Many nurses struggle to maintain a healthy work-life balance throughout their nursing career. Long hours, shift work, stress, fatigue, inadequate staffing ratios, and trying to maintain a healthy personal life can take a toll on any nurse's mental and physical well-being.
Travel nurses may find it even more difficult to find work-life balance due to the nature of their assignments. Nursing contracts are often located far from home, away from family and friends in unfamiliar settings. Travel nurses work in stressful situations in unfamiliar environments with healthcare workers that they are not yet comfortable with.
Travel nurses must be able to adapt easily to many new scenarios in order to provide safe patient care with excellent patient outcomes. Here are strategies to help achieve a healthy work-life balance as a travel nurse.
The Importance of Work-Life Balance for Travel Nursing
Work-life balance as a travel nurse is extremely important. Being in unfamiliar and stressful settings can easily lead to physical and mental fatigue. This could be your first assignment or your tenth. Either way, being able to find stability in your ever-changing world can be critical to a healthy work-life balance.
Establishing routines will help keep the ever-changing environment as a travel nurse more stable. Routines can minimize stress and support good mental health. Having a scheduled workout time, prepping food, meditation, and getting adequate sleep are examples of good work-life balance for nurses. Scheduling FaceTime calls with family or friends is also a great way to support your connectivity while away and maintain healthy relationships.
Heightened stress levels in addition to poor work-life balance can lead to burnout. Utilize your recruiter to help ease stress surrounding new contracts, negotiating pay, completing required paperwork and licensing, and securing housing.
The Blur Between Personal and Professional Life
Travel nursing has its perks and always being the new person can allow for more separation between personal and professional life.
Maintaining boundaries between your personal and professional life allows for better work-life balance and job satisfaction throughout your nursing career. When nurses are satisfied with their positions, it improves patient outcomes.
Each travel nurse's situation is different. You may be single, single parent, married, have children, or may be worried about an elderly parent. Whether you are traveling alone or with family, establishing boundaries is vital to a successful assignment and healthy work-life balance. Have plans in place for any child or elderly care needed prior to accepting a new assignment. If you have a spouse or children that are not joining you on assignment, carve out time for breaks to see them, whether you travel to them or they visit you. It can be especially difficult to maintain healthy relationships while being a travel nurse, but it is doable when using the right tools and communication.
Working in healthcare can be stressful, especially in unfamiliar situations. Creating a healthy balance between your personal and professional life will ensure you are well adjusted in any situation.
An Unstable Environment
When life is changing every 13 weeks or so, it can be hard to maintain a stable work-life balance. Try to mimic some of the routines you usually have at home and implement them while on assignment. If possible, stick to the same shifts that you usually work in order to maintain your nurse work-life balance.
Working in different hospitals and amongst coworkers who are unfamiliar can be physically and mentally taxing. It is not uncommon to feel like an outsider at each new assignment. Try to go in with a positive friendly attitude. Find out quickly who you will go to for any questions and during times of emergency. If necessary, ask the manager for a mentor on the unit or connect with the charge nurse.
Share your new location with family or friends so that they can ensure you are safe. Research your new area before arriving so that you know areas that are safe to live in and best routes to travel to work. Talk to coworkers who are familiar with the area about any concerns you may have and about conveniences like grocery stores, gyms, and restaurants so that you can settle in confidently. It is a good idea to share contact information with a manager or coworker in case an emergency arises.
If you find yourself struggling with frequent change, therapy is a great tool to keep your mind healthy. Traveling can make finding and keeping the right therapist daunting. Using a mobile app to find a therapist can provide a stable person no matter where you're located. For example, apps like Better Help allow access to a therapist no matter your location in the country; giving you a support network even when you're miles away from friends and family.
TAKE CONTROL OF HOW YOU REACT TO SITUATIONS
While you can’t control all aspects of your job or environment, you do have control over how you react to situations. If the frequent emergencies, sometimes impatient patients, and constant distractions stress you out, remember, it doesn’t have to be that way. Emergencies aren’t going to stop happening. Your manager will probably call you on your day off. The common denominator in all of these experiences? You. You can decide if they will break you or not.
How? Mindfulness. Mindfulness can be your magic bullet. It is a tool that is available to you every moment of every day, requires no special equipment, and very little time. Like anything new, though, it does take a some practice.
Practice first in non-critical situations. Sit somewhere you can relax for 5 to 10 minutes. Mindfulness is not about finding nirvana. It is about having an awareness of the present moment. What is the temperature of the room like? What sounds do you hear? Was that your stomach growling?
When your mind starts to drift away, thinking about what to make for dinner tonight, acknowledge the thought—it’s there, it’s real, and it’s okay—then redirect yourself back to the present moment. As you practice redirecting your mind to the here and now, it will become automatic. When the next crisis strikes, you will be ready. You will be better able to tolerate the situation, and you will approach it with greater objectivity.
Tips to Achieve Work-Life Balance as a Travel Nurse
Much like a routine, maintaining a proper diet and exercise schedule will prepare your body and mind for success in stressful situations. Although this is very important, don’t lose sight of the fact that you still need to enjoy yourself. Go out to eat with new coworkers. Try to get out in nature and explore the new city you are living in. Fresh air can go a long way in improving mental health.
Creating a bucket list of things to do in your new location can help to give you something to look forward to when you aren’t working. Bucket list items can include visiting tourist sites, hiking a mountain, checking out historical landmarks, or trying new restaurants in the area.
Make sure that you are also allowing time to rest. Being tired or overworking your body and mind will only make for a poor situation in the long run. Take time for yourself and create a healthy environment even when you don't feel that you need it. Do things that relax you, and that you enjoy like reading, baking, taking a bath or watching a movie.
Overtime pay is great,but remember when you accept extra work to check in with your mind and body before making that decision.
Self-care is all the rage, but what exactly does it entail? Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting your well-being and happiness, especially during periods of high stress. Nurses can improve their life balance by helping their mind, body, and soul in doing things like eating properly, exercising, and being mindful. This is a hard habit to incorporate, but ensures positive physical and mental health.
Traveling can be stressful, and supporting your health during these times can prevent illness and maintain the ability for nurses to cope in both their personal and professional lives.
Do travel nurses get lonely?
Loneliness can be quite common for travel nurses but there are many strategies that can help you combat being lonely. Video chatting with family and friends can help you stay connected to loved ones. Meeting other travel nurses in the area or asking coworkers to accompany you while you explore your new city can be a great way to make friends and stay busy. Other strategies include joining a gym, volunteering, or learning a new hobby.
Lauren Rivera is a nationally certified neonatal intensive care nurse with over 15 years of experience. She serves as a nurse expert offering support and educational classes for women and their families from preconception through childhood. Lauren is also a freelance writer with works published on several nursing sites. She develops and curates content for various health care companies, and writes continuing education modules for other healthcare professionals.