The Caregiver’s Guide to Planning for Retirement

The Caregiver’s Guide to Planning for Retirement

As a nurse, you spend most of your life taking care of others — but who’s going to take care of you when it’s time to retire? A Fidelity Investments Money FIT Nurses Study revealed that 56 percent of working nurses don’t feel confident when it comes to financial planning. The same study found that 41 percent of nurses who don’t have confidence about financial planning cite lack of time to focus on financial goals as the reason. Cultural differences and language barriers can further stand in the way of working nurses as they strive to save for the future.

It’s tough being a nurse because you’re pulled in different directions every day, but taking the time to put your financial ducks in a row for retirement will pay off big when it’s time to hang up your scrubs for good. Here’s how to get started or bolster your savings efforts while there’s still time.

Know the Lingo

There are several programs that can help you save for retirement. These include 401(k)s or 403(b)s in the case of tax-exempt workplaces, like hospitals; IRAs; and Flexible Spending Accounts. If you don’t know the difference, now’s the time to learn the language of personal financial planning.

IRAs, which stands for individual retirement accounts, are funded solely by you whereas 401(k)s are funded partially by you. Employers typically offer matching 401(k) plans. For example, if you elect to contribute 5 percent of your earnings to a 401(k), your employer may match that rate, netting you an extra 5 percent in savings for retirement. In 2017, you can contribute up to $18,000 to a 401(k) account if you’re under age 50. You get an extra $6,000 if you’re older than 50.

On a related note, think carefully about your health care needs in retirement, especially if you’re not quite ready for Medicare, which starts at age 65. A high-deductible health plan paired with a health savings account may help you keep monthly premiums low while allowing you to save for unexpected medical emergencies. Understanding the different benefits and drawbacks to retirement saving options can be confusing, so it’s wise to talk to a financial adviser about your choices before committing to just one plan.

Start Right Now

You don’t need to set aside thousands of dollars right away. Make small changes, and focus on simple, achievable steps so that you can reach big milestones later. Here are a few simple ways to improve your saving habits:

  • Start planning – today! Writing down your savings goals is the first step to implementing them.
  • Focus on eliminating debt – you can aim to get each credit card paid off individually, try transferring your balances to one card, or negotiate lower interest rates.
  • Cut back on unnecessary expenses – can you eliminate some small charges here and there, like a Netflix or Spotify subscription? Are you sure you’re getting the best deal on your cell phone bill? There’s more than one way to whittle down your monthly discretionary spending, so it can pay to get creative!

Nurses may tend to think less about their own future and more about the immediate needs of their families, such as paying tuition for adult children or taking care of elderly parents. However, you can’t take care of your loved ones if you don’t have any funds after you retire. Estimate how much you’ll need to live on comfortably once you stop working, and build a plan based on that figure.

Find a Support System

It’s critical to find a financial adviser who can guide you through this process. There’s no need to settle either. Seek out recommendations, do some digging and interview prospective advisers with the same scrutiny that you’d use to find a lawyer or doctor. A good financial planner will help you sort through your current finances, identify areas that need improvement, set up a solid retirement plan and answer your questions as you go. Look for advisers with the right credentials too, such as those certified by the Financial Planning Association.

Don’t let unfamiliarity about financial planning keep you from living the retirement life that you’ve earned. As a working nurse, it’s important to find a financial adviser who understands your unique needs and can get you on the right track. Start early, do your homework and be diligent about saving. Your post-retirement life will thank you!

6 Ways to Practice Mindfulness

6 Ways to Practice Mindfulness

Does your mind easily wander? Do you find yourself performing tasks at work without much thought? Research shows that people spend almost half of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, which weakens their performance, creativity, and well-being, according to Harvard researchers.

If this behavior describes your mindset, you belong to a club where membership only requires habitual ways of thinking, doing, and feeling. The bad news? It’s not a great place to be. Mindfulness – with all its benefits – is where you want to head.

Mindfulness, which means being focused in the present moment, can strengthen your job performance as well as your mind, body, and spirit. Mindfulness engages your senses to allow you to participate fully in daily tasks.

