Wellness Off the Clock: How Nurses Can Stay Active and Eat Right

Wellness Off the Clock: How Nurses Can Stay Active and Eat Right

As a nurse, you provide an incredible service for your patients. However, while caring for others, it’s too easy to forget to care for yourself. If you’re in that situation, it’s time to make a change. You may be more susceptible to health issues than others, so you must prioritize your wellness, which you can do during your off-time and at work. Here is some advice for why your health is so important and how to stay active and eat right during your busy life.wellness-off-the-clock-how-minority-nurses-can-stay-active-and-eat-right

Why Wellness And Nursing Must Go Hand-In-Hand

Although most nurses spend a lot of time moving from place to place, it’s still a sad fact that obesity is more common in the nursing field than many may think. The reasons are numerous. 

While nursing is rewarding, it can also be stressful, as you have to ensure that your job is performed correctly, or the patients may have complications. Nursing burnout is a very real thing. Working in stressful environments can cause chronic stress, which can disrupt your hormonal cycle and lead to overeating. Nursing also requires long hours, which can reduce the chances of getting enough sleep at night, and a lack of sleep can affect your metabolism. 

The obesity epidemic is often more dangerous for African Americans. Studies show that African American women have the highest rates of obesity when compared to other groups in the U.S. That’s bad because people who are overweight are also more likely to suffer from different physical ailments, including high blood pressure and potential blood clots. 

There’s also an anxiety component to consider. Worrying that you’re doing what’s right one hundred percent of the time can be very stressful, and an unhealthy diet can compound those issues. Staying healthy, exercising, and being kind and helpful to others can help you stay level and mentally stable during a high-pressure job.

Exercise When You Can

When you have a busy schedule, you need to fit in some form of exercise whenever possible. Luckily, there are ways to squeeze in fitness throughout the day, starting in the morning. If you’re crunched for time and cannot go to the gym, but you have a garage at home, try doing a short workout there. 

You can maximize your garage workouts by doing quick exercises that require little to no equipment. Various programs include 15-minute core workouts, push-up variations and routines, and many beginner exercises that use no equipment. Another idea is to invest in a recumbent or upright stationary bike and put it in the garage. Then, you can work out while reviewing work and job reports to prepare for the day.

Making small adjustments in your routine when you’re at work and at home can help you perform many exercises, including ways to get more cardio. Park further away in the parking lot, take the stairs instead of the elevator, do calf raises, and stand instead of sitting whenever possible, and you’ll likely notice great results over time.

There are also opportunities to exercise if you work the night shift. Like in the day, you can count your steps and walk more during your shift or practice push-ups or sit-ups during lunch. It can be hard to stick to your workout regime when you’re alone, so get your other nurses involved by having a group workout or yoga routine at some point during the night after the patient’s needs are met. You’ll be more likely to follow your exercise regime if you do it with others.

Nutrition Is Key

As a nurse constantly on the go, stopping for a healthy meal is likely challenging. Instead, you may be tempted to get a quick treat from the vending machine or fast food so you can eat and go. However, while food like that may temporarily fill you, many of those items include trans fats, which can make you feel sluggish and are also bad for your overall physical health..

What you need is a plan. You must have your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, fish, and berries whenever possible. In addition to being the building blocks of a healthy body, many of these food groups can also give you energy to help you stay alert and active when you get to work. 

Most people need a proper routine to fit this food into their lives, so start one. Think about what you want to eat, then go to the grocery store and pack your lunch for work each day—that way, you know that you have healthy food that you can turn to throughout your shift. That way, you know that you have healthy food that you can turn to throughout your shift. It would help if you also packed your lunch with healthy snacks that you can fit in your pocket. A bag of almonds will be tasty while giving you a boost of energy. Granola bars and roasted chickpeas will do the same.

As you likely tell your patients, it’s also vital that you drink enough water throughout the day. At least 8-12 cups. Bring a reusable water bottle with you or keep it at the nurse’s station so you can be reminded to drink, stay healthy, and avoid dehydration. 

