Finding Work-Life Balance in Nursing

Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC - 03/13/19

A nursing career presents a great challenge if you’re a nurse who wants to be at your best, personally and professionally. Life is complicated and healthcare is demanding, so finding work-life balance can be formidable. Nonetheless, staying in balance is of the utmost importance if you desire to attain an optimally healthy workstyle and lifestyle.

21st-Century Nurse Life

In the 21st-century, we can easily feel pulled in many directions. For those who are middle-aged members of the so-called “Sandwich Generation”, ageing parents and school-age children tug for your attention and time. If you’re a millennial, you face life as the first generation not expected to do as economically well as your parents.

In this information age, we face unprecedented demands on our time. Email, texts, voicemail, social media, streaming video, the interwebs – it can all easily suck us into a digital void where we lose time, forget our other interests, and find ourselves lost and drained.

Moreover, 21st-century nurses face rampant bullying, harmful staffing strategies, slow income growth, and a competitive job market with three generations of nurses vying for open positions. And if you want to get ahead, higher education has never been more expensive.

No matter, self-care and work-life balance must be given the attention they deserve -- if not, burnout, compassion fatigue, and career stagnation follow. This is the modern nurse’s task: live a life of healthy balance, even as we acknowledge how difficult it can be to do so.

The Physical, Emotional, and Spiritual

You may ignore your physical health because you feel too busy. You may give little or no attention to your emotional and spiritual well-being because it seems self-indulgent. Who has time for spiritual practice and emotional self-care when the demands of daily life daily grind away at your conscience?

In this fast-paced world, your physical health can take a beating. You have kids to pick up, elderly parents to care for, and laundry, shopping, and housework to do on top of three 12-hour shifts.

Finding the time and energy for self-care care may not come easy. Nurses are usually more comfortable caring for others, but now you must step up your efforts on your own behalf -- your life, career, and personal happiness depend on it.

Simple self-care hacks and goals may include:

  • Walking in nature
  • Attendance at a church, mosque, synagogue, or other spiritual center
  • Classes in dance, swimming, scuba diving, yoga, Zumba, Nia, etc
  • Engaging with a counselor or therapist
  • Creating a meditation or prayer practice
  • Reading for pleasure
  • Journaling or writing
  • Cooking or baking because you enjoy it
  • Photography, painting, ceramics, playing music
  • Meeting regularly with your chosen faith leader
  • Hiring a life coach

Making the Time

All that matters in your dedication to new self-care practices and achieving work-life balance is that you consciously and conscientiously make time for it. Since we’re so addicted to being “busy” (a word that you may want to remove from your vocabulary), it’s recommended that you perform an inventory of how you spend your time.

This exercise is simple: honestly track how you spend your day in 30-minute increments for 14 days. Carry a notebook and jot down the hours you spend on Facebook, watching Netflix, etc. Once you’ve done your assessment, you’ll easily see ways to carve out time for yourself: decrease your Facebook time from an hour per day to 20 minutes; watch Netflix every other evening instead of every night. Time is what you make of it and how you use it.

Finally, you may need to delegate some of your responsibilities to other people. Coach the softball team? Not this season. Cook dinner four nights a week? Do two instead. Cover your colleagues’ shift or work a double? Not this month. Make your family, friends, and colleagues aware that you need some time to yourself, and then take responsibility for making it happen.

Balance Is (and Isn’t) a No-Brainer

Work-life balance is a no-brainer in that homeostasis is essential to life. An imbalance of potassium will throw your heart into an arrhythmia, and an imbalance of work and play will make you a dull boy or girl indeed.

On the other hand, work-balance also isn’t a no-brainer because our culture teaches us that it’s not. Working too hard? Join the club. Too busy for exercise? Ditto. Ignoring your favorite hobbies and pastimes? No one has time for hobbies anymore. We constantly hear these messages.

It’s your decision to make work-life balance and your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being a priority. There’s no cookie-cutter answer. Rather, look deep into your heart, assess the state of your life and career, and decide to bring the scales of your life back into balance. It actually is a no-brainer if you allow it to be, and your mind, body, and spirit will thank you for your dedication to your own health and happiness.