15 Strategies to Stay Healthy as a Nurse

Nurse health is a critical issue—and not just for individual practitioners. Nurses can successfully care for others only when they also are caring for their own physical and mental health. Yet, it's not always easy.

Nurses need to step up and take care of themselves," said Susan Letvak, PhD, RN, FAAN, a professor and director of the PhD in nursing program at UNC Greensboro School of Nursing in Greensboro. She added that "systemic changes and investments also need to take place, such as funding for research."

8 Tips to Boost Nurses’ Physical Health

All nurses know the importance of eating a healthy diet, staying well hydrated and exercising, but caring for patients in a hectic environment often leaves little time for best practices. "Long 12- to 13-hour shifts leave no time for self-care," Letvak said. "Nurses need to be more proactive." So, review what you know, and make it a habit to follow these tried and true strategies for boosting nurse health.

  1. Eat before and during your shift. Grab a balanced bite to eat before heading to work, which will give you more energy, and take a healthy snack or lunch to eat during a shift. Reduce your intake of processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Prioritize taking even a short break and offer to cover for each other to make this healthy nurse tactic possible.
  2. Stay hydrated. Nurses need to drink water during their shift. Suggestions for making sure this happens include keeping a refillable water bottle at the workstation and refiling often. Avoid drinking sugar beverages, recommends the American Medical Association (AMA).
  3. Use lifting equipment. Often in a hurry, nurses forsake using lift equipment and that can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. But they should use those resources to help prevent getting hurt.
  4. Exercise. Regular workouts can help to reduce stress and enhance nurse health. Cycling on an exercise bike at home while watching television works for some nurses. Often it helps to join a gym or exercise group and find a buddy to join in your workouts. The main message is to move, perhaps walking the dog before or after your shift. Being outside in nature also has restorative benefits. The AMA recommends adults complete 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity every week.
  5. Avoid caffeine.Consuming caffeine may add some pep to a nurse's step, but it can adversely affect one's sleep. If you plan to go to bed shortly after your shift, those last few hours are especially important to hold off from indulging.
  6. Sleep well: Establish wake-up and bedtimes and practice them consistently. Ensure you receive seven to nine hours of sleep. Solid sleep also will help a nurse’s mental health. Letvak indicated that "a short, 30-minute nap during an overnight shift can enhance a nurse's ability to function for the rest of the time on duty."
  7. Practice infection control: Nurses frequently take care of patients with contagious diseases. Nurses should always follow infection prevention practices. Wear a mask and other personal protective equipment, wash hands frequently, ask patients to mask and teach them respiratory hygiene. Accept vaccines. And very importantly, do not go to work when feeling sick. That will help patients and other nurses' health. "Nurses are exposed to a lot of illness," said Elda Ramirez, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, ENP-C, FAAN, FAANP, FAEN, associate dean and emergency nurse practitioner at UTHealth Houston. "We have the capacity to get really ill if our immune system isn't healthy."
  8. Be mindful of different environments: Travel nurses often find themselves in different communities, with different climates, allergens, and seasonal changes. Therefore, travelers should remain mindful of changes and seek medical help if needed to deal with these changes.
Related: Nightshift Nursing: 10 Tips to Staying Healthy


7 Ways to Mind Your Mental and Emotional Health

  1. Balance work and family life. Work-life balance presents challenges for most nurses, but prioritizing time for friends and family pays off in huge dividends. Keep an organized calendar and schedule time for fun.
  2. Prioritize what’s enjoyable. All sorts of activities can provide a respite from nursing and lead to being a healthy nurse. That can include dining out, bowling, painting, going to children's sporting events, or, perhaps, even shopping. Travel nurses on assignment should take full advantage of their short-term locations to explore and try new things as much as possible.
  3. Find someone with whom to talk. Just sharing the stress and frustrations of everyday life with a good friend can be invaluable to maintaining good mental health. Travel nurses may need to make more effort when away from loved ones and their usual support group, but will find it worth the effort.
  4. Manage stress. The AMA recommends yoga and meditation for maintaining mental health. Deep breathing also can help with stress management. "Stress can manifest itself in physical illness," Ramirez reported.
  5. Learn to say No. Ramirez indicated that "healthy nurses need to learn to say no to requests to work extra shifts or other requests. She reported that younger nurses already are declining to take on more, and more seasoned nurses need to do the same.
  6. Seek professional help. If that friend or family member does not exist or is not nearby, such as for a travel nurse, consider calling your employee assistance program provider or visit another behavioral health professional.
  7. Take advantage of free resources. Many employers, including AMN Healthcare, offer employee assistance programs or other mental health benefits. A partnership with American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the American Nurses Foundation, the American Nurses Association, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association and the Emergency Nurses Association created the Well-Being Initiative, an effort to provide nurses with tools and resources to deal with mental and emotional stress, initially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The digital toolkit includes apps, support services, a self-assessment tool, guides to relaxation and better sleep, videos to help manage grief, and gratitude and coping strategies podcasts.


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