As nurses, the inclination to nurture and care for others is in our nature, yet sometimes we forget to care for ourselves. That’s an easy routine to fall into, but optimizing our mental well-being improves both the quality of care we provide and our overall health. So today, right now, is all about you. Here are four simple, sustainable ways you can safeguard your mental health, which includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being, amid the ever-present chaos.  

Silence Is Golden

We live in a world filled with so much noise, constantly bombarded with people and tasks demanding our attention. It becomes overwhelming quickly and can have a negative effect on our mental state.

Silence has been shown to significantly improve mood and mental health. Taking just a few minutes a day for quiet time can help us identify who or what we really need to prioritize to feel better. Introspection during quiet time can also reveal our stressors and ways to effectively cope.

Stay Resilient During Difficulty

For decades researchers have confirmed that resilient people can respond to adversity better than their rigid counterparts. The nursing profession often presents us with difficult conditions beyond our control, but the past two years have been especially challenging.

The ability to navigate hurdles with creativity, flexibility, humor, and optimism can safeguard our mental health. Mindfulness practices like meditation and interventions like cognitive-behavioral therapy are effective ways to build resilience and reduce stress, but our institutions and communities must prioritize resiliency programs for nurses at every level.

Move Your Body

Exercise offers more than physiologic benefits. It also improves sleep and has antidepressant effects. In one 2018 study, researchers found that people who exercised had 43.2% fewer days of poor mental health compared to those who did not. Comparatively, physical inactivity is directly linked to poor mental health, self-harm, and suicide.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, and that can look however you want it to. Perhaps, take an hour-long walk a few days after work, follow along with an evening yoga flow on YouTube, or commit to a daily running practice. Invite a friend or other loved one to join you, and you’ll get a even bigger mental health boost. The American Nurses Association created the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative to connect with other nurses and promote activity, nutrition, safety, and rest. And find an exercise you enjoy, with guidance from your physician, to increase the chance that you consistently show up to take care of your body and mind.

Beware of Thinking Traps

Thinking traps are patterns of thought where we visualize our reality through a negative lens. Remember, the way you perceive a situation plays a significant role in how you feel. In a study of positive experiences, individuals who reported the greatest frequency of positive experiences were not necessarily those who also reported the fewest number of negative ones. The power rested in their perspectives.

Avoid buildup of thinking traps like “I never get chosen for anything,” “I have bad luck,” or “No one ever offers to help so they must not like me.” Escape those mental gymnastics by objectively analyzing the situation or bringing in a trusted external perspective like a loved one. Honestly ask yourself, is the thought you’re having 100% true? Does the thought inspire you or pull you down? Should you act on your thought, or should you let it go? Those critical questions will help you determine which thoughts are productive and useful and which ones are not.  

To my fellow nurses, the world needs us now more than ever. Our patients are sicker, our roles are becoming more complicated, and our external demands are increasing daily. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot sustain all that rests on our shoulders. And we don’t deserve that. We deserve the same level of attention, care, and compassion we pass onto our patients. We deserve to feel as good as we make those around us feel.

Editor’s note: These suggestions are for days when you’re struggling to find a baseline level of happiness, but if you consistently feel anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed please seek the support of a mental health professional. The Heroes Health Initiative offers an array of coping and counseling services for healthcare workers and first responders. Remember, you are never alone.