Achieving the ideal work-life balance is something that we all strive to accomplish, even more so in a profession where you are so used to putting the needs of others before your own. Whether it may be the long overnight hours, irregular routine or minimal breaks, neglecting your own physical and mental wellbeing can easily be done. Nevertheless, now more than ever, taking the first steps to creating a healthy work-life balance as a nurse is vital, and we hope that our top tips will help on this important journey.
Why Is It Important To Maintain A Work-Life Balance As A Nurse?
According to research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive, a vast 12.8 million working days were lost throughout 2018/19 down to stress, depression or anxiety. This has been heightened during the current climate, in the healthcare sector in particular, with 9 in 10 nurses admitting that they are feeling far more stressed and anxious. It is for this reason that if you are struggling to switch off from work, which admittingly can be incredibly tricky, you should put in place ways that will help you to maintain a steady work-life balance.
Making time to rest and recharge before a full day at work is just as important as turning up to your shift. There are a few small changes you can make to gradually help improve your work-life balance for not only yourself but your family and your patients. By not identifying the need to adjust your work-life balance, and then not acting on it, you can risk adverse long-term effects on relationships, work performance and both your physical and mental health. Here are some simple tips aimed at helping you to achieve an improved work-life balance as a nurse:
- Practice Effective Time Management
- Invest In Self Care
- Make Time For Exercise
- Re-Evaluate Your Diet
- Have Downtime From Your Phone
- Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help
- Try To Leave Work Behind
Time management can be one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome when taking on any healthcare-related position, and in return, this leads to overtime most days than not and little time to relax. With so many conflicting demands and patients which are relying on your care, when is it time to head home for the day without an instant feeling of guilt? The key is to take time to determine the most productive way of working for you, allowing you to complete your tasks for the day without having to rush around during the last hours attempting to make sure that you can leave on time.
There are a wealth of different ways that you can adapt to a new, more convenient schedule, not only achieving successful time management but also keeping stress levels low without compromising on patient care quality. The first is to arrive at your shift ahead of time, ideally around 15 minutes early, as this will give you plenty of time to organise your day. You will be able to read through patient reports and any handover documents from colleagues before putting together a schedule. Begin with any tasks that must be allocated to a specific time, such as administering patient medication, then work your other to-do’s around these, beginning with those that are of the highest priority before moving down the list. Be sure to schedule your breaks into the day as this is vital in ensuring that you remain productive, calm and stress-free.
For more helpful time management tips for nurses, head over to our previous article. Alternatively, if you are a member of our medical agency as a locum nurse and finding that your shift patterns are making a healthy work-life balance impossible, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your consultant. They will be able to discuss your situation and find the best fitting solution to fit your requirements.
In a role that is focused on caring for others, it can be challenging to reciprocate this when it comes to caring for yourself. However, investing time in your own self care will always play a pivotal role in your work-life balance, allowing you to enjoy your time outside of nursing.
Self care is a term that we hear on a regular basis and has quickly gained a reputation for meaning treating yourself to a shopping trip or a pamper night, for example. And while for some this may play a part in their self care, the real definition is merely taking care of our mental, emotional and physical health, which is often easier said than done as a nurse. This makes it essential to begin your self care journey by taking a look at what is causing the most significant impact on your mental wellbeing. For many in the healthcare industry, this may be constant guilt when something doesn’t go to plan. In this instance, developing coping strategies to deal with situations that are out of their control will be the first step. Others, on the other hand, may find it almost impossible to say no, meaning that they often miss out on important leisure time, so their mission will be to become better at making decisions that benefit themselves only. For more self care activity ideas, head over to our previous article.
After a busy day on the ward, exercise is likely to be the last thing on your mind, but taking time to focus on your physical wellbeing can massively improve your work-life balance. Exercising gives you time to release any built-up stress while giving your mind something to focus on aside from work, allowing you to psychologically detach yourself from the pressures of the day. Ideally, exercise is best scheduled for straight after work, whether you head to the gym after your shift, go on a run or complete a home workout. Of course, you must listen to your body so if you have just finished a 12 hour night shift, for instance, this may not always be feasible. However, if you are able to get into the routine of exercising three times a week at a minimum, then you will most definitely reap the benefits and notice your ability to “switch off” from work improve.
