Top 10 Tips for Nurses to Maintain Work-Life Balance

Three nurse practitioners in training
Three nurse practitioners in training

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Nurses are one of the most sought-after professionals in the healthcare industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rise of the aging population results in an ever-higher demand for nurses. Unfortunately, part of the future aging population are the current nurses.

Thus, the overall labor force participation rate is expected to decrease by 61% in 2026. This will take a toll on the newer nurses as they have to face a higher number of patient-to-nurse ratio.

Nursing is also one of the most stressful professions in the field of healthcare. Not being able to manage stress can be very expensive in the hospital setting as it results in tiredness, anxiety, short temper, and other negative health effects.

Studies show that high stress levels contribute to:

  • Staff illness
  • Absenteeism
  • Turnover 

Lowered stress levels, on the other hand, promote:

  • Job satisfaction
  • Retention of nurses
  • Positive outcomes 
  • Better quality of care and patient safety

What Causes Work-Life Imbalance for Nurses?

While everyone agrees that achieving a good work-life balance is optimal in job performance, work life balance for nurses is difficult to achieve.

The health and well-being of patients is at stake, and nurses provide healing care that requires great attention and expertise. The daily requirements can take a physical and emotional toll on nurses. 

Also, nurses sometimes work erratic schedules. Patients need care around the clock, which requires night shifts or other non-traditional work hours. Many nurses work long shifts or overtime hours.

Perhaps more than any other reason, it is nurses’ altruistic nature that makes work-life balance difficult. Nurses often find it hard to say “no” when someone needs their help. This leads to a continual pouring out of heartfelt energy.

Even in high-stress scenarios, though, fostering a healthy way of life is possible. Here are 10 tips to help nurses achieve work-life balance.

 

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Tip #1: Accept What You Can’t Change—and Change What You Can

In any job, there will be things you wish you could change. Sometimes you’ll be able to, but often you won’t.

The first thing you can do is come to terms with stress. Acceptance is a good way to fight off stress. Acknowledge there are certain things you cannot change, and then develop your own coping strategies to address your feelings.

Nurses are often empathetic by nature, and may carry burdens heavily. At some point in the day, you may need to step away, breathe deeply, and reorient your perspective.

Aside from accepting things beyond your control, embrace the things within your control–your feelings and attitude in particular. While you want to be perfect in delivering health care services to your patients, mistakes can happen. It is best to pick yourself up, admit your mistakes, and move on.

You can also be an agent of change, as nurses are increasingly recognized as leaders in the workplace. It’s okay to speak up when structures and processes create extra stress for nursing staff. Be proactive in promoting a culture of work-life balance, such as support groups, healthy frameworks, and resources for help.

Tip #2: Define Your Purpose in Life

Nursing is often viewed as a calling—a driving purpose in your career. At Marymount University, we believe service to others, from a global perspective, is important. Nurses brighten and extend life by helping patients heal in mind, body, and spirit.

Embracing this calling can be overwhelming when it starts to affect other parts of your life. After all, you are not only a nurse. You may also be a spouse, a parent, a child, or a friend.

Defining your greater purpose in life will also help you define your career in nursing. By prioritizing what’s most important to you, you’ll be able to choose a nursing path that fits within those goals. Nursing jobs vary in schedule, environment, and intensity, so considering your whole life context will help you make the best choices. 

For example, a mother with young children may need to be more available at home. Creating appropriate work-life balance may mean a particular choice in the work setting. In this case, an outpatient clinic allows a more family-friendly schedule than working night shifts in an emergency room.

Or perhaps you have a passion for underserved communities, and you also have the freedom to travel. That could lead to jobs in travel nursing, urban health care, or even international aid. Such roles could fulfill a work-life balance by allowing you to pursue personal dreams through your nursing career.

Ask yourself “Who do I want to be?” or “What contributions do I want to make in my lifetime?” Considering these questions will make you understand what you need to do to achieve your inner goals.

Tip #3: Guard Your Emotional Health

To be effective in helping patients stay healthy, nurses must be in a good place physically and emotionally. A good work-life balance can be achieved if you are strong yourself.

