenging times like with a pandemic, or understaffing, or any new changes. We need to practice self-care and not let the stress throw off our healthy habits. These three tips are the three main things that help me stay happy and healthy. They help me physically, mentally, and emotionally, and I really hope that they help you stay happy and healthy as well.
Comment below with the ways that help you maintain your healthy habits during the extra stressful times. Subscribe to my newsletter to be the first to hear about my newest posts!
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