So how do you achieve it? Here are six steps to practice moment-to-moment awareness at work.

1. Reflect and plan.

Start the workday by focusing on your organization’s purpose and how you contribute to it by being present and engaged. End each day by preparing for the next to help avoid anxiety or procrastination.

2. Relax.

Slow down. Set aside five minutes daily to breathe. For a minute or two, breathe deeply. Focus only on inhaling and exhaling. Consider adding a few minutes of stretching, which allows more oxygen into your body and encourages blood flow.

3. Walk more.

Concentrate on the sights, smells, and sounds that accompany your movement. If you can, spend a few minutes walking outside to observe nature.

4. Feel thankful.

Once a day, take a few minutes to think about an accomplishment or something else that fills you with gratitude. Practice finding joy as doing so you can change the direction of your day.

5. Enjoy your meal.

This sounds simple, but how often do you think about what you consume? Try to taste each ingredient or observe how thoroughly you chew.  Pay attention to your food and how it makes you feel.

6. Breathe when there’s a ring or ping.

Instead of instantly reaching for a ringing phone or pinging computer, take several breaths before responding. Emails and calls raise stress levels, research shows. It’s important to pause and calm down before reacting.

Mindfulness is the antidote to multitasking and possible burnout. With practice, you can build your mental muscles to keep your mind from wandering and engage in what’s happening right now. That’s a win for you in and out of the workplace.

World Hepatitis Day Raises Awareness

World Hepatitis Day Raises Awareness

To shine a light on a deadly disease, World Hepatitis Day on July 28 gives this chronic liver infection the attention it deserves.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people worldwide are afflicted with hepatitis B (240 million) or hepatitis C (80 million). The infections contribute to approximately 1.4 million death annually, numbers similar to deaths caused by tuberculosis, HIV, and malaria. World Hepatitis Day calls attention to these staggering numbers, but also shows hope that the disease can be eliminated.

In fact, the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis is an aggressive goal to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. Like other communicable infections, hepatitis is hard to control.

According to the sector report, the five strains of hepatitis infection (A, B, C, D, and E) can occur through different transmissions. Hepatitis B and C are blood-borne and can be spread through tainted medical practices, injections including drug use, mother-to-child at birth, and sexual contact. Hepatitis D is also blood-borne and only infects those with a co-infection of hepatitis B, so is preventable. Hepatitis A and E are spread through unsanitary food and water conditions. Neither of these causes a chronic infection and so do not pose a threat of long-term liver damage including cirrhosis and liver cancer, but can be miserable to cope with.

Luckily, hepatitis A, B, and E are preventable with a vaccine series (and hepatitis D by proxy of receiving the B vaccine series). There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, although it is preventable and new treatments can cure up to 90 percent of infections.

The challenge comes because hepatitis infections have not received the traditionally high attention of other communicable and preventable, although equally deadly diseases. Many people aren’t aware they are infected and can spread the disease unknowingly, and access to affordable, preventative vaccines and health care, accurate medical information, and government funding is spotty at best in some parts of the world.

Nurses can use World Hepatitis Day to inform patients about hepatitis infections and about their risk for infection. Remind them that hepatitis infects people globally and can happen in anyone—even sharing a razor with someone who is infected puts you at risk because of the potential exposure to bodily fluids. Talk to patients who might be at obvious risk (those who received blood transfusions, those who could be traveling to countries that might have active A and E problems, or those who have been IV drug users at any point in their lives or sexual partners of past or present IV drug users). Also have conversations with those whose risk is less obvious (those who might not discuss unsafe sex practices, who could have been infected during an unsanitary tattoo or piercing).

Discuss topics like prevention through available vaccines and safe practices around sexual activity, preventative hygiene habits (not sharing razors, toothbrushes), and drug use. Also be willing to guide patients to available testing and have some information about current treatments.

With such a push to end the threat of hepatitis across the globe, nurses can do their part from the close relationships they develop with patients. The earlier hepatitis infection is detected, the greater likelihood of starting treatment that can be potentially life-saving.

