How Nurses Can Find Work-Life Balance
By: Holly E Carpenter, RN, BSN
Work-life balance is something nurses are constantly trying to achieve. But according to theAmerican Nurses Association’s 2013 – 2016 Health Risk Appraisal, many nurses are falling short of that goal.
According to the findings:
- 82% of nurses experienced significant workplace stress.
- 57% said they often went to work early, stayed late, or worked through break time to finish their work.
- 33% said they were assigned a higher workload than they felt comfortable with.
If nurses are experiencing a lack of balance or satisfaction at work, it’s bound to bleed into their home life as well. What can nurses do to become happier, less stressed, and more aligned?
We spoke to Heather Lapides, RN. Lapides is a board-certified nurse coach and co-founder of The Nurse Coach Collective, a training program for RNs interested in becoming board-certified nurse coaches. Lapides shares her tips on how nurses can achieve work-life balance despite hectic jobs.
What does work-life balance look like?
“The term means different things to different people. For me, it means you’re happy and healthy in your work, and you’re happy and healthy in your life. If either one of those doesn’t feel like it’s lining up for you, then your whole work-life balance is off,” says Lapides.
Lapides explains that balance isn’t something you achieve just once. Instead, it’s a state we’re always striving to return to. We often have to discover new ways to get back to feeling balanced. “That mindset shift can be empowering,” she says.
Signs your work-life balance is out of alignment
It might be easy to identify a misalignment in your work and home life if you feel overwhelmed or stressed in either area. However, there are times when nurses may not realize how out of balance they are.
Nurses are often so busy and overextended that they don’t have time to think about what they truly want or need. Slowing down and taking stock of your levels of happiness and overall health is a good first step.
Other signs you may lack work-life balance include:
- Feeling like you never have enough time to do the things you need or want to do
- Living in a cluttered environment
- Feeling depressed
- Dreading going to work
- Feeling like you’re in a toxic environment either at work or at home
- Experiencing moral distress or burnout
“One key indicator that leads us to be out of balance is feeling a lack of integrity with the work we’re doing as nurses. A question to ask yourself is, ‘Do I feel good about the work I’m doing and the impact I’m having?’ That’s an important thing for nurses to find out so they can achieve balance. When you’re out of alignment with the care you’re providing, it’s challenging to feel rewarded by your work life,” says Lapides.
4 steps to achieving balance as a nurse
Once you understand that your work and home life are not in harmony, Lapides recommends certain actions you can take to become more aligned.
Step 1: Get help
Start with self-care and compassion. Allow yourself to acknowledge and appreciate how you’re feeling. Reach out to your nursing community, including your colleagues or manager. They may help you understand you’re not alone – chances are, others feel out-of-sync as well. Set up an appointment with a nurse coach.
“Nurse coaches are amazing resources. Not only are we trained in coaching to help you get better balance in your life, but as nurses, we come from that same background and understanding,” says Lapides. And if this line of work speaks to you, you may even want to consider becoming a nurse coach.
Step 2: Take ownership
“We are all the creators of our own life. We are where we are because of the choices that we’ve made — and you can always choose for something to be different. Since it’s only physically possible to do so much at work and so much at home, you have to control what you can control. Then accept and let go of the rest,” says Lapides.
For instance, if you feel that there aren’t enough nurses working during your shift, you need to speak up and keep speaking up until you get more help.
Step 3: Prioritize yourself
Nurses are notorious for putting everyone else ahead of themselves. In the ANA’s Health Risk Appraisal, 68% admitted to putting their patients’ health and well-being before their own.
Taking time to practice self-care, even as little as 10 minutes per day, can help you feel better. Lapides says that self-care will look different for everyone. Exercise or meditation may fulfill some nurses, while others need more sleep, a healthier diet, time with friends, or deep breathing exercises. Find what fills you up and make time for it.
Step 4: Make a change
If you’ve tried again and again to feel satisfied with your work but can’t achieve it, then it might be time to move on. Nurses have so many options available (schools, hospitals, government, home care, coaching, and more!) and many different schedules. Think about what would work best for you and take steps to make that happen. Don’t stay in a toxic work environment – it’s OK to put your needs first.
Lapides also mentions that it’s essential that nurses don’t take their work home with them. “You don’t need to feel a heroic responsibility to your patients or your unit. Yes, we’re there to do the best we can and to make the system run as best as it possibly can. But you don’t need to pick up every available shift or feel guilty for not doing so.”
Lapides advises, “Just do your job, be awesome at it, and enjoy it. And then let go of the rest that you can’t control. Slow down and make the intention to truly connect with your patients. Take advantage of your life and find ways (no matter how big or small) to enjoy it every single day.”
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