SMOOTHER SAILING: 8 WAYS FOR TRAVEL NURSES TO DE-STRESS THEIR LIVES
It’s indisputable: The life of a travel nurse can be filled with adventure, new friends and rewarding work that can make you feel you’re making a difference in the world.
Of course, the very work that’s rewarding can also induce its share of stress. A recent study published by the National Institutes of Health outlines the intermittent challenges of nursing, including conflicts with co-workers, workload demands, difficult patients and interaction with sickness and death. It points to a survey in which 92% of nurses reported moderate, high or very high levels of work-related stress, with only 8% reporting low or very low stress levels.
“It’s impossible to remove all stress from the work life of nurses,” the authors conclude. “(But) nurses with higher levels of coping self-efficacy to cope with professional challenges are more likely to stay in the nursing profession, work hard while on the job and perform their job tasks effectively — even in the midst of challenges and high stress.”
In that spirit, here are some tips for minimizing stress and strife in your career as a travel nurse.
- Stop expecting perfection. Just do your best, and expect no more from others. “Being ambitious is great, but aiming for perfection is unrealistic, impractical and debilitating,” writes Lolly Daskal on Inc.com. “The moment you start thinking ‘This needs to be perfect’ is the moment you need to remind yourself ‘Waiting for perfect is never as smart as making progress.’”
- Work it out. Many nurses walk, lift and/or move a lot over the course of a typical day. Even so, you’ll likely feel best if you regularly engage in stress-busting exercise that gets your heart rate up. The American Heart Associationrecommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity weekly, plus moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least twice weekly. In the NIH nursing stress story, 69% of respondents said they get no regular exercise.
- Be your own counselor. After a bad day, give yourself a pep talk based on what your most supportive friend or family member would tell you. There’s an entire school of thought dedicated to the power of such self-talk. “I've seen firsthand what happens when people learn how to change their thought patterns,” writes cognitive behavioral therapist Amy Morin in Psychology Today. “Not only do they feel better, but their behavior changes too.”
- Get plenty of sleep. The days you could party late then get up at the crack of dawn without feeling the effects are likely long gone. Hit the hay early enough so you don’t go into mourning when the alarm clock goes off. Supplementary lunch-hour naps can also be a beautiful thing. In the NIH study, 78% of respondents got fewer than eight hours of sleep each night.
- Prioritize your own health. Keep appointments for regular physicals, see your doctor when you suspect something is wrong and advocate for your own well-being at all times. That may mean anything from eating healthy to getting frequent massages to scheduling time off when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Vent to a trusted friend. “Whether it’s sorrow, anxiety, anger or frustrations in general, repeatedly holding in what may need to come out has been related to compromised health — physical, mental and emotional,” writes Clinical Psychologist Leon F. Seltzer in Psychology Today. “The immediate feelings of relief derived from such letting go can hardly be overstated.”
- Schedule enjoyable activities. It’s important to counter stressful work with leisure activities that make you happy. A different NIH study shows those who frequently engage in such activities report greater life satisfaction, life engagement and social support, lower depression and improved blood pressure, BMI and waist circumference.
- Avoid self-medicating. Turning to a crutch like food, alcohol, drugs or even caffeine can be a common response to stress and/or depression, but of course it typically causes more problems than it solves. In the NIH nursing stress article, 63% of respondents said they eat more food in response to stress, 73% said they eat more junk food than usual and 13% use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Another 22% defined themselves as binge drinkers. If you think you’re following patterns of self-medication, you may need to seek other coping mechanisms and/or see your doctor.
Finally, remember to celebrate the great patients you encounter. It’s a given that certain patients are going to bring down your mood and/or cause unwarranted stress. In fact, NCBI research shows as many as 15% of all ambulatory patients seen by U.S. medical personnel are perceived as difficult. But it’s important to remind yourself that negative behavior is not about you, and to focus on those who are grateful for your help.
“We witness miracles in life, and we witness miracles in death,” notes one Utica College article. “We create lasting memories, some bittersweet, with our patients and our patients’ family members and we are also afforded the opportunity to bless countless lives.”