As a nurse, you understand caring for the whole person, but do you look out for your own holistic health? If not, then this is an area in your life that you can improve. You will have more energy not only taking care of your patients but also taking care of your family.

Establishing healthy boundaries will be important in keeping yourself grounded and emotionally healthy. When it’s time to leave work, make an intentional decision to disconnect from the stress you’ve carried during the workday. While it’s tempting to replay stressful situations in your mind, turn your attention to other aspects of your life instead.

When you need to process difficult situations in the workplace, find a healthy way to do that. Maybe journaling will allow you to unload and let go. If you need more help, talk with a trusted friend or a counselor, or seek support groups.

Tip #4: Simplify Your Life

Simplifying your life can be challenging. This is especially true for a nurse who deals with many patients or complicated situations outside of work. For example, a nurse may also be caring for aging parents at home or juggling the responsibilities of motherhood on top of work. 

In the workplace, find ways to implement processes that make your job easier. Thanks to technology, you can use apps that can help you monitor and respond to your patients. There are also apps to help you manage your time at work and your personal life.

Teamwork in nursing can also help as nurses collaborate to simplify systems and share the workload. By evaluating the specific needs of certain patients, for example, nurses may reallocate tasks and include other health care professionals. Nursing teams may also be able to share information more easily by implementing new records management technology. 

Outside the workplace, simplicity can ease pressure and help you clear the clutter from your mind. Maybe it’s time to cut back on extra activities or responsibilities that leave you feeling scattered. Delegating or streamlining tasks frees up your time and also creates work-life calmness.

Tip #5: Manage Your Work-life Time

Many nurses find it difficult to practice effective time management because they have so many conflicting demands. When juggling work-life expectations, what are some practical steps?

Have a Family Meeting

Sit down with family members and discuss relationship and homelife expectations. Look for areas where you all need to more effectively use your time. Make a plan together, and support each other in sticking to it.

Carefully Consider Your Plan

Consider what you may be leaving out of your plan. Are you allowing enough time for your own healthy habits like exercise, hobbies, and sleep? Are you leaving room for unplanned circumstances and opportunities?

Set Limits at Work

At work, some situations can be particularly time-intensive because of expectations from the patient or family. Set limits with patients while still showing empathy. Remember that all of your patients need you, and you’ll have to share your time accordingly. Maybe this means cutting a conversation short, while still showing an interest in how a patient is doing. 

Prioritize Your Time

There’s also a tendency in nursing to work in the urgency of the moment, responding to one need after another. It may help to take a timeout to evaluate efficiencies in record-keeping, scheduling tasks, or allocating assignments. Improving systems may take some time initially but can save work-life time in the big picture.

Tip #6: Deal with Conflicts Immediately

Strains in a relationship–both at work and in your personal life—can drain your time and emotions. Make sure you engage in necessary conversations to resolve conflicts in any work-life relationships. Extending conflict will take up a lot of precious time, so it’s best to deal with it head-on before it gets worse.

Sometimes conflict resolution is as simple as acknowledging the problem and peacefully talking through it. There may be times when you need to take the initiative to apologize or graciously accept an apology. Many conflicts result from misunderstandings, and clearing the air can help everyone gain perspective.

In some cases, you’ll need extra help to resolve a conflict. An unbiased third party may be able to see beyond both sides of the conflict and facilitate mutual understanding.

Sometimes you may do all you can do to resolve a conflict, but the other party is unwilling. If so, you may have to simply walk away and let it go. Holding on to resentment or hostility will only make the situation harder for you.

Tip #7: Develop Stronger Work-life Relationships

Busy people often struggle with finding the time it takes to establish and nurture relationships. Yet social connections are one of the most important investments you can make in creating work-life balance.

A proliferation of research supports the idea that healthy relationships promote wellness. A report by Harvard Health Publishing says relationships are as consequential as sleep, nutrition, and the choice not to smoke. The quality of the relationship is key, as well as the range of connections to form a support network.

Set regular times to get together with your family and friends and do things you enjoy. It’s not so important that the time is filled with activity, but that you have the chance to connect.

Maybe set your “rest day” as a time for family bonding. If you are too tired to go out, you can still designate a time when you regularly eat meals together. This will allow you to develop a stronger relationship with family members.

