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8 aspects of self-care to help you achieve a better work-life balance

Studies show nurses provide better care when your wellness is at its peak

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Finding balance between work and home can be tricky but is essential to maintaining your mental and physical health — specially, after a difficult shift.

Why should you prioritize a work-life balance? According to Concorde, to reduce burnout, improve health outcomes and manages stress. Studies have shown that nurses who struggle to achieve it could face an increasing need to leave their hospital.

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Self-care can offer you an opportunity to decompress after a long day. The American Nurses Health Association Health Risk Appraisal found that nurses provide better care when their wellness is at its peak. In other words, you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself.

According to RegisteredNursing.org, there are eight aspects to self-care: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, personal, professional and medical. Here are a few suggestions to help with each aspect:

Mental: To boost your mental health, consider journaling. Studies have shown journaling at least three days a week can reduce mental distress and depressive symptoms and improve well-being.

Physical: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intense physical activity. Exercise strengthens your muscles, sharpens your focus, raises your mood and improves sleep, among other benefits.

Emotional: During a long, difficult shift, you have gone through varying emotions. That’s why it’s important to learn how to cope with both positive and negative feelings. According to the National Institutes of Health, resiliency is one of the most important qualities to remaining emotionally well. To achieve this, strengthen your social life, practice gratitude daily, look at problems from different perspectives and practice mindfulness.

Spiritual: Taking care of your spiritual health does not necessarily mean that you have to be religious. It means you acknowledge a deeper meaning to life that in turn can give you a stronger purpose in your daily life. According to AdventHealth, tapping into and improving spiritual health could be practicing meditation, reflecting on messages from a book of quotes or a religious text, praying, or setting intentions for your day.

Social: Did you know that having strong social connections can improve your longevity? Humans are social creatures, so it’s no surprise that maintaining close friendships is good for your overall health. To prioritize your social health, eat lunch with co-workers or meet with friends, add social events to your calendar, reach out to a friend you haven’t talked to in a while, plan a date night, or spend a day just with your children.

Personal: This aspect refers to cultivating your own interests and honoring what you enjoy doing most. Fostering your identity outside of work allows you to get in touch with yourself, and take part in hobbies that can reduce stress and depression. Take time out of your day or week to treat yourself, pick up a new hobby or try something new.

Professional: Organizing your professional life can help you stay on task while at work, improve productivity and makes sure work doesn’t travel home with you. RegsiteredNursing.org recommends decluttering your work bag, cleaning and ironing out your scrubs before your shift, create career goals, help others on your staff and they will return the favor, arrive a few minutes early and take that time to focus on breathing or mindfulness, and avoid calling co-workers after your shift ends.

Medical: Think about the things you recommend for your patients. Now, assess if you follow your own advice. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you eating healthy? When was the last time you received a checkup? Are you exercising often? If you feel yourself lacking in any of these, focus your attention on them and take your own or your co-worker’s medical advice to improve your medical health.

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Setting boundaries

While it may feel uncomfortable at first, setting boundaries can help with maintaining a healthy relationship with work. Did you agree to take on an extra shift? Come in early? Stay later than usual? Notice how your body and emotions respond to your actions. If you came in early and you’re feeling anxious, moody, tired or annoyed, chances are a boundary is being crossed. If you feel enthusiastic, happy or fulfilled by such a decision, then maybe you can think about going that extra mile. Before deciding to take on extra work, reflect how it makes you feel and practice saying no. Taking on too much can increase burnout, so it’s important to be mindful of what you can do.

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Recognizing barriers to work-life balance

Putting others’ needs before your own is a part of nursing. However, this can lead to increased stress, and previous research has shown that stress signals an imbalance in your relationship between work and life. According to research published in Sage Journals, there are a few barriers in the profession that can get in the way of achieving a work-life balance. Theey include:

  • Nationwide staffing shortages that put extra work on nurses
  • Unregulated shift lengths that cause nurses to work overtime
  • Exposure to potentially dangerous environments
  • Discounting your own needs while taking care of others
  • Lack of control in your work environment

The research suggests: “Nurses must learn to nurse the nurse within. By doing so, nurses can be role models for their colleagues. Nurses can use their own knowledge and skills to improve their (work life-balance). Nurses need not wait for changes in hospital policy or nurse–patient ratio legislation or leave their hospital positions to improve their WLB; nurses have individual power.”

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