How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

How to Spot Mental Health Distress in Patients

Mental illness is a major health condition affecting millions of American families. With no regard to education, age, class, family, ethnicity, or gender, mental illness can impact anyone’s life and often has widespread effects.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and helps spread the word about the higher risk of mental illness in minorities own lives and the real barriers minorities face to receiving timely, high-quality, and accessible care.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA), rates of mental illness impact minority communities in greater numbers. Culturally, many minority communities have a greater stigma associated with mental illness, so people have a hard time speaking up or admitting they need help. If they do decide to get help, the barriers for finding high-quality, accessible, and affordable care can be insurmountable.

As a result, nurses might routinely see patients who have symptoms of mental illness but won’t address it. Most of these conditions are treatable with the right help, so it’s important to let patients know about available resources or even that what they are feeling is a true biological illness, not something that they can just get over or take care of on their own.

The American Psychiatric Association and the Mayo Clinic offer these indicators that might signal something more serious than a passing phase. Experiencing one or two of these symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, but if symptoms are interfering with someone’s ability to perform their normal functions, take care of themselves, work capably, or hold meaningful relationships, then they need to get help.

What are some signs and symptoms to look for?

  • Feeling sad, down, or hopeless
  • Excessive anger or an inability to cope with stress
  • Anxiety, feelings of guilt
  • Withdrawing from social activities, friends, family
  • An inability to keep up with grades or normal work quality
  • Sleeping too much or an inability to sleep
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Extreme mood changes – highs and lows that are beyond average
  • Increased or troublesome use of drugs and alcohol
  • Feelings of being disconnected or experiencing delusions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Many people experience sadness or mood changes throughout their lives. A bad day at work can make you grouchy, and family problems can make you sad and anxious. But lingering problems with these feelings and those that impact daily life need attention.

Be on the lookout for any of these symptoms in your patients and listen to the ways they might express them. If they are in danger of harming themselves or someone else, immediate help is necessary, so call 911 or get your emergency team to respond immediately.

Above all, reassure your patients that, like any other medical illness, mental illness is something that is treatable and nothing they are at fault for. A little compassion can make a huge impact.

 

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

July Is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental health issues affect millions of families in the United States, and families struggling with the issue often have a hard time finding the right care to help tehir loved ones.

This month, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) focuses the spotlight on Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by talking about the discrepancies minorities dealing with mental health issues face and the complex web those who care about them must navigate to get help.

Minority Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the struggle of minorities living with a highly treatable, but often stigmatized illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health to achieve a balanced, healthy life, and the Office of Minority Health notes that mental illness impacts minorities at a greater rate than whites.

Minorities who live with mental illness often face barriers to care that, throughout the nation, can often prevent them from getting tratment of any kind. Depending on the community in which they live, access to high-quality mental health care can be hard to find. With the best teaching hospitals and clinics often located in big cities and psychiatrists and mental health counselors scattered throughout regions, gaining access to help is tough. According to NAMI, language barriers, cultural bias, and resources that don’t fill the need for care also get in the way of people getting essential treatment.

Even in the best situations—if someone has access to care and the insurance to pay for it—some minorities find a rigid cultural stigma against mental health issues. The stigma can be so complex and overwhelming, that it’s enough to keep someone from getting the help they need. If someone has the determination to find proper care, continuing with it can be a lonely struggle, so good support and follow through is especially necessary.

As a nurse, you can help in a couple of ways. With your direct, hands-on caregiving of patients, you can help assess if the patient might have mental health issues underlying their other health concerns. Sometimes, it’s obvious. Erratic or harmful behavior is an obvious warning sign, but more subtle signs can easily be brushed aside: a patient who comes in routinely for aches and pains but nothing is physically wrong, a new mom who mentions her struggle to care for her newborn, the young man who says he can’t sleep for days and then sleeps for three days in a row, or an elderly patient who feels a sense of hopelessness and loneliness after a health change.

