Nursing is a fast-paced industry, and plans for achieving a work-life balance can sometimes go out the window. Nurses are pulled in several different directions — and this was the case even before the pandemic. They must multitask and communicate daily with various patients, co-workers, and other healthcare professionals. So, it is no surprise they are sometimes bogged down with pressure and burnout.
According to a 2020 Nursing World survey, roughly 62% of nurses experienced burnout during the pandemic. Nurses work and live in two distinct microcosms. In one sphere, they are caregivers prioritizing patient needs. In the other, nurses are caring family members and individuals seeking fulfillment in their personal lives. When their worlds collide and nurses cannot balance the contrasting demands of work and their wellness, personal needs, and family, it can lead to inner turmoil, physical and mental issues, and burnout.
How can you balance life’s demands when family members, personal goals, and a nursing career compete for attention? While navigating these two disparate domains, you can begin the journey by being honest with yourself and identifying what a balanced life looks like. As you’ll soon read, your two worlds may not be as detached as you think.
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What is Work-Life Balance in Nursing?
Work-life balance in nursing does not necessarily mean separating your time into 50% work and 50% fun, nor does it mean completely dividing these two halves. Instead of looking at one’s nursing and personal lives as two competing halves, you can view them as one massive cake with different layers and textures. There will be days when one area of your life takes priority, like when you are asked to cover a shift, and that is okay, so long as other areas of your life are not neglected for too long.
Nurses are notoriously selfless, which is a noble and admirable trait. However, it can easily make nurses feel they are on the job 24/7. Achieving and maintaining a healthy work-life balance in nursing is essential for several reasons. As mentioned above, there are times when working in healthcare can be stressful, so nurses must take good care of their personal needs beyond the workplace.
Taking time for self-care away from nursing responsibilities can reduce stress and significantly benefit your health, mood, workplace performance, and mental well-being. When you reduce the feeling of overwhelm, you can think clearly, engage more actively, and feel better overall. This ultimately translates into improved patient outcomes since you can effectively perform your duties and responsibilities. Moreover, it also reduces medical errors, ensures care continuity, and improves overall productivity.
Tips for Maintaining Energy Levels and Productivity
There is a strong link between workplace productivity and work-life balance. How well a healthcare organization ensures its physicians, nurses, and other personnel live healthy and happy lives outside of work is often reflected in productivity. So, nurses must ensure enough hours in the week for different responsibilities to maintain energy and productivity levels.
Create a Personalized Plan
There is no way to schedule the perfect work-life balance, but you can create a personalized plan by establishing your goals and priorities. The problem with most nurses chasing work-life balance is they expect an ideal balance all at once. This is only a recipe for failure since an individualized change process will require you to build on small successes to achieve an overall goal.
For instance, if you want to spend more time with your significant other, you can start by planning meals around the dinner table rather than eating separately. Once you’ve nailed that down, you can move into other more complex goals, such as creating a specific work schedule and sticking to it as much as possible. Although circumstances such as overtime are unavoidable, having a work schedule allows you to maintain energy levels since you typically work at a scheduled time.
Bringing work home is one of the problems in nursing constantly discussed while working toward your degree at a prestigious academic institution like Spring Arbor University. This is especially true for nursing leaders wanting to do as much work as possible to move on to another set of tasks the following day. Many nurses fall prey to doing more in less time, intending to produce a high output volume. After all, this looks like productivity at one glance. However, that couldn’t be far from the truth, as this can be a formula for burnout.
In nursing, productivity is not how much more you can do but what you can do less. Identify and analyze your unique interference patterns so you can get rid of them. This ensures you are staying within your to-do list and not overwhelming your brain to perform faster since doing so accomplishes less than you would if you only have a few tasks daily.
It would also help if you learned to say no to additional work. While saying no can sometimes make you feel selfish and guilty, setting boundaries is essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. You must understand that saying yes can sometimes increase your stress levels and make it difficult to practice good self-care. So, give yourself the right to say no when the situation calls for it, without feeling any remorse or guilt.
Develop a Steady Fitness Routine
Keeping a healthy balance between work and personal life can be immensely difficult for nurses, let alone developing a steady fitness routine. A recent study reveals roughly 46.3% of nurses need to be more engaged in physical activity despite the dynamic nature of their roles. What makes this even more alarming is that nursing has extreme physical demands linked with high rates of musculoskeletal issues.
One way to avoid these risks and de-stress from the monotony of nursing work is to develop a steady exercise routine. Exercising releases “feel-good” chemicals like serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals can lower feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, help enhance memory, and provide happiness and euphoria.