Conclusion

As a minority nurse trying to make a difference in your patient’s lives, you must take care of yourself in your off-time to stay strong throughout the day. Finding ways to stay active and eat right will make a big difference.

Making Self-care a Priority

Making Self-care a Priority

As a nurse, youre empathetic and compassionate and go out of your way to ensure you provide your patients with the best possible care. But when it comes to looking after yourself, self-care may get prioritized far down the list – or not at all.making-self-care-a-priority

Such a mindset may be harmful to you and, ultimately, your patients. Nurses are great patient advocates, but “we do need to start advocating for ourselves because you can’t keep helping everyone. Then you dont have anything left in your reserves,” said Linda Roney, EdD, RN-BC, FAAN, associate professor, Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, Fairfield University.

“I think you have to be selfish, which is hard in a selfless profession to balance, but I think that is one of the ways that we can keep ourselves healthy. You have to prioritize yourself,” said Crystal Smith, DNP, RN, NE-BC, director of the medical-surgical unit at Childrens Nebraska.

As healthcare professionals and organizations celebrate Nurses Week with its theme of Nurses Make the Difference,” now is a perfect time to assess your attention to self-care. In this article, well offer practical strategies to help you care for yourself.

No Perfect Time

When it comes to self-care, one of the biggest lessons for me is that self-care is not a one-size-fits-all,” said Roney. Nurses need to be aware of their unique needs.

Another awareness is not to wait for the perfect time for self-care. Roney said you can work on small, incremental changes” for five or ten minutes that can accumulate over a day. You might try habit stacking”: combining a potentially burdensome task with something enjoyable, notes Roney.

Days Off and Zen Dens”

Smith meets with her new nurses at Childrens Nebraska in Omaha to discuss a self-care plan. If a nurse is struggling, Smith can consult the nurses plan and see the measures that might help that person.

One self-care policy at Childrens Nebraska allows nurses to take a day off if they need to recharge—if your tank isnt full enough to come in and give all of yourself that day,” said Smith. There are no negative repercussions should a nurse choose to do so.

Nurses are also encouraged to disconnect completely when they need a break. Its very hard to get away from the work when youre at work,” Smith explained. Nurses are encouraged not to take their work phones on break but to trust that the staff can handle the patients while away.

Another self-care tactic involves Zen dens.” When the hospital opened a new tower two years ago, these rooms were built into each unit. Zen dens have a lock, a massage chair, essential oil diffusers, books, and low lighting. A nurse can connect a phone to a speaker to play quiet music. You can go in there and decompress how you need,” said Smith. 

Smith noted that accessibility of these Zen dens is key. We as organizations have always had places for people to do that, but never right on the unit. It’s tough to get a nurse or even a doctor to leave the unit where their patients are without any way to communicate with them.”

Added to these measures is a Thrive” team, a department dedicated to employee wellness, noted Smith. Two members of Thrive are Howie, a golden retriever, and his handler, David. They may, for instance, join the staff for a debriefing after a difficult patient or family situation. Besides Howie and David, Thrive has a team of trained peer supporters and group facilitators available 24/7 for clinical and non-clinical team members.

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Howie, the golden retriever, and his handler, David, make their rounds

Whats more, staff are encouraged to go home after a death in the facility. Death in general is very hard, noted Smith, but I would say especially in pediatrics, its usually very traumatic. To expect the nurse who just went through that with a family and a patient to turn around then and take an entirely new patient, the mental load of that is really heavy. And so, to the best of our ability, we try to give them the option to go home.” At the same time, the facility understands that a nurse may want to stay at work instead of going home as a way of coping.

