Healthcare is putting a strain on nurses’ mental health. Can nurses find career happiness? Here are five ways you can save your sanity and salvage your happiness as a travel nurse on any unit.
Is It True That Nurses Aren’t Happy?
Many factors contribute to the stress faced by nurses. The challenges of the job and lack of support from Chief Nursing Officers or other nursing leaders can have lasting impacts on the profession.
The Nursing Profession and Mental Health
Nurses are professional caregivers, and as many nurses are aware caregiver burnout is a real phenomenon. Since nursing school, most nurses have been taught how important self-care is. However, nursing is both draining and rigorous, which puts nurses’ mental health at risk.
Nurses are expected to prioritize patient safety and organizational standards over their own well-being. Forty-five percent of nurses have reported not feeling emotionally supported during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Mental Health America. This has snowballed into the state of nurses' mental health today.
Patient Ratios and Breaks
Nurses often have high patient ratios. This leads to less breaks, more mistakes, and negatively affects the work environment in clinical settings.
When nurses are forced to skip meals and bathroom breaks, it’s significantly associated with reduced job satisfaction. It’s no surprise that many nurses are no longer happy with their careers. Nearly 500,000 nurses are planning to leave the bedside by the end of 2022, creating a ripple effect in the worldwide nursing shortage.
Organizational performance is significantly increased when nurses have covered breaks. According to the Nursing Journal of Management, this results in staff retention and increased job satisfaction. It’s equally important for staff to have designated break rooms, seperate from computer charting or care areas. This establishes an essential boundary between break and work. In settings where nurses are required to be “on” for 12-16 hour stretches, it’s vital to have a separate break area.
In California, breaks are mandated by law. This includes mandated staffing ratios in certain settings. Nurses are allotted three paid 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute break every day.
The model where California nurses are required to take a break is a model that all hospitals should use. This would retain nursing staff, boost morale, and ultimately foster nurses’ subjective well being.
Support for Staff
Nurse leaders have the opportunity to support staff and boost morale. When morale is boosted, job satisfaction increases, thereby producing happy nurses. The ongoing pandemic has left many nurses exhausted and burned out, with little hope of feeling appreciated.
Mandated breaks and staff support can support nurses’ mental health and well being.
Additional Considerations of Travel Nursing
Travel nurses are brave. It takes a lot of energy to be the new nurse, but it can be highly empowering and exciting. The flip side is that it can also be isolating and lonely at times. It’s important to have a good support system in place to guide you in difficult times.
“You Can Do Anything for Three Months”
A huge pro of traveling is knowing a job is temporary. Most assignments last about three months. During that time, you may find that you’re ready to move on as you may be exhausted or drained from the assignment. If you’re feeling burnt out, make a countdown. You can even document it on social media and engage with like-minded followers. The weeks (or months) of reset between assignments act as a great cushion for recharging.
Being a Nurse Can be Draining
It is no secret that being a nurseis draining. With long hours, unpredictable work schedules, and heavy emotional caseloads, nurses are tired. The grim realities of the pandemic have shaped us and changed the healthcare system. An enormous strain has been put upon the backbone of the hospital: the nurses.
Take a Break
When your body aches and going to work seems overbearing, it’s time to take a break. Whether it is a sick call (mental health counts), or scheduling your PTO hours, you may need to get some rest. Engage in self-care and do a mini-mental health reset.
Maybe use this time to plan your next vacation so you have something to look forward to!
Five Tips for Improving Happiness as a Travel Nurse
1. Prioritize Work-Life Balance
Job satisfaction increases when hospital nurses prioritize work-life balance. Nutrition, sleep, and self care measures are key. Avoid working overtime if you can. Instead, plan rest days with massages, movie nights, or going out to dinner. Engage in what makes you feel happy.
Eat Good Food
When it comes to mental health, eating a balanced diet can help. You can’t build a happy brain without meeting the basic needs. When it comes to nutrition, eating food that is nutrient-dense helps your brain function well. Studies have shown that tryptophan and antioxidants improve mood and cognition. Try munching on blackberries or having a tuna wrap for lunch.
Sleep and Rest
Get enough sleep. Do not over-book your schedule. Make time for meaningful rest. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you need twelve hours of sleep after a four shift stretch, let yourself take it. This helps fully build your mental health base.
2. Get Outside
Physical health has a positive impact on mental health. Getting outside and moving your body is a fantastic way to boost your mood. The tension from stressful schedules can linger in the body. Finding an exercise you like and that’s easy to do is a great way to relieve tension. Try going on a walk or practice other exercises to release endorphins and boost your mood.
Can’t get outside? Try yoga! On YouTube, Jessica Richburg is a yoga instructor who offers varying levels of free yoga instruction and stretching. It’s a great way to center yourself and feel calm in your body.
