How Do They Do It? Nurses Share Their Sanity Savers

By Bethany Kandel

There’s no question that nursing is a hard job. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting. But it can also be deeply rewarding. In honor of National Nurses Day, we asked nurses across the country to share their tips and tricks for how they make their jobs work while staying positive, keeping their sanity, and taking care of their patients and themselves in the process. Here are their secrets:

Self Care

Avoid job burnout. I was subject to serious job burnout at one point and I have come back from it even stronger. Don’t buy into the fallacy that the hospital can’t run without you. Set a limit on the extra shifts you pick up and let go of any guilt. Nurses tend to be caregivers 24/7, taking on responsibility that isn’t necessarily their burden. Remember you are a person first, with needs and emotions. You are a nurse and employee second. If you don’t care for yourself, you won’t be any good to your patients or your employer anyway. Make it a rule to fill your own cup so that you have the excess to fill up others.
Tiffany Swedeen, BSN, RN, Providence Regional Medical Center, Everett, WA

Have a Little Fun

The feeling that hard work isn’t acknowledged or doesn’t make a difference wears nurses down. I’ve never burned out because I insist on pockets of joy every day, even if I must work really hard to make fellow employees receptive to the foreign idea of combining fun and professionalism rather than choosing between the two. For example, one of my book covers shows me proudly standing by an anesthesia machine while resting my arm on a bedpan that matches the color of my scrubs perfectly. When possible, I share the daily ironies of healthcare with co-workers and patients. My way acknowledges the absurd and increases cheerfulness.
Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN, Sacred Heart Hospital, Pensacola, FL

Reboot Yourself

Create a reboot routine that can include things like taking three deep breathes between patient interactions, taking 15-minute breaks during a shift, or listening to music in the car after a shift to wind down. This gives me a chance to refresh, refocus, or relax so I can give my best to my patients and myself. It is important to be present and truly available when interacting with patients and coworkers as well as family and friends. Taking a moment to center myself allows me to put stress and multiple distractions aside.
Lisa Wade, BSN, RN, CCM, CLNC, Wade Nurse Consultants, Willow Grove, PA

Stay Positive

In my 16 years of full-time critical bedside nursing care, I find that staying positive (for me) means acknowledging there are things beyond my control and that at the end of the day the only thing I can control is my response.
Joe Love, BSN, RN, University of Maryland Medical Center, Baltimore, MD

Do a Little Dance

When I first became a nurse, I needed to learn how to cope with loss. I started a ritual of lighting a special candle every time I came home from a shift