Back to Basics

As a nurse, you also need to take to heart the common-sense advice you probably give to patients about self-care, such as the following:

  • Sleep and downtime. You may want to spend some downtime on your phone, but be wary of it, noted Roney. You feel as if you are relaxing and having a positive experience. But all this time is going on, cutting into your sleep/wake cycle.”
  • Nutrition and hydration. If you talk to any nurse, most of us would agree we would put our needs after our patient, so there are many times we might miss a lunch break, or we may eat several hours later than we usually do because there might be something going on with our patient and we need to put their needs first,” said Roney. As a solution, really be intentional and plan on bringing your meals and snacks to work.” Stay hydrated throughout your shift, noted Roney.

Simple measures such as making sure to take your breaks, eat your meals, and use the bathroom regularly while on shift are a start for self-care, according to Sarah K. Wells, MSN, RN, CEN, CNL, clinical practice specialist, practice excellence team, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). Next, prioritize quiet times and activities that bring you joy each day.

Moments of Gratitude

Practicing gratitude can also help with self-care. In talking to an experienced nurse who was struggling, Smith told her, You guys have to remember that the tiniest things you do make the biggest difference.”

Smith says, Sometimes we must find and center ourselves around those tiny moments of gratitude. Its easy to leave work and feel like your entire day was terrible. But really, you probably did many good things throughout the day.”

Keeping Burnout at Bay 

Keeping Burnout at Bay 

Burnout can steal the enthusiasm, satisfaction, and joy that prompted you to become an NP. It can rob you of the joy of caring and potentially deprive your patients of the care they need.

As a nation, the U.S. can ill afford to have NPs burn out. A national survey of U.S. adults conducted by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) in April 2023 found that more than 40% of respondents have experienced a “longer than reasonable” wait for healthcare. In a press release, 26% of those surveyed reported waiting more than two months to gain access to a healthcare provider. NPs, notes the AANP, can help fill that void.

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At the same time, NPs deliver more of the care patients receive in the U.S., according to a study published in September in The BMJ. From 2013 to 2019, the researchers found the proportion of all traditional healthcare visits

delivered by NPs and physician assistants (PAs) increased from 14.0% to 25.6%.

We’ll look at some factors that cause burnout and ways to prevent it from diminishing your enthusiasm or leaving practice entirely.

First, let’s take a brief look at the signs of burnout.

Signs of Strain 

Burnout is characterized by emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, notes April N. Kapu, DNP, APRN, ACNP-BC, FAANP, FCCM, FAAN, immediate past president of the AANP. A practitioner can feel less valued and lose interest in their work.

You may have trouble sleeping, experience tension and stress, and potentially have prolonged feelings of depression, according to Sunny G. Hallowell, PhD, APRN, PPCNP-BC, associate professor, pediatric nurse practitioner, M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing, Villanova University. 

COVID Makes it Worse 

While blaming the pandemic for NP burnout would be easy, burnout was a phenomenon before COVID. “What happened during the pandemic is the phenomenon of burnout, which has been consistently well documented in the healthcare literature for decades before COVID. Those events were exacerbated by the pandemic,” according to Hallowell. “It was already there. It just got so much worse.”

One data point of burnout before the pandemic comes from a study conducted in early 2018, which examined advanced practice registered nurses, including NPs and PAs. It found that 59% of respondents experienced or formerly experienced burnout. The pandemic “really blew everything up,” says Kapu, the study’s lead author, published in the Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 

Forces of Stress

Besides the pandemic, unhealthy work environments can lead to burnout. In those environments, notes Kapu, staff shortages continue to take a toll, overtime may be needed, and there needs to be more opportunity for professional growth, development, or change.

Furthermore, the back-and-forth involving full practice authority for NPs may also cause stress. During the pandemic, various states provided temporary waivers allowing full practice authority for NPs. Since then, some states have reverted to reduced or restricted practice laws. This sends a “mixed message,” notes Hallowell, breeding mistrust, uncertainty, and confusion.