With irregular shift patterns and long days, keeping a balanced diet can feel almost impossible. However, it is essential to ensure that you are feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to remain energised. Not only will this help you to care for patients but also keep you feeling refreshed on your days off, allowing you to make the most of your time outside of work spending time with loved ones.
Although it can be tempting to treat yourself to a takeaway after a stressful day or grab a chocolate bar from the ward vending machine, these will only leave you feeling sluggish and lethargic. The moment that you get home from work, all you will want to do is head to sleep, meaning that you will miss out on valuable time with your family or exercising. This is just one of the many culprits of causing you to fall into the “work, eat, sleep” routine, leaving no time for your personal life. Keep these as one-off treats and instead, focus on nutritional meals which your body will most definitely thank you for.
When improving your diet, steer clear from strict “fad” diets which are based on stripping away essential food groups which are seen as “unhealthy”. Fats, carbohydrates and dairy are all necessary to keep your body healthy, so try to base your meals on incorporating as many food groups as possible. If you have a particularly busy week, consider preparing meals in advance so you can simply grab them from the fridge on your way out. The British Nutrition Foundation has put together a helpful guide on how to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, along with Nurse.com, which has a host of quick nutrition tips aimed at nurses.
We are all guilty of spending far too much time on our phones; in fact, the average time that people spend on their phones is a massive 3 hours and 15 minutes every single day. Now while there is no harm in taking a scroll through social media, more and more research is proving how much of a negative effect those small devices are having on our health and wellbeing. Not only can smartphone overuse impact your posture, eyesight and hearing, but constant notifications can also cause anxiety to worsen. In addition to this, the light emitted from our phones and tablets is known to suppress melatonin and will disrupt the natural rhythm of your sleep. Lack of sleep will have a significant impact on your productivity, meaning it is more than likely that tasks will take far longer during your shift, forcing you to stay later.
To combat device-related stress, it is vital to give yourself downtime each day to step away and focus on thoroughly unwinding. Whether it may be spending an hour on your favourite hobby or getting stuck into a new series, you would be surprised how much you can de-stress when you do not have your phone in your hand. You should also aim to switch off your phone just half an hour before you head off to sleep as this will help you to drift off into a deeper sleep in minimal time.
As mentioned previously, stress amongst those in the healthcare sector has inevitably increased due to the pressure, uncertainty and demand of the pandemic. If you find that your responsibilities have become overwhelming and you cannot switch off when away from work, then do not be afraid to ask for help. This can be in the form of counsellors, self-help books, talking to family members or even online therapy. Talking to therapists and counsellors can not only help to unburden yourself from some of the stresses of work but also your personal life, making you happier in all areas of your life. While on your shifts, you could also ask colleagues whether they would be able to help you out and take a few tasks off your hands. Remember that you are all in the same position, so colleagues will recognise and empathise with your stress.
For those who have found the pandemic particularly impactful on their wellbeing, national mental health charity, Mind, has partnered with leading charities to provide 24/7 support to those working against COVID-19. Our Frontline offers both one-to-one support and online resources around-the-clock for frontline workers.
Having spent many years in the medical recruitment industry, we recognise that one of the hardest things to do is leave work behind, especially after a shift filled with challenges. The key is to find a gentle transitional routine that works for you, allowing you time to reflect on your day before “switching off” from nurse mode and enjoying your personal time. Whether this may be taking deep, mindful breaths to calm the body as you travel home or writing a list of tasks for the following day before you leave, it is all about finding what works for you. If you are stuck for inspiration, then Real Simple has put together advice on how five successful people transition from work to home.
Beginning Your Journey To A Healthy Work-Life Balance
As one of the leading medical recruitment agencies, we work alongside nurses on a daily basis, many of which transition to the locum route to achieve a better balance between work and home. It is important to keep in mind that improving your work-life balance as a nurse takes a little bit of time and some self-determination. It is easy to get caught up in a continual circle of work and forget to make your own needs a priority. With the addition and implementation of these tips, hopefully, you can achieve the perfect balance between life and work.