All these smaller signs are red flags that something isn’t right and that your patient may be struggling with some form of mental illness. Because there are so many different types of mental illness and so much variation in severity, a front-line nurse can bring in the mental health team for an assessment. They can continue to advocate for the patients to understand the issues they are facing, whether it is lack of care, inability to access care, a cultural belief in mental illness as a personal flaw or weakness, or family that is not supportive or understanding. Communicate what a kind of positive impact mental health treatment can have on their lives and well being.

Showing compassion for patients and a cultural understanding of why they may be reluctant to be diagnosed with a mental illness can have a lasting, positive impact on your patients as well. Let them know they are not alone and that your team can help them find help. They may still refuse, but an open attitude might bring them back.

Understanding the challenges of mental health care with minority populations is important. These complex issues can prevent someone with very treatable forms of things like depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder from growing into a worse problem. Earlier treatment makes a big difference, helps people live better lives, and can prevent a mild form of illness from developing into a more complex and harder-to-treat condition.

5 Steps to Squeeze More Time Out of the Day

5 Steps to Squeeze More Time Out of the Day

Does it ever seem like you just don’t have enough time in a day? Lots of us feel this way and it’s no wonder. With jobs, school, families, friends, community, and other obligations pressing at us, it seems like having a few extra minutes is a dream.

Maybe it’s not about needing more hours in a day, but using the hours you have in a more productive way. Using time management skills is important no matter how you spend your days, and it’s incredibly easy to lose time on the most mundane and routine things.

Time management is like managing a household budget. You have a certain amount of something and you need to be as economical as possible. You time is valuable, so you might as well find ways to use it that make you feel good. How can you squeeze more time out of your day? Time management helps you get and stay on track.

1. Figure Out How You Spend Your Time

For a whole week if you can (or even a few days if you can’t do a whole week) try to record how you spend your time. You have 24 hours each and every day. What are you doing with them? Use your phone, a notebook, even your desktop to try to track your time. What do you do when you get home from work? How much time do you spend on things you don’t really get value from? If you love your hour on Facebook every night, that’s valuable to you. If your hour on Facebook leaves you feeling like you wasted time, you probably should pay attention to that feeling. The next time you log in, set a timer for 10 minutes and then log off.

2. Analyze Your Hours

Look at the hours you have jotted down and try to figure out where you are losing time. Do you spend more time commuting than you realized? Did you have unexpected trips to the grocery store because you ran out of lettuce? Do you end up spending much more time than you ever realized waiting for your kids?

3. Figure Out What You Want to Change

You might feel like you don’t have time to cook, so you grab take out on the way home. But if you take a look at the extra time it takes to stop for dinner, you might find you can re-adjust your food prep and actually save yourself time (and money) in the long run. A rotisserie chicken and bagged salad takes minutes to turn into a filling and healthy dinner and you can pick it up during your normal grocery run. Are you picking up prescriptions for family members three times a week? Do you have no time to exercise because everything else gets in the way?

4. List Your Priorities

Time management experts often say that when you don’t have time for something, it’s just not a priority for you. And while that comment can feel sharp, it’s often true. When people are too busy to exercise, they are often just pushing their own needs to the bottom of the list. Very likely, if your partner, spouse, kids, or another family member asked you to do something that might chew up that time, you’d probably say yes. What’s important to you?

5. Set and Keep a Schedule

Planners work for a reason—they really help you organize your time and make more efficient use of what you have. Writing down what needs to get done each and every day is a great start, but to be especially efficient, write down when you will do it as well. Catching up on bills? Block off 30 minutes. Driving to work? Time it over several days, so you know your average. Where can you schedule a 30-minute walk or yoga session?
Understanding how you spend your time now helps you figure out where you are wasting time. That 45 minutes you spend waiting for your kids to come home from a friend’s house so you can take them to chess club is valuable time. You could easily lose hours a week in chunks of wasted time like that. If you could catch on bills while you are waiting or organize your mail pile, you’ll have freed up some time elsewhere to enjoy on things that are important to you.