“In states that have moved to full practice authority, we’ve seen an increase in the workforce; NPs enjoy working there,” says Kapu. “We’ve seen those states move up in terms of overall healthcare outcomes. The top five states in the U.S. in terms of healthcare outcomes are all states where nurse practitioners can practice to what they’ve been educated and trained to do.”

NPs might also suffer from stress in dealing with inexperienced healthcare colleagues. “The distribution of healthcare delivery has shifted in such a way that we have a lot of inexperienced folks at the frontline now,” Hallowell notes.

“We need to create a structure to onboard and train and bring these new workers into the work environment, help them develop confidence in their skills, make sure that they’re competent in what they’re doing,” notes Kapu .” We’ve done this as nurse practitioners for years. We have onboarding, orientation, and training programs, and we support them through that so that they feel competent and integrated into the team. They have a supportive environment where they can reach out and ask questions as needed.”

Self-care is Key

When it comes to preventing burnout, tactics involve self-care, notes Hallowell. They include:

  • Rest.
  • Asking for help. Hopefully, you can call on experienced colleagues who can provide emotional support to offset the stress, demands, and mental load of patient care.
  • Requesting training. If you are doing something unfamiliar, ask for education.
  • Exercise.
  • Good nutrition.
  • Having interests outside the profession.
  • Socializing with friends and family
  • Mindfulness.

“We need to make sure that we recognize the signs and symptoms and then determine what will be our change,” says Kapu. “Do we need to work in a better environment? Can we help contribute to making our work environment better? What are we doing in terms of self-care?”

Addressing the exhaustion that can lead to burnout is similar to exercising a muscle, notes Kapu. “You work a muscle to a critical mass and then recover. That’s how it gets stronger. It’s the same thing with stress,” she notes, where some stress is good, but it may get to a point where you have to take time away.

“We have to give ourselves time to recover, to refuel, to constantly check in and say, Am I taking care of myself so I can bring my very best self to my patients?”

Can Kindness Improve Stress Management? 

Can Kindness Improve Stress Management? 

There has been a greater focus on creating healthy work environments in recent years, and nurses deserve kindness, too. Regardless of your nursing position, remember that kindness is still in style.can-kindness-improve-stress-management

If you are a nursing student, new graduate nurse, educator, or chief nursing officer, remember that the foundation of nursing is rooted in caring. I don’t know what has happened to nursing over time, but we must return to caring basics as a nursing profession. Emotional intelligence and empathy can go a long way in nursing.

Research shows that kindness and helping others can decrease stress and benefit our mental health. Demonstrating kindness has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, increase self-esteem, compassion, and empathy and improve your mood.

Being kind to ourselves and caring for ourselves as nurses should be a priority.

Here are some self-care activities you can implement to be kind to yourself and others.

Sleep 

Sleep is truly underrated. It is crucial to get your rest and relaxation.

Healthy Eating

It’s not easy sometimes, but try to look for healthy eating options as much as possible. I know nurses love all things caffeine. However, reducing caffeine can be helpful.

Massage 

Massage can be highly relaxing and stress-reducing. Some nursing positions can be physically demanding, so try a nice massage. Some insurance will cover this as well.

Exercise 

Even if you are not a big workout type, you can at least go for regular walks. Walking outside and being in nature is also relaxing.

Music 

Research shows that listening to 30 minutes of music a week can reduce stress and have physiological benefits such as reduced blood pressure.

Aromatherapy 

Aromatherapy has also been proven to reduce stress. Even having different lotions, such as lavender, can instantly reduce stress.

Deep Breathing/Stretching 

These are easy to do and can only take a few minutes but have powerful positive effects.

Healthcare providers must prioritize putting their health first. Remember to take time off regularly. No job is worth your mental or physical health. It is time we start normalizing taking time off regularly in the healthcare industry. If you are in leadership, please encourage the staff to take time off. When the team feels happy and relaxed, they can be more productive.

Be kind to yourself so that you can have more kindness for others.