In addition to cognitive health benefits, regular exercise can improve immunity, sleep quality, bone health, focus, quality of life, and pain management and allow for weight loss and maintenance. With a healthier body and a better mood, nurses can maintain their energy levels in stressful and fast-paced environments while achieving productivity. While no nurse has a one-size-fits-all exercise regimen, participating in at least three hours of moderate-intensity workout weekly, equivalent to 75 minutes of intense physical activity, is recommended.
However, it can be challenging to get motivated between fatigue from working a long nursing shift and finding time to exercise while the gym is open. So, you must know your body and habits to learn the best time to exercise. Once you’ve done that, you can sign up for a 24-hour gym and go before your shift to maintain your fitness while energizing yourself for the long shift ahead.
When going to the gym is not an option, you can do short and intense workouts around your nursing shifts. For example, run fast for a few minutes, walk for a minute, and repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. A few minutes of focused exercise is often better than a half-hearted time at the gym as it can improve motivation and reduce stress.
Schedule Rest and Sleep Time
Rest is often undervalued and even demonized within nursing circles, yet it’s what nurses need the most to replenish their energy. Recent data shows roughly 55% of American nurses feel guilty about taking a break because they think they must always be on call. This guilt is often worsened because working long hours is often glorified in today’s hustle culture, but this can do more harm than good, as a series of skipped breaks threatens patient and staff safety.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine reveals poor sleep can cost an organization $1,967 per employee annually. Because shifts cannot be eliminated, the challenge is to build strategies to make critical healthcare services available 24/7 while keeping nurses healthy and everyone around them safe. Sleep often gets the short end of the stick when your day is too full.
That said, begin scheduling and prioritizing your rest time to protect your mental and physical health, increase energy, and improve your quality of life. Try to keep your schedule as consistent as possible before and after workdays. However, if you work night shifts, you must plan additional time for sleep on your days off to give your body time to settle and rest more. Alternatively, you can take frequent, short breaks to rest every one or two hours during demanding work to combat fatigue.
Concentration and productivity are vital traits for a successful workday when working up to 12-hour shifts. By getting sufficient rest, you can improve your memory and stay focused on what is most important. Moreover, getting enough sleep gives you that added boost to fight off viruses and avoid getting sick on the job. Although there are several ways to achieve a healthy work-life balance and sound sleep, an excellent way is to avoid unhealthy shift patterns.
Even amidst the existing nursing shortage, nurses should not be assigned more than three consecutive 12-hour shifts. The human body takes time to recuperate from a long workday, and putting nurses in this situation can lead to burnout. Patient care quality also suffers when nursing professionals work multiple shifts or too many hours in succession.
A recent study reveals stress, increased workload, fatigue, and working nights are the main reasons for medication administration errors. The same data added working over 12 straight hours or more than 50 hours weekly accelerated nurse medication error frequency. So, nurse leaders must monitor the number of shifts and create a work environment where they allow their team members to decline to work overtime comfortably. Doing so empowers nurses to perform at their best and create a balanced schedule to meet their obligations outside of work.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Striking an excellent work-life balance goes beyond building a daily exercise routine or scheduling rest time. Nursing can be stressful with long hours, demanding physical labor, sleep deprivation, and rotating shifts. Given its physical and mental demands, nurses must eat healthy to perform at their best. However, it is common for nurses to grab something from the vending machine or go through the drive-thru after a long shift.
Worse still, night shift nurses find themselves overeating due to stress and pressure. All these unhealthy eating habits can lead to health deterioration. One way that nurses can achieve work-life balance is to maintain a healthy diet. Clean and healthy foods contain nutrients your body needs to work correctly. When the food you eat supports how your body functions, you’ll have more energy to become more focused at work. You can complete tasks efficiently and enhance overall productivity if you are more focused.
But if you work in shifts, you know it can be challenging to find time to eat. Therefore, nurses must establish a healthy eating routine to make healthier decisions before they get hungry. Nurses fall into bad habits because they don’t plan their mealtimes, resulting in them snacking on less nutritious foods during their shifts.
Planning your meals ensures you do not skip mealtime. Recent data shows roughly four-fifths of doctors and nurses skip meals, with the latter eating only one meal daily at work. This sounds hugely alarming as skipping meals could drop your blood glucose level, adversely impacting your concentration. Conversely, eating a single meal may contribute to calorie loading and overwhelm your body with something it does not need and cannot handle.
When nurses plan their meals, they can see how much they are eating, find ways to improve their food choices, and promote healthy snacking. By eating healthy, nurses can increase energy levels, improve cognitive function, reduce absenteeism, and achieve higher productivity and morale.
Achieving a Good Work-Life Balance in Today’s Fast-Paced World
“Work-life balance” is a phrase often thrown around, but only a few implement it. By creating a plan, developing a steady fitness routine, prioritizing rest, and maintaining a healthy diet, nurses can strike a good work-life balance, manage stress better, and become more productive at work.