By Chris Jordan, MS, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, ACSM EP-C/APT
An axiom of the healthcare world is that the better care health providers give to themselves, the better care they give to their patients. In many cases, that provider is a nurse. Unfortunately, a multiyear study from the American Nurses Association discovered that from 2013 to 2014, 82% of nurses rated workplace stress as the number one health and safety risk in the work environment.
With a focus squarely on caring for patients, it’s easy for nurses to neglect their own needs, on and off the clock. According to a survey by Kronos Inc., healthcare professionals who don’t eat or sleep well compound their stress, and a quarter admit to making medical errors due to fatigue.
It’s critical to address the growing problem of nurse stress and burnout and to invest in the health and wellbeing of nurses. Most health systems have employee wellness programs, yet the negative effects of stress remain. This leads to the question of what nurses can do on their own when they’re facing stress.
Through science-based approaches to sustainable behavior change developed at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute, we’ve found that nurses can incorporate techniques into their daily routines to manage and boost their energy levels and be more resilient to stress. Here are simple approaches nurses can use to recover their energy levels and find balance both at work and in their personal lives.
Physical activity, movement, and exercise
- At work, if you are standing and walking most of the day, aim to sit down for 1 to 2 minutes every hour to allow your body to recover some energy. Conversely, if your job requires sitting for most of your shift, try to get up and move around for a few minutes every hour. Too much prolonged sitting or too much prolonged physical activity can leave you fatigued. Alternate regularly between sitting and moving to sustain your energy levels.
- Try deep breathing for 1 to 2 minutes every hour to help relax your mind and body.
- Go for a brisk 10-minute walk as soon as you get home to de-stress and boost your energy levels.
- You can also use a fitness tracker to remind you to get up and move regularly, to accumulate steps and other physical activity to improve your fitness and health (which can help energy levels), and even provide feedback on your sleep quality and quantity.
- Eat “breakfast” within one hour of waking up before you start your shift.
- Use your mobile device or partner with a coworker to remind you to eat something every 3 hours (plus or minus an hour) to help sustain your energy levels.
- You can add even more “mileage” to your mobile device by using an app to track the calories you’re consuming. In general, aim for a 100- to 150-calorie low-glycemic snack (for example, 1 cup of low-fat yogurt, 15 almonds, 1 large apple or pear, or half a nutrition bar) to bridge the gap between meals.
- Stay hydrated by sipping water throughout the day.
- Aim to get 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep each night.
- Start winding down 1 to 2 hours before you would like to fall asleep. Create a bedtime routine to help your body prepare: change into bedclothes, dim the lights, read a chapter of a book, and try deep breathing exercises.
- Don’t lie in bed awake for more than 20 minutes. Get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
It’s unlikely that the stressors in healthcare environments are going to go away. Equipping nurses to manage their energy levels and expand their energy capacity can help them be more resilient and become their best selves at work and home.
— Chris Jordan is director of exercise physiology at the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Florida.
American Nurses Association. Health risk appraisal executive summary. 2014.
Rodak S. Survey: 27% of healthcare professionals made an error due to fatigue. Becker’s Hosp Rev. 2013.