Few careers provide the satisfaction that nursing does, but it can really put you through the emotional wringer. For the sake of your own mental health and that of your family, you need to find ways of leaving what you’ve seen and heard at work behind you when you go home. These techniques will help you to do that.
Make a Clear Distinction Between Work and Home
Nursing is one of those professions that it’s hard to step away from, even for a few hours. It becomes part of who you are. This can make it difficult to let go at the end of a shift and to stop thinking about the work. Rituals can help with this — anything from going for a coffee to reading a book on the subway on your journey home. They help to create a boundary between the two worlds. Try not to talk or think about your work when you get home, and make sure you always have something — no matter how small — to look forward to doing.
Talk to Your Colleagues
The nursing community is strong, and nobody will understand what you’re going through better than your colleagues. Sharing your feelings about a difficult experience immediately afterwards can help you to process it and move on. It will also remind you that your work is valued, and it can be particularly helpful if you’re struggling with feelings of guilt over mistakes you’ve made, because other nurses will remind you that they make them too and that you can only ever do your best.
Focus on the Positive
When you have to deal with losing patients or seeing a lot of suffering, as many nurses have during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by it. What’s important is to make sure you spend at least as much time thinking about the good things. Think of the patients you didn’t have much hope for who went on to beat the odds. Think of the ones who were scared who you managed to cheer up, and think of the way patients have thanked you. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you’re doing amazing work and people love you for it.
Take Control with Difficult Patients
Some patients, of course, are ungrateful or downright unpleasant. Some are physically aggressive or sexually harass the staff. Dealing with this can be very dispiriting, but experienced nurses find it easier because they learn the skills needed to take control of situations and effectively reduce such behavior. Make sure you know the protocols your work has for dealing with it, insist on getting training if you need it, and remember that when a patient mistreats you, it is never your fault.
Take Care of Your Own Health
As a nurse, it’s easy to spend so much time caring for others that you neglect yourself. The healthier you are, the more mental energy you will have for managing your emotions. This makes it vital to eat well, with plenty of fruit and vegetables. If possible, eat healthy snacks throughout the day to keep your energy levels up, and make sure that you stay well hydrated. If this isn’t possible, choose foods with long-chain carbohydrates which release energy slowly, like breakfast cereal, bread, wholemeal pasta and rice.
Work It Out of Your System
Nursing jobs are often intense and can mean spending a lot of time on your feet, so exercise may not sound very appealing, but a quick workout during your lunch break or even at the end of your shift can make a huge difference to how you feel. It speeds up your metabolism, flushing out stress hormones, and satisfies the instinct to fight or flee which you have to suppress when you’re dealing with distressing situations. It provides immediate relief from emotional burdens, and if you’re studying on a training course or a PhD nursing program, you can listen to recorded lectures while you exercise.
Consider Professional Counselling
It’s great to have family and friends who will help when you’re feeling low, but they shouldn’t have to deal with your work stress all the time and depending on them for that can actually be counterproductive. It makes it harder to separate home and work. One of the positive things to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in the availability of online counselling, which is easy to fit around busy or irregular schedules. A professional counsellor can provide the support you need without suffering as a result.
Finding techniques that work for you will help you to stay on an even keel no matter what you have to deal with. You’ll be able to escape the worst of the lows and still enjoy the highs.