With Nurses At The Frontline of Healthcare, It’s Time To Stop Putting Their Needs Last

With Nurses At The Frontline of Healthcare, It’s Time To Stop Putting Their Needs Last

Nursing for me is about making a difference — and every day I’m making a difference in the lives of the people I care for. Take a Monday earlier this month. A patient of mine living with cerebral palsy was struggling to complete her therapeutic exercises. Her mother, clearly frustrated, feared her daughter wasn’t making sufficient progress. Dedicated and caring, the mother also worried that she wasn’t doing enough to help her daughter improve and succeed.

But this young woman was improving — slowly, surely, in ways imperceptible to the untrained eye. “Your daughter can now open both of her hands; all of our hard work is clearly paying off,” I explained, as the mother’s face transformed from hopeless to full of hope. “Your daughter just wants to be independent,” I continued, “and she obviously gets this spirit from you.”

Independence – as much as making a difference – is becoming a bigger focus for me in my career.  The freedom to control my schedule. The freedom to control my income. The freedom to care for my three children. The freedom to care for me.

Until recently, I didn’t really have that choice.

For too long nurses have been treated like afterthoughts. We’re burned out and stressed out – from Covid, from our home lives, from feeling like our needs are always considered last. And this not only impacts our ability to perform, it threatens the effectiveness of the entire healthcare systems we’re so passionately committed to supporting. Yet, the working conditions and rigid schedules have not changed with the world around us.

Over my six-year career in nursing, I’ve witnessed both the indifference and abuse that has become too common in our industry. As a result, our community is suffering. Less than half of the 12,000 nurses recently polled by the American Nurses Association (ANA), for instance, believe that their employers care about them – a mere 19 percent for nurses 35 and under. More than 50 percent of all nurses are also thinking about leaving nursing; a figure that rises to 63 percent for nurses under 35. The latter numbers particularly worry me; with so many of my younger brothers and sisters ready to give up on nursing – and a national nursing shortage only expected to get worse – the future of the profession I love has never felt grimmer.

I know what it’s like to be undervalued in the workplace. I’ve been told by nursing agencies to wait in the cold if my patients are running late. Then when they finally do arrive, I’ve been expected to wash their clothes – even though I’m a nurse, not a housekeeper. I’ve been berated by patients for “moving too slowly” and battled with administrators for adequate PPE safety gear during the height of the pandemic. I’ve been made to feel like a number – a body – by nursing agencies just focused on profits and disrespected by patients and family members aggressively insistent I could just “do more.”

But more must be done to consider our needs, too – both by the nursing industry and the community of nurses to whom we all belong. What we seek is to be seen, valued, and supported in ways that matter.  To be listened to if we are struggling during a hard shift. To hear “thank you” instead of being ignored. To give us tools and resources to take care of our mental health because after the past two years, we need it.

I experienced this kind of support unexpectedly when I found connectRN,  a new platform that matches nurses with health care facilities that need our services. The ability to work when I want, where I want has given me the independence I was seeking, and an opportunity to step away if I need to recharge.  As a mother, this flexibility is more important than ever. I can take on shifts that work with my child-care needs, eliminating the stress that usually occurs when making money and being a Mom collide.  This should become an industry standard, rather than a perk from a digital start-up.

One of the things I value most about connectRN is that they are nurse-first and care as much about our community as the shifts they post. When I joined the platform, I was given access to The Beat, a private community of nurses who also work with connectRN.  It is a safe space to chat with your peers about the things only nurses can truly understand – without the fear of reprisal or retribution. We share stories about hard shifts, give each other support to keep going, and often find “work buddies” in the places we work often. As debates rage around the role of nursing unions, hospitals and agencies must understand that a united nursing community is a better nursing community – better equipped, better prepared, and far better focused on the needs of our patients. With my life far more than just nursing – kids (both teens and a toddler), my extended family, a bit of me time – I feel lucky to be part of this community

For me, personally, The Beat proved particularly helpful when dealing with mental health concerns. At the height of Covid, the community offered telehealth therapy sessions through a partnership to use at our discretion.  To be honest, I never considered I might need this kind of help — no one had ever asked me. But the death of a colleague — a young mother who passed away shortly after giving birth — hit me harder than I’d initially expected. I needed help to process how I was feeling and I took advantage of the offer. To have that support – for free –  made me feel worthy and valued.

