It’s no secret that nursing is one of the most challenging and taxing (mentally and physically) professions a person can choose. But undergoing a travel assignment, while exciting and adventurous, also involves signing up for a lot of “unknowns” in the work environment. Jumping into a new hospital in a new city, working with new patients, doctors, and travel nurses means taking in a lot of change at once. At times it can feel overwhelming, and you may even find yourself noticing signs and symptoms of burnout.
It’s important to find ways to cope and to adequately manage your mental health and well-being when on an assignment so that you can learn and grow from the experience. Here are some self-care strategies for avoiding nurse burnout while on a travel assignment:
1) Find a hobby that grounds you. Some people have spiritual practices like prayer or meditation that keep them centered. Others enjoy reading, painting, exercise, or even a nice relaxing bath. Whatever it is for you, find an activity that you can look forward to after a long day that you know will help you truly reduce stress and recharge.
2) Get comfortable saying, “No.” This is not a free pass to skip out on your scheduled nursing shifts! But it’s important to set and respect boundaries when it comes to preserving your energy to avoid emotional exhaustion. When in a new location you might put pressure on yourself to go to happy hours, hikes, and other social events to meet other travel nurses and make friends…but be careful not to do so at the expense of your mental health. It’s important to be aware of what you need to recharge and to feel comfortable saying “No” when you feel your tank running low. Being mindful of how different things make you feel is one of the best ways to practice self-care.
3) Be proactive. The best way to avoid nurse burnout is to stop it in its tracks when you feel it coming on. Are you being overwhelmed with ratios that are far worse than what you were told about in the interview? Are you being put on call to the point that you feel like you’re going to lose your mind? If you have a work-related stress problem, address it as soon as possible. Speak up, and talk to your nurse leaders (Charge Nurse, Nurse Managers, and Recruiter) when problems first arise so you can nip them in the bud before they get too overwhelming for your health and well-being.
4) Have a support system. Identify 1-3 staff members you can go to and be wholly yourself, and maintain open lines of communication with them so that you have people you can go to for burnout prevention. Be upfront about what you need from them—sometimes, you might want to vent, whereas other times, you may be seeking advice. Be transparent about your symptoms so they can best be there to care for you. And of course, return the favor! Support systems go both ways.
5) Prioritize your physical health. This doesn’t mean undertaking any extreme diets or exercise regimens, but it’s true that physical, mental, and emotional health are indeed all linked and a part of work-life balance. Sometimes even just making sure to be properly hydrated can help enhance your stamina during a tough day. Exercise is a great stress and anxiety reliever, and of course filling your body with nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables can work wonders on your energy levels and overall mood. You don’t need a diet and fitness makeover to experience positive results. Making small, healthy choices here and there can add up and help combat physical exhaustion!
6) Laugh. I know, it’s cheesy, but what if you truly made an effort to experience more laughter in your day? Whether it’s going home and watching a funny movie, meeting up with friends and having a game night, going to a comedy show, or slowing down during the day to joke around and build a friendly patient and nurse relationship. Laughter reminds us not to take life too seriously and helps you to stay present and grounded. The job description of a travel nurse will always include caring for patients but don’t forget to care for yourself too.
7) Be open with your recruiter. Your recruiter wants nothing more than for you to be happy on your assignment and with your profession. If you’re starting to notice some signs of burnout, they want to know how they can help! Even if it’s just someone to talk to or someone that can give you hope that the next assignment will be better, your recruiter will want to have your back and do everything they can to help you find solutions. (If this is not the case, you need to find a new recruiter!)
8) Get quality sleep. Persistent fatigue has a significant impact on your mental and emotional health, and there are a lot of things you can do to improve your quality of sleep. Going to bed at the same time each night is one of the top tips you’ll see when you google “How to get better sleep,” but for a nurse working 3 x 12’s ,this might not always be realistic. Find what works for you, develop a nightly routine that gets your body in sleep mode. (ex. Try sipping on a sleepy time tea and reading until your eyes get heavy! Meditation or other relaxation techniques are also great options!) Not only is sleep important to your health, but it’s the best mental “break” that you can get!
9) Adopt a furry friend! Of course, this isn’t an option for everyone, but it’s no surprise that animals are now being recognized for their contributions as emotional support companions. Bringing home a kitten or puppy (if, and only if, you have the time, energy, and resources to support one!) can give you a new purpose, source of happiness and companionship that can help alleviate stress and bring you back to the present moment. If you’re not in the proper situation to adopt a pet, you can always look into opportunities to volunteer with animals, walk dogs as a side gig, or make friends with people who do have them!
10) Take a deep breath and remember, this isn’t permanent. The typical travel nurse contract length is 13 weeks. You won’t be stuck there forever. Even in the toughest of situations, knowing that there’s a finite amount of time you will be in this situation can provide some solace. As a travel nurse, going through adversity will only make you stronger in your nursing career!