Nurses are used to helping and taking care of patients all day at their jobs and, often times, their caregiving role doesn’t end when they leave work. Whether caring for spouses, children, parents, pets or friends, many nurses find themselves serving others in both their professional and personal lives.
Nurses have a demanding schedule and juggle many important responsibilities and an increasing amount are facing depression, which interferes with their ability to perform at their best at work, as well as in other areas of their lives. If you’re a nurse, continue reading for suggestions on how to avoid depression as a nurse and keep yourself mentally healthy. Pass this important information along to your colleagues as well.
Depression in the Nursing Profession
Unfortunately, the mental well being of nurses is often at risk, with a variety of factors coming into play. This is a serious issue in the nursing field, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI), reporting that nurses experience clinical depression at twice the rate of the general public. While depression affects 9% of everyday people, 18% of nurses experience symptoms of depression.
With such a high incidence of depression in this field, it’s important for nurses to take proactive measures to avoid depression themselves and to be able to identify and help colleagues who may be struggling with this illness.
Ways Nurses Can Avoid Depression
Nurses spend nearly all of their time caring for others but usually neglect themselves. And we all know the well-known saying that you need to put your oxygen mask on first before you can be of help to others. This holds true for nurses too - you need to prioritize yourself in order to stay physically and mentally healthy. Only then will you be able to give your best to your patients and your loved ones. Below are a few essentials for self-care.
Establish a Rejuvenating Morning and Evening Routine
While these routines will be different for each individual based on personal interests and schedules, it’s good to have simple routines at the beginning and end of your day that act as anchors. For example, you can wake up a little early each morning to have time to enjoy a fresh cup of coffee and do some reading or practice yoga to have a peaceful start to your day. At the end of the day, make time to unwind with an activity you enjoy, whether that be taking a walk, watching your favorite show or doing some journaling. Also make time each week for activities that fill you up, such as having dinner with friends, going for a bike ride with your kids or practicing a favorite hobby.
Numerous studies have shown that regular exercise can help prevent depression. During exercise, certain chemicals are released in the brain that act like antidepressants, which can be protective if there are other stressful things happening in our lives which may otherwise lead to depression. This makes it especially important for nurses to prioritize exercise to help prevent depression, since nurses face more situations and events on an ongoing basis that can trigger depression than the average person does.
And you don’t need to run a marathon to reap the rewards of exercise either. Even just 15 minutes of moderate exercise, such as fast walking or riding a stationary bike, can provide mood-boosting effects. Make time to exercise regularly and you’ll not only experience physical benefits, but mental ones too!
While it’s often tempting and convenient to grab a sugary snack when hunger strikes on the job, you’ll want to reconsider what you’re feeding your body. Since sugary foods cause a spike in blood sugar levels, followed by a crash, they usually cause us to feel lousy, bringing our mood down. In fact, in one study, researchers found a highly significant correlation between sugar consumption and depression rates.
Balancing your blood sugar is a key way to prevent depression. Try to eat healthy foods throughout the day that either don’t contain sugar or are low in sugar, and include a good source of protein at each meal and snack to help maintain proper blood sugar levels.
Research has shown that disturbances in circadian rhythms have been linked to depression. The first step to ensure your circadian rhythms are synchronized is to get the proper amount of sleep on a daily basis.
As much as possible, go to bed at the same time each evening and wake up at the same time every morning. Be sure to turn off all screens (this includes TVs laptops and phones) at least an hour before going to bed so your body can adjust and you can fall asleep more easily. If your work schedule is erratic and doesn’t allow you to get a lot of sunlight, you may also want to look into light therapy or melatonin supplements to help resynchronize your circadian rhythms.
Nurses often keep their emotions bottled up inside and don’t always discuss situations that are causing them stress or emotional trauma. For nurses to maintain their mental health, it’s critical that they’re able to get things off of their chest regularly. Seeing a therapist weekly is a smart idea and a safe place for nurses to discuss traumatic experiences at work, difficult personal situations and any number of fears and negative emotions they may be experiencing.
Depression is a crippling condition, but nurses and managers of nursing staff shouldn’t avoid or fear the condition. Instead, they need to provide a supportive work environment where nurses are comfortable discussing their struggles with their boss. If you or someone you know shows signs of depression, it’s important to get help from a professional that understands the unique stresses and demands nurses face every day. Signs of depression aren’t something to take lightly and, with the right help and support, it can be treated before it gets worse.