It’s no secret: Nursing is a demanding profession, with extended or rotating shifts, and little down time for rest. Your best bet is to take care of your own body and mind through healthy habits.

Self-Care and Stress
As a nurse, you may overestimate your strength, and underestimate your fatigue. The solution may be as simple as taking care of ourselves as we would others. Go get a drink of water. Go to the bathroom. Go to lunch. Take a deep breath. Take a walk. Take time for yourself. 

Nutrition and Stress
Telling yourself to “eat healthy” may not be enough. You know to walk right past those donuts, and yet stress may be causing you to compulsively reach for sugary, salty, or fatty foods. It also doesn’t help if you’re starving, because you didn’t eat breakfast, say. Or you’re trying to survive on 800 calories a day. Or a raw, vegan diet of mainly coconut milk.

Make sure you stockpile nutritious snacks to keep energy levels from dipping between meals. Some examples of healthy fare that’s easy to grab and go: An apple, a handful of whole almonds, or a PB&J sandwich.

As to those meals, try batch cooking on one of your days off, then freezing individual portions that you can brown bag to work. A one-pot meal of a hearty beans and vegetables stew fits the bill. (Saves you some greenbacks, too.)

Physical Activity and Stress
Regular physical exercise results in long-term health improvements almost too numerous to detail. It relieves mental and physical stress, lowers the risk of depression and memory loss.  Aerobic exercise strengthens heart and lung function. Physical activity can also slow weight gain, a common side effect of stress-induced overeating. It may also improve the quality of sleep.

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Best of all, activities such as walking, biking, and hiking, can be a lot of fun.

How can you fit in physical activity when you work a 12-hour shift? Most likely you can’t. But the good news is you don’t have to. Just increase your movements – even minor ones, such as puttering and fidgeting – and you can still enjoy many of the benefits of exercise.  A good rule of thumb: Never lay when you can sit. Sit when you can stand. Stand when you can walk.

Sleep and Stress
Try to get six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Your mind and body will function much better when you do. Poor sleep saps your energy, clouds your thinking, and skyrockets your anxiety level.  If you can’t get enough proper sleep, experiment with simple fixes until you can. Adopt a restful bedtime routine (warm glass of milk?) and decorate your bedroom with blackout blinds and a white noise machine.

What healthy habits have you put into practice to manage stress? Do tell! We’d love to hear about it.

Jebra Turner is a health reporter and former H.R. director for an ergonomics-focused firm, where she oversaw workplace health and safety training programs for staff and clients. She lives in Portland, Oregon, but you can visit her at

Jebra Turner
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