Beat Stress, Recharge Your Career by Striking a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Flexibility and a willingness to say “no” are essential for nurses who seek to achieve and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
By Meredith Foxx, MSN, MBA, APRN, NEA-BC, Executive Chief Nursing Officer
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All professionals need to find balance between work and home. Having balance is a good way to maintain a healthy mind, body and soul; live your personal and professional values; and get more joy and satisfaction from life.
Achieving and maintaining balance can be a special struggle for nurses, who are regularly exposed to mentally and emotionally exhausting events, including trauma and death. Some days, it can be hard to leave “work” at work. Nurses also face the physical challenges that accompany long hours, busy shifts and overtime. And given their empathetic nature, nurses often have a hard time saying “no” when someone needs their help, which can lead to compassion fatigue.
To find balance, nurses should make choices that favor both work and home. Think of it as work-life flexibility. Your time between work and home may not always be equal, but it should be fluid. The following steps may be helpful for maintaining balance.
No one can do it all. Recognize and accept that. We don’t require superhuman feats from others, so we shouldn’t require them from ourselves. Schedule time for fun (put it on your calendar!) and go on vacation. When you’re not at work, do the things you enjoy — the things that bring you peace, the things that keep you grounded.
Exercise is something that is essential to my own work-home balance. On the mornings I exercise, I am more productive at work. Conversely, exercising after work helps clear my head. If I’ve had a frustrating day, exercise is just what I need to improve my mental state. When I don’t have time for a full workout, even a walk around the block can give me what I need. I’m also committed to reading something that is not healthcare-related each day. I often opt for something that is fun, silly or mindless. Finding a guilty pleasure (or admitting you have one) is ok.
At work, keep your values in mind as well as your professional and organizational goals. Join groups that support the things you care about: inclusion, wellness, caregiver safety, employee recognition programs and the like.
If you’re interested in exploring another specialty, shadow other professionals with experience in that area. If you’d like to hone a new skill, take a class or network with colleagues who embody the strengths you admire; invite them to meet you for coffee, and learn more about what they do and how they do it. If you want to advance your certifications or education, do it. There will never be an optimal time to go back to school or earn a new certification, but educational pursuits can do wonders for your career happiness and satisfaction.
Be an agent of change. Nurses are leaders in the workplace. Take a proactive role in creating a balanced work culture. Share your feedback and suggestions with others, create or participate in an advocacy group, and develop or promote helpful resources.
Acknowledging stress and adopting self-care techniques like healthy eating, drinking plenty of water and fostering good sleep habits can improve mental and physical well-being and help build resilience.
Many organizations offer wellness resources for their employees; take advantage of them. Are yoga classes or meditation resources available to you? Is there a dedicated space where you can unwind for a few minutes? Cleveland Clinic South Pointe Hospital recently set aside rooms filled with relaxation tools, where caregivers can decompress.
Take advantage of industry resources as well, such as the Well-Being Initiative’s After-Work Checklist.
There are many simple ways nurses can alleviate stress. One favorite technique of mine is multitasking. I often arrange meetings over coffee or lunch, and I schedule a lot of “walking” meetings. These strategies allow me to accomplish two things at the same time, which helps free up my calendar and temper the fast-paced nature of my days.
Having daily rituals or routines in place can also reduce stress. The five minutes before I arrive at work has become a favorite part of my day. During that time, I turn off the radio and create a silent space. I take a few deep breaths and set my mind for the day. This routine has been a game-changer that energizes me for the work ahead.
When work stress becomes high, consider simplifying your personal life. For a few days, weeks or months, it may be beneficial to cut back on extracurricular activities and responsibilities at home to help ease work pressure and clear the clutter from your mind.
If you say “yes” to one thing, say “no” to something else. Saying no is especially challenging for nurses, who typically gravitate toward helping others. Just because you say yes to one thing and no to the next doesn’t mean you value one opportunity more than another. To maintain balance, you have to make choices that are in your own best interest.
And things can easily change based on current life events or circumstances. I love reading and meeting with my book club, but there are times when I have to miss those gatherings because of work or family obligations. Saying no doesn’t mean that book club isn’t important to me; it simply means – in that moment – my priorities need to shift.
Maintaining balance isn’t something nurses have to do alone. It is key to find trustworthy mentors and colleagues with whom you can be vulnerable. Collaborate with other nurses and explore ways to simplify systems or workloads, share information, delegate or streamline tasks, and use technology to make your job easier.
If you are a nurse leader, set an example that encourages balance. I’ve found that sending emails on evenings and weekends can imply that employees should always be available. Even if a response isn’t needed, team members may feel compelled to reply. I recently added a statement to my email signature that reads: “My working hours and yours may be different. Please don’t feel obligated to reply outside of your normal working hours.”
Taking steps to improve work-life balance helps us all be the best versions of ourselves.