21 Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy and Happy

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21 Ways Nurses Can Stay Healthy and Happy

Caring for others starts with caring for ourselves

By Carole Jakucs, RN, BSN, PHN
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Nurses provide both physical and emotional care for patients, but do we do the same for ourselves? We teach our patients about the importance of self-care on a myriad of topics from wound treatment to overall health maintenance, but at times some nurses place their own health needs on the back burner due to hectic schedules and time constraints at home and work.

Some employers now have workplace-based health programs, but even if your employer doesn’t, you can create your own wellness program by taking charge of your health and integrating self-care into your busy life. Here are some steps you can take:

Create an Exercise Plan
Before you begin, consider your situation, including your schedule, your proximity to work and what type of exercise you prefer.

Determine your exercise personality: Do you have more energy in the morning or at night? How are you best motivated? Do you prefer group classes, private instruction with a trainer or exercising on your own? What is your current fitness level?

Talk to your doctor before you begin any new exercise program; depending on your overall health, some types of exercise might do you more harm than good. Once you’ve considered all of the above factors, you can proceed to create your plan. Here are some suggestions:

1.  Make exercise a priority on your days off. If you do this, it means that you will be exercising at least two days a week even if you do nothing else.

2.  Find a place to exercise that’s close to either your home or your workplace. If you live far from work and have a long commute, look for a gym or dance or yoga studio near your place of employment so that you can exercise before the start of your shift or after work. If you live close to work, consider walking or jogging in your neighborhood either before or after work or find a dance class or gym near your home.

3.  Walk on your lunch break during the workday and take the stairs rather than the elevator whenever possible. It might not seem like much, but it adds up.

4.  Set realistic goals. Don’t be too hard on yourself; you don’t have to run marathons overnight. Take care not to create an overly ambitious plan that is too difficult or stressful to achieve.  It’s also a good idea to set a series of progressive goals. For example, if your end goal is to engage in at least five 30-minute exercise sessions per week, you might start by exercising two or three days a week and adding one additional day every six weeks until you reach your ultimate goal.

5.  Keep an open mind and stay flexible. You might try one exercise plan and find that it’s not working for you. If so, don’t give up — switch to another plan that is more achievable for you. You can find more information on starting an exercise program at www.fitness.gov.

Improve Your Nutrition
Most nurses work in a fast-paced environment and are often short on time, which can lead us to rely on fast food that is high in fat, sodium, sugar and additives. Look for ways to add more lean proteins, fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. With a bit of planning, you can find or bring a healthy lunch and snack to work, which will help you maintain a higher energy level throughout the day and improve your overall nutritional status.

Here are some tips:

6.  Eat a healthy breakfast each morning. This will help prevent overeating and fatigue later in the day. A healthy breakfast menu might consist of whole grain cereal with nonfat milk, slivered almonds and berries; one or two eggs with whole grain toast and fruit; or a whole wheat waffle topped with nonfat cottage cheese, chopped walnuts and berries.

7.  Bring a nutritious lunch. Some examples might include a sandwich on whole grain bread with lean meat, part-skim cheese slices and mustard or a salad of mixed greens with chopped vegetables and part-skim cheese. If you have leftover vegetables, fish or meat from dinner the night before, you can also toss them into your salad for variety. Make a healthy dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar and herbs, but keep the dressing on the side until you’re ready to eat so that you don’t end up with soggy greens.

8.  Choose healthy snacks like baby carrots and/or celery sticks dipped in hummus or natural peanut butter; nonfat Greek yogurt with chopped walnuts and fruit; or part-skim string cheese and whole wheat crackers (this one is quick and easy to eat if you are on the run).

9.  Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids into your diet each day by adding moderate amounts of olive oil, nuts, fish oils, green leafy vegetables and/or grass-fed meats to your meals. Some brands of eggs contain extra omega-3, too. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and may help to reduce your risk of cardiovascular and other diseases.

10.  Get plenty of calcium and Vitamin D. Both calcium and Vitamin D are critical for maintaining bone health/density, so be sure that your diet includes proper amounts of both.

Calcium also helps the body burn fat, which is helpful if you are trying to lose weight via a healthy diet and exercise. (However, if you get your calcium from dairy products, you’ll want to choose nonfat or low-fat varieties.) Vitamin D helps with the absorption of calcium and supports muscle, nerve and immune system function; new research also indicates that low levels of vitamin D may contribute to the development of several diseases.

(Click here for more information.) Have your levels checked by your healthcare provider and discuss whether you need vitamin D supplements.

11.  Practice portion control for optimum nutrition. A good practice is the plate method: Make sure the items on your plate are one-fourth lean protein, one-fourth whole grains, one-fourth vegetables and one-fourth fruit. If you eat dairy products, add a single serving of low-fat or nonfat dairy to each meal.

You can find more helpful nutrition tips at www.choosemyplate.gov.

Maintain Good Health Habits
How many times have you heard of a fellow nurse (or anyone else) who delays having a colonoscopy or mammogram, finally has the exam and learns that they have a potentially malignant mass? Invest in yourself and your health by taking the time for the following:

12.  Monthly breast and testicular self-exams.

13.  Recommended routine appointments such as an annual physical, well-woman care (including mammogram) and semiannual dental cleaning/check-ups. Also, be sure to follow your doctor’s recommendations for routine colonoscopies or other exams.

14.  Weigh yourself weekly so you can catch any gains early, before they become overwhelming.

15.  If you smoke, quit!

16.  If you choose to drink alcohol, practice moderation. The general recommendation for women is no more than one drink per day; for men, no more than two drinks per day.

Boost Your Emotional Health
Nurses nurture others, but we often do a poor job of nurturing ourselves. Don’t forget these vital elements in your self-care plan:

17.  Identify and pursue your goals, both educational and professional.

18.  Follow your dreams, whether you want to finally take that once-in-a-lifetime vacation, learn a new language or take up a new hobby. Whatever it is, do it.

19.  Identify and practice the skills that can help you build and maintain your confidence.

20.  Cultivate healthy relationships. Keep the good ones in your life and step back from or eliminate the ones that are toxic or drain your energy.

21.  Carve time out of your schedule for leisure activities you enjoy and any spiritual practices that are meaningful to you. The American Psychological Association offers more tips on emotional well-being at www.apa.org/topics/emotion.

By following these tips, you can improve your health, brighten your mood and increase your energy levels, helping you provide better care to your patients as well as yourself.

Carole Jakucs RN, BSN, PHN, is a freelance writer, health blogger and registered nurse who lives in Southern California. 

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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