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Put Your Mental Health First

Nursing is hard. Long shifts, difficult cases and high emotions can leave you feeling depleted. If you aren’t careful, your work can take a toll on your mental health. If you prioritize your mental health, you will give better care to others.

Create a mental health self-care strategy

Putting yourself first doesn’t mean you are putting others last. Providing the best nursing care requires you to stay mentally healthy.

Here are four tips for optimal mental health self-care.

1. Avoid drugs and alcohol

It may be tempting to have a glass of wine after a hard shift, but don’t make this a habit.

Self-medicating for stress relief —or other symptoms of a mental health problem —can make things worse. If you find yourself struggling with drug or alcohol use, seek help.

2. Exercise

As a nurse, you may feel like you are always on the go. Finding time to exercise could be the last thing on your mind. But research has shown that exercise can improve your mental health. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, exercise reduces anxiety and depression. It also improves mood, self-esteem and brain function.

When you can find time to move outside, especially during the winter months. Being in nature can help boost your mood.

You don’t have to join a gym to get the mental health benefits of exercise. As little as 20 minutes of movement a day can help. There are simple ways to add activity into your routine:

• Walk or bike to work • Take the stairs • Hold “walking” meetings

3. Get plenty of rest

Sleep and mental health operate on a vicious cycle. Lack of sleep can lead to mental health problems, but mental health problems can prevent you from sleeping.

Getting adequate sleep —the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7-9 hours for adults —is especially hard for nurses. Stress, shift work and exposure to computer screens close to bedtime can contribute to sleep deficiencies.

Sleep experts recommend you:

• Avoid caffeine or other stimulants (including nicotine) close to bedtime • Create a pleasant sleep environment using things like blackout shades, white noise machines, fans or humidifiers • Read before sleep —even one or two pages can help reduce stress and lead to better quality sleep. • Take short daytime naps, when possible, but limit them to 30 minutes • Wake up and go to bed at the same time each day —even on your days off work

4. Seek help

If you are a nurse who is struggling to stay mentally healthy, you aren’t alone. Don’t be afraid to seek support from your friends, family or colleagues. If you struggle with chronic stress, anxiety or depression, a mental health self-care strategy may not be enough. Talk to your health care provider about your concerns.

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