Over the past two years, I’ve been struck by a newfound respect for nurses as the Covid crisis continues unabated. Patients and families recognize our role at the frontlines of the pandemic and understand the risks taken daily to help their loved ones survive. What’s needed now is a parallel boost in understanding and appreciation from the hospitals and nursing agencies that power our profession. Because fairer pay, added flexibility, stress reduction, and self-care won’t just improve the lives of nurses, they’ll help ensure the positive patient outcomes we all desire. As nurses, we intuitively understand the necessity of these demands; it’s time for staffing agencies and health facilities to embrace this mindset with equally open hearts and minds.

Health is Wealth… So Manage It Wisely!

Health is Wealth… So Manage It Wisely!

All my life I have rarely been sick, in fact there have only been two times that I can recall. So, about three months ago  when I started feeling bad, it was out of the ordinary.  I did not have any obvious symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, headache, runny nose etc.  I just had a lack of energy and no appetite.  During this time it made me realize that “I would rather have great health, more than any material thing”; not that I do not like nice things or places.  As children, many of us dreamed of growing up and having lots of money, big houses, cars and anything else that money could buy. We were only focused on the “material” things.  There were never any thoughts about our physical or mental health. Health is wealth.

I would rather have excellent health, than all of the money in the world.  If you are sick and cannot get around, what good is having money and things, if you cannot enjoy it? Some people may say that they would use their money to hire the best doctors, but that is no guarantee that you will have good health.  I often think of our patients that we are taking care of in the hospitals and clinics, they are relying on us to give them the best possible care to make them feel better. During this time, they become dependent on the healthcare staff and this may be hard for many that are used to having control of their own lives.  Before you make an assumption that the patient is “difficult” or “hostile”, remember that these are people that were working, taking care of themselves and families and making their own decisions.  We need to include them in all aspects of their care, instead of dictating what will be done.  Although we may have our daily assignment planned, discuss with the patient the Plan of Care and let them have some input on the order of some things, to give them that feeling of control.  We still have to stay on task, but we need to make them feel like adults and not like children being told what to do.  Some people may think that this will interrupt your normal day, but imagine if it were you laying in that bed, how would you want to feel?

I have decided that I am going to enjoy life, spend more time taking care of myself and creating experiences with my daughter. I have been privileged to accomplish a lot of things in my life: writing my first children’s book, starting a home-based travel business, building my photography portfolio, traveling domestically and internationally; all while being a mom and nurse.  We spend a lot of time taking care of others; but we must start taking care of ourselves; otherwise we will not be here for others.

So, the fatigue and loss of appetite that I was having was due to  my Vitamin D level being critically low. I am currently working remotely, so eight hours of my day is spent inside on the computer.  When I get off work, I wait until the sun goes down to go on my evening walk; therefore I was getting minimal to no sun. I am happy that this is a condition that can be easily corrected by diet, taking nutritional supplements and spending a few minutes sunbathing (in moderation).  The benefits of sunlight is that Vitamin D is produced when your skin is exposed to the sun and it is one of  the many vitamins our bodies need to stay healthy, relieve stress and increase energy.

I realized that work will be there; so I have made it a point to sit outside on my breaks and lunch. I am glad to say that I am feeling a lot better now. Never take your health for granted.  You only have one life and you need to make sure to maintain your health.  Take care of yourself, mind, body and spirit. The six best doctors in the world: sunlight, exercise, rest, diet, self-confidence and friends.  Maintain them in all stages of life and enjoy a healthy life.   Remember Health is Wealth!!

 

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