In anticipation of Nurses Week, on May 1st
the ANA launched its “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge
” initiative, designed “to help nurses improve their overall health and challenge the rest of the country to do the same.” It’s a worthwhile effort – lord knows we can all use healthier habits in our lives.
As nurses, we work long hours. It can be on our feet doing direct care, attending meetings and writing budgets and working on staffing issues, traveling on public transportation or dealing with traffic to visit patients at home, or teaching the next generation of nurses. In my case, it’s spending hours on a computer, conference calls, and frequent travel to meetings. Then, after work, we go home and take care of others and other things – household bills and repairs, managing growing families, or going to school or even to other jobs, exercising, (notice I put exercise last…) – and then fall into bed wired and exhausted. In the morning, there’s coffee or diet cola to get us up and running and we do it all over again.
- When was the last time you went outside just to experience the sun on your face or take a leisurely walk?
- When was the last time you did something just for yourself?
- When was the last time you did something fun with your kids during the week?
- When was the last time you can say that you had a good night’s sleep and woke up feeling rested?
We have the data that show that we need to pay attention to how we take care of ourselves. Research published in AJN
on health promotion practices of nurses
noted that 66% of the nurses reported too many competing priorities; these nurses scored lower on spiritual growth, interpersonal relationships, and stress management. We also know that most of us are chronically sleep-deprived -- in another article in AJN
, The Potential Effects of Sleep Loss on a Nurse’s Health
, the author cites studies that reveal that daily sleep time for nurses was less than six hours, and that many nurses work 15 hours or more a day, or more than 60 hours a week. And we know that fatigue translates into a higher risk for making errors.
Work-life balance is an elusive goal, at least it is for me and many people I know. It’s run, run, run most of the week; catch-up on things we didn’t get to on the weekends and squeeze in time for family and friends. We are often our own last priority when it comes to healthy practices. A health scare a few years ago caused me to rethink how I work, and while I still don’t have ideal work-life balance, I’m doing a few things that are simple and easy to work into a schedule.
Here they are in case they are helpful to you:
- Always eat some kind of breakfast, preferably protein and low carb (you’ll avoid that mid-morning slump. My go-tos: hard-boiled egg, peanut butter on a piece of whole wheat bread, a scoop of cottage cheese with some fruit).
- Walk around the block (or two) at lunch time or, if too busy, before you head home.
- Park further away than you have to – walking even a little is better than none. Take the dog (or invite your partner or a child) for an evening walk
- If feeling very stressed, remove yourself (even if only to the bathroom) and take a few minutes to take a few deep breaths, get a drink of water, and clear your head.
- Listen to music on the way home from work. I find it helps me make that transition and I arrive home more relaxed.
- Don’t check email or social media or use a computer or tablet before bed (I know – it’s hard). Give yourself at least an hour to wind down before sleep.
- Try to get 7 hours of sleep each night.
We make appointments and commitments with other people and consider ourselves dependable and responsible when we keep them. We need to feel the same about taking time for ourselves. Make an appointment with yourself to walk, work out, read, see a movie – anything that will give you time for yourself – put it on the calendar, and honor that commitment just as you would others. You owe it to yourself.
Shawn Kennedy, MA, RN, FAAN
Editor-in-Chief, American Journal of Nursing