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5 Ways Nurses Can Maintain Work-Life Balance

Jul 31, 2023

Maintaining a reasonable work-life balance is important for every professional, but it is crucial for those in the nursing profession. Nurses work long hours caring for patients and must meet demanding work expectations. Nursing shortages that cause overstaffing and increased workloads can add to the stress nurses experience. 

Nurses who regularly sacrifice their personal lives for work often experience job dissatisfaction, burnout, and emotional exhaustion. A healthy equilibrium between personal life and professional commitments can reduce stress, prevent burnout, improve worker engagement, and increase employee retention. However, achieving a good work-life balance is easier said than done.

This article will explain some of the ways nurses can prioritize their mental health, manage stress, and attain a healthy work-life balance. 

Challenges in Achieving Work-Life Balance

Nurses often work long, irregular shifts, perform physically demanding tasks such as lifting and transferring patients, and manage high patient loads. The work environment is fast-paced and emotionally taxing. Nurses face the sad realities of death and illness on a daily basis, which requires psychological and emotional resilience. For many, job stress bleeds into their personal lives, making it hard for them to leave work at work. 

Failure to develop a good work-life balance can lead to physical fatigue, deteriorated mental well-being, and strained relationships. Nurses struggling with work-life balance may also find themselves unable to meet work demands. Their job performance slips and their productivity wanes. The enthusiasm they once had for their work fades away, and they no longer feel fulfilled by their career. Lack of healthy work-life balance also contributes to high turnover rates in hospitals and other medical facilities employing nurses. 

Nothing can completely take away the stress associated with the nursing profession. However, developing an appropriate work-life balance is one of the best ways nurses can mitigate the impact of work stress on their personal lives, maintain good mental and physical health, and decrease the chances of burnout. 

5 Actionable Ways to Achieve Work-Life Balance

If you’re a nurse seeking to improve your work-life balance, first consider how you spend your waking hours. Do you find yourself wasting the precious free time you do have on activities that aren’t meaningful to you? Are there ways you could manage your time more efficiently? Do you have appropriate boundaries between work and your home life? 

Another question to ask yourself is whether you are prioritizing self-care and mental well-being. You can’t effectively care for patients if you don’t care for yourself first. One way to practice self-care and improve your work-life balance is to seek support from colleagues, friends, and loved ones. We all need help from time to time. 

Lastly, explore your options for utilizing paid time off, leaves, and flexible work options. Your employer may have options you are unaware of that can help you develop a better work-life balance. The following sections will dig deeper into each of these strategies. 

Time Management and Prioritization

For nurses, effective time management and prioritization are essential. There are only so many hours in a day, and it is important to make the most of your time. Start by setting clear goals for both the short and the long term. What do you want to accomplish professionally and personally? What will it take to reach those goals? 

Once you have identified your goals and the actions needed to meet them, prioritize your tasks by listing them from most important to least important. This will help you focus on the most pressing matters first and allocate your time more effectively. As you build your list, consider whether there are tasks you can delegate to others.  

Use calendars, planners, or other tools to create a schedule for managing your responsibilities and appointments. Many people use time blocking to schedule obligations, but don’t forget to schedule time for rest and relaxation, hobbies, and other enjoyable activities too!

Another key element of spending time effectively is learning to say no. For many people—especially those with generous, caring hearts—telling someone no is extremely difficult. They worry that declining an invitation or request is selfish or will disappoint the other person. However, occasionally saying no is essential to prioritizing your well-being and managing your time efficiently.  

Lastly, take some time to reflect on your schedule and change it as needed. Which time management strategies worked and which didn’t? Evaluating and adapting your schedule as needed is an important part of building a plan that works for you. 

Setting Boundaries Between Work and Personal Life

Setting boundaries is another important method of establishing a work-life balance. Set up a clear schedule for when you are working and when you are not working. Many nurses struggle with taking their work home with them—literally and figuratively. They finish paperwork at home, worry about patients while trying to sleep, or think about the next day's task when they should be enjoying their free time. 

Although it may not always be possible, make an effort to leave your work duties and concerns at the door when you leave the workplace. Silencing work emails and notifications on your phone and other devices can help you set digital boundaries. 

It is also important to set emotional and mental boundaries. This may mean taking a lunch break in a quiet area instead of a busy break room or avoiding workplace gossip. Healthy boundary-setting may also involve physical boundaries such as shaking hands with coworkers instead of hugging them. Once you have set appropriate boundaries, communicate these boundaries to others.

Self-Care and Stress Management Techniques

Self-care involves caring for your body and your mind. This means prioritizing sleep, enjoying regular physical activity, eating a balanced diet, and spending time with loved ones. Many people incorporate mindfulness and relaxation techniques such as guided meditation and progressive muscle relaxation into their self-care routine. 

Practicing self-care can also mean engaging in hobbies or leisure activities that bring you joy. Try not to be too hard on yourself and give yourself time to relax and unwind. Whether it’s a walk through the park, a ridiculous reality television show, or an indulgent ice cream sundae, don’t forget to give yourself permission to enjoy the little things in life. 

Reducing your internet use can also do wonders for mental health. Social media and online news stories can zap your energy and increase stress. So-called “doom scrolling,” or excessive engagement with negative online content, has been shown to increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. Putting your phone away is often the first step in practicing self-care and protecting your emotional well-being

Seeking Support From Colleagues, Family, and Mental Health Professionals

The demanding nature of the nursing profession means that building a strong support system is crucial. Nurses who regularly receive emotional support from friends and family are better able to care for sick patients and handle work challenges. 

Mental health support from a qualified therapist, counselor, or other mental health professional can also be hugely beneficial for nurses. Nurses and other healthcare workers spend so much time taking care of other people that they sometimes neglect their own emotional and psychological needs. Working with a mental health professional can help nurses get through tough moments and learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with work stress. 

It is also important for nurses to be engaged with coworkers and other health professionals at their workplace. Sharing ideas and experiences with colleagues fosters a sense of camaraderie in the work environment and boosts morale. Furthermore, collaborating with others allows nurses to learn from different perspectives, grow professionally, and improve patient care and outcomes. 

Utilizing Leave and Flexible Work Options

Prevent compassion fatigue and burnout by effectively utilizing your employer’s flexible work options, paid time off, and leave opportunities. Some workers are hesitant to use their time off, worrying that they will fall behind or be seen as unreliable by coworkers. However, regularly overworking yourself without taking breaks drains you emotionally and prevents you from properly caring for patients or fulfilling other job responsibilities. Taking advantage of your PTO opportunities is an important aspect of self-care. 

Few would dispute that nursing is a challenging field, but it can also be deeply rewarding. Nurses make a profound difference in their patients’ lives, providing them with care, comfort, and support when needed the most. By prioritizing mental wellness through a healthy work-life balance, nurses can succeed both personally and professionally. 

Whether you’re currently a nurse looking to move forward in your career and have more options or you are just beginning your career, WGU offers degree programs to help you meet your goals. You can earn an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree on your schedule, regardless of your life circumstances. WGU offers exceptional student support and an innovative competency-based education structure that emphasizes skills and learning instead of time spent in a classroom. WGU puts you in control of your education so you can make your career dreams a reality. 

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