10 Ways Nurses Can Improve Our Overall Health and Well-Being
As Medical-Surgical Nurses, we know how important it is to teach our patients the importance of taking care of themselves, but often that same knowledge does not translate into action for taking care of our own individual health and well-being.
Nursing can be a very rewarding and stressful job at the same time, which can impact our health.
In the recent release of the Future of Nursing 2020-2030 report "Charting a Path to Achieve Health Equity" (Wakefield, 2021), there is a whole section that focuses on supporting the health and professional well-being of nurses. In the report, they shared a snapshot of the physical health of American Nurses, and our results are often worse than that of the general public.
They stated half of the American Nurses are overweight, don't get enough sleep, have poor nutrition, and have negative consequences of shift work with mandatory overtime and long hours. It also shared that an estimated rate of 35 to 45% of nurses experience burnout. (Wakefield, M. et al., 2021) Do some of the results hit close to home? Should this report be like you or your co-workers?
What can we do today as Medical-Surgical nurses to start to impact ourselves and our co-workers to improve our overall health and well-being? The Future of Nursing Report has challenged employers to invest and protect nurses' health and well-being so they can, in turn, support the well-being of others. It is important for our employers to improve workplace conditions, but we are also responsible for identifying our own needs and strive to improve our health and well-being.
What are some small things we can start doing today to improve our individual health and well-being?
Where do we begin?
I created a quick top 10 list to help inspire us, including myself, to take some time to improve our health and well-being.
- Eat healthy or healthier: Nurses can benefit from good nutrition to help us lead healthy lives by making healthy food choices to help manage stressors, maintain weight at a healthy level, and improve energy levels (Reed, 2014). One way to help prepare healthier meals was to have a plan and make meals for the week on your day off. With meals already created, it is easier to grab and bring to work versus the poor choice of grabbing fast food or snacking.
- Physical activity: If you are not currently very active, I am not saying to sign up for a couch potato to 5K race. Start small to increase some type of physical activity several times a week. Go for a walk, ride a bike, go swimming, participate in some activity you enjoy – then it will not feel like you are exercising.
- Plan a vacation: Taking some time off from work to go on vacation has been shown to increase happiness, creates better sleep habits, boost cardiovascular health, reduces stress, and most important, it is fun! I always have a vacation or time off planned on my calendar to give me something to look forward to, especially on those tough days at work. It can even be a weekend trip or plan to do things locally if you are unable to travel.
- Get enough sleep: In the Future of Nursing 202-2030 report, it shared that 60 percent of nurses report getting less than 7 hours of sleep each night. It is recommended we get 7 to 9 hours each night. Sleep is essential to improve our overall health and well-being.
- Hobby: Having a hobby that we enjoy brings us joy and enriches our lives. Hobbies help to relieve stress, engaging in something you enjoy, and helps you relax. A hobby does not need to be a big, time-consuming project. It can be as little as reading a book, cooking, scrap-booking, or gardening.
- Service/serve: This one might surprise you to go and provide some kind of service. You might be thinking, I don't even have time to take care of myself, and now I need to find time to provide service to others. Serving in simple ways can help others in need and has been shown to improve your health and happiness. Volunteering connects you to others, helps decrease depression, increases self-confidence, and provides a sense of accomplishment. Serving others provides you with creativity, motivation, and vision that carry over into your personal and professional life.
- Attend music in the park, community events: Look in your community for local events and plan to attend one. My community has free concerts every Friday and Saturday in the park. It is a great way to go and relax, be outside enjoying the sun, and listen to some great music.
- Schedule dinner to catch up with friends: The COVID pandemic severely limited the ability to meet up with friends for dinner with all the restaurants closed. Everything is starting to open again. It is time to catch up with our friends over dinner or some other activity. Nothing helps improve my well-being than great conversations with a lot of laughter with friends.
- Have an activity with co-workers outside of work: Schedule an event with your co-workers to gather outside of work. Having a work picnic or backyard party is a great way to support each other in a less formal setting.
- Take time for mindfulness: Participate in a mindfulness activity such as deep breathing, yoga, or meditation exercises. Taking 15 to 30 minutes a day to turn off all the noise of electronics can make a huge difference in caring for ourselves and increase our overall health and wellness.
Wakefield, M. et al. (2021) The future of nursing 2020 – 2030: Charting a path to deliver health equality. Doi: 10.07226125982
Reed, D. (2014). Healthy eating for healthy nurses: Nutrition basics to promote health for nurses and patients. The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing 19:3. DOI: 10.3912/OJIN.Vol19No03Man07