Explore your location. Whether it’s your familiar neighborhood or a brand new town, stop at a local coffee shop, cafe, or bookstore. If you feel constrained by family obligations or kids, try bringing them with you, or enlist a partner or friend to watch them for an hour or two.
3. The Buddy System
Pets and Friends
Bring along a travel nurse friend, a partner, or pet. Companionship increases positive emotions, and enhances overall well-being. Having someone to talk to helps ease stress and tension. If it is just you and your furry friend, make it a point to stay in touch with friends and relatives daily or weekly.
Social connection is helpful in maintaining good mental health. Even connecting via texts, phone, or video calls helps foster connection and produces endorphins.
In this great heyday of social media, connection is at the tip of your fingers. Join nursing groups on social media or follow people that lift you up. It’s a lighthearted way to get connected to people who understand what you’re going through.
Whether you connect face-to-face or online, it’s important to have people who support you outside of work.
4. Find Joy in the Day to Day
Expressing gratitude only takes a few minutes. Simply write one to five lines down about what is going well in your life. This can range from what you like about yourself, to something you are proud of, to warm feelings towards a close friend.
Career happiness is not as elusive as it may seem. There are simple benefits in having a nursing job, including being able to pay bills and having a valuable, highly specialized skill. You save lives, after all.
The Little Things
Being able to pay for your cat’s scratching post or dog’s Halloween costume are things to remember when you feel unhappy in your role. The ability to support loved ones, such as a child or partner, is a good feeling. When you reflect on things you can do because of nursing, it makes showing up to work a little easier.
Envision your Future, at Present
Speaking of reflection…if you’re unhappy in your current position, think about what would make you happy. Try journaling about your ideal future self. What does your life look like? What daily joys do you envision taking with you into the future?
Feeling like there is good in the present is a wonderful way to cultivate joy. Everyone starts somewhere, which is a beginning in itself.
5. Never Stop Learning
Whether it is a hobby or a clinical skill, strive to engage your brain. Relaxing and restorative activities like reading and journaling can help you re-engage with hobbies you may have forgotten about. It also can ignite new interests and passions.
Engage in Play
Play is a tool for expanding our consciousness. It helps us come up with new stories about ourselves, which is crucial for burnt out healthcare workers. It’s also helpful for sharpening our critical thinking skills. This helps us make new neurological connections. When hope dwindles, play rekindles.
Your Younger Self
If you’re feeling too exhausted to do anything but work and sleep, try this activity. If you can, find a photo of yourself when you were a kid. In a quiet moment, think about something you loved to do when you were younger. Maybe it was playing an instrument, making a special craft, or taking a hike outside. Try to replicate a similar activity and if you can’t muster it for your weary self, do it for the younger version of you.
Making a Difference
Remember your “why.” Think about why you first became a nurse. For many, it was to help people, or make a difference in others’ lives. Do you still feel like you do?
As a pediatric nurse, I can say, even on my hardest days, that I did have a positive impact on kids’ lives. My favorite part of being a nurse is contributing to kids’ sense of safety and well-being. Sometimes, as a pediatric nurse, it can feel like I make children scream all day with needle pokes and scary procedures but when I take a moment to reflect, I realize how I have contributed to help a sick child and their family feel supported and cared for. Not many professions can offer that.
Learn Other Helpful Tips
Meditation is proven effective in regulating the nervous system. Which, let’s be honest, after 36+ hours of alarm bells ringing, your nervous system is fried! Guided meditation apps, like Insight Timer, are great tools for learning meditation.
Radical Acceptance is a simple tool for accepting things you can’t change. It’s helpful for releasing rumination and moving forward in a proactive way. It helps let go of judgment, and accept feelings about a difficult situation. You can look up tools online for simple tips and exercises.
Therapy can be helpful for nurses wanting to work through past trauma and learn coping skills with mental health professionals. Work with a clinical therapist or Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC) to find a therapy that works for you. Many therapies use mindfulness and compassion to help people find more meaning in their lives.
Definitely. It’s a demanding job, and it requires a lot of patience and resilience. I honestly think most nurses, especially post-pandemic, have struggled with maintaining their mental health and happiness.
How do you create happiness in your life, as a nurse who has experienced mental health struggles?
As a travel nurse, it’s easy to feel isolated. I have leaned on all the key points mentioned in the article. Personally, what has helped me the most is eating enough protein, getting outside often, and social connection. Also pursuing something I am passionate about–writing! And, always seek help if you’re struggling with your mental health. You aren’t alone.
Katie Taibl (pronouns: she/they) is a registered pediatric nurse and freelance nurse writer. She has adventured from coast to coast as a travel nurse. She currently resides in Boston with her partner and three cats. In her free time, she enjoys time outdoors and teaching kids the joys of surfing as a surf instructor.
GET STARTED IN
Land your dream job faster when you travel with us. Get started with top local and national travel nurse jobs in On Demand.