Small groups such as clubs, community groups, or Bible studies are another way to stay connected with structured support. Regularly scheduled meeting times keep you accountable for getting together. Since groups are also built around a common interest, they are another way of connecting to others with a greater purpose.

Tip #8: Take Restorative Breaks

Just because you are busy taking care of others does not mean you are not a priority, too. The demands of nursing will wear you down, but self-care helps you recharge, avoid burn-out, and empowers you to better care for others.

Time Outs

To maintain a nursing work-life balance, create your own downtime at work by taking restorative breaks throughout the day. For instance, before you rush to your next patient, inhale and exhale deeply for a few times in the hallway.

Structured Breaks

Don’t skip formal break times and go outdoors when you can. Slip away for some solitude or use the time to connect with a friend or colleague without talking about work.

During workday breaks, refuel with a healthy snack or meal. If you have time, practice mindfulness like meditation during lunch or when running an errand.

Time Off

When you’re off work, allow yourself time for recreation and hobbies. If you don’t have a regular hobby, maybe it’s time for one. Are there activities you’ve enjoyed in the past—like sports, art, or music—that might enhance your work-life balance?

In her book Rhythms of Renewal, Rebekah Lyons encourages readers to take regular, simple steps to restoration. This may call for taking a walk to relieve brain fog. Or it may mean allowing yourself time to play—the lost-in-the-moment, forget-your-worries kind of play—that rejuvenates you.

Tip #9: Make Exercise Part of Your Work-life

Nurses may be susceptible to anxiety and depression because of the emotional weight of their jobs. Physical fitness is one of the most powerful ways to fight these risks and foster positive mental health.

A report from Mayo Clinic identifies specific ways that exercise relieves anxiety and depression:  

  • Positive coping: Rather than turning to harmful habits like drinking or smoking, exercise is a healthy outlet for taking care of stress.
  • Brain chemistry: Exercising causes your brain to release pleasure-inducing endorphins that make you immediately feel better.
  • Thought patterns: By diverting your mind from negative thoughts, exercise fights against unhealthy mental cycles.

Another benefit is that exercise directly affects disease prevention, mobility, and energy levels. When you feel better physically, you’re more likely to be better emotionally.

The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week for adults. This can be broken into small chunks throughout the week or even during the day. 

If exercise is new for you, look for ways to incorporate activity into your day. Go for a 10-minute walk during your break, or take the stairs instead of the elevator. 

As you move toward more intentional exercise, try something you enjoy, so you’ll be motivated to keep it up. Walking with a friend gives you social interaction. Joining a fitness class or recreational sports league offers structure and accountability.

Tip #10: Get Enough Rest

As a nurse, you’ll get tired, and a tight schedule or persistent stress could mean sacrificing sleep. Hospital nurses walk up to five miles during a 12-hour shift. Rest is critical to energize and revitalize your body.

Prevention magazine has identified a series of simple ways to promote restful sleep. Here are just a few of the steps:

  • Wake up at a regular time each day.
  • Catch morning sunlight.
  • Avoid afternoon caffeine.
  • Establish a relaxing bedtime routine.
  • Unplug from electronic devices early. 

If you had a stressful day at work, put your mind at ease by focusing on the positive. Instead of mulling over an argument with a colleague, remember the baby you helped deliver. Reflecting on happy moments from your day can help you celebrate your victories and promote a good night’s sleep.

Bonus Tip: Find More Work-life Balance and Self-fulfillment

By advancing to leadership in nursing, you’ll find more freedom, and you’ll be empowered to affect change in the workplace. Pursuing a nursing specialty through an advanced nursing care degree could be your pathway to leadership..  

Nurse leaders advocate for change in the profession and help to implement processes to make an impact in both job quality and the patient. By earning a master’s or doctoral degree, you can enhance self-fulfillment as a nurse and lead change for the entire nursing profession.

Ready to Pursue Your Leadership Pathway to Work-life Balance?

Explore your nurse practitioner career options and learn more about what you can do with an advanced nursing degree at Marymount University Online. Learn more about our online BSN to DNP program and our online MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner program.

 

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