Establishing and maintaining a healthy work/life balance can be challenging in any career. For nurses, who must contend with factors like long shifts and burnout, balancing career demands with life outside of work can be especially difficult. Nonetheless, striking this balance is essential to promoting a nurse’s physical and mental health. Not only can exhaustion lead to distraction and poor performance at work, but it can also make you more susceptible to illness. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to find the right balance.

Identify & Set Priorities

Priorities can change during different phases of life. For a nurse just entering the workforce, further education may be the most important priority outside of work. Nurses who have settled into their careers may be looking to spend more time with their families. Think about what’s most important to you outside of your career, and work it into your schedule just as you would your shifts or other responsibilities.

Prep What You Can

With long shifts, nurses often feel pressed for time. Make work days less stressful by prepping ahead as much as you can. For instance, make healthy meals for the week on a day off, or lay out clothing for yourself and your children the day before. Moms in the nursing world can be especially challenged to achieve a work/life balance, but planning and preparing what you can before your shift can make each day run a bit smoother.

Learn to Say No

If your schedule is already packed, declining invites to events such as birthday parties, showers, weddings, and other gatherings may become inevitable. Don’t feel as if you have to say yes to everything just because you’ve been asked. Similarly, know when to decline if someone asks you to pick up their shift. While it doesn’t hurt to help your colleagues now and then, it shouldn’t come at the expense of sacrificing your free time. You could always offer to trade shifts, too.

Find a Strong Support Network

Other nurses know how challenging it can be to achieve a work/life balance. Connecting with others can help you discover tips you hadn’t thought of, or it may just be beneficial to find support from people in similar circumstances. If you like engaging online, consider joining some web-based nursing support groups. Or, invite your coworkers to get together to de-stress. Moreover, socializing regularly can benefit your personal wellness by triggering the release of stress-reducing hormones.

Take Care of Your Emotional Health

Be proactive in addressing your emotional health. Small efforts throughout the day can add up to better emotional wellness. Start each day with reflections of gratitude, and use quick breaks such as time spent during hand washing to repeat positive mantras. Consider activities that can help you de-stress after work in a healthy way, such as journaling or meditation.

Use Your Breaks Wisely

Sometimes you may just need to unwind and scroll mindlessly through social media to decompress during breaks. If you have the time and energy, however, you may feel better after taking a walk or checking some errands off your to-do list. Running a quick errand or making a call could help you feel more accomplished and will give you some more downtime when your shift is done.

Get Plenty of Sleep

More than two-thirds of nurses struggle to stay awake during their shift—a clear sign of the exhaustion that affects nurses. Get ample rest by practicing good sleep hygiene. Turn off electronics at least an hour before bed and avoid caffeine at least six hours before bed. If you have to work night shifts, invest in blackout curtains to prevent daylight from interrupting your slumber.

Find the Work Schedule that Works for You

Instead of adjusting your whole life so that it fits your work schedule, it’s better to work in a position that accommodates your goals for maintaining your desired work/life balance.. For instance, while night shifts might work well for a student who’s pursuing further education and hasn’t yet started a family, it likely wouldn’t suit a mother of young children. Following a work schedule that doesn’t fit your lifestyle will result in physical and mental burnout. Don’t force shifts that don’t work for you—find the position that fits within the lifestyle you’ve already created.

To help nurses find a healthy work/life balance, Mutual Nursing pairs nurses with the positions that fit their scheduling requirements. Turn to Mutual Nursing to search for the right career based on your lifestyle by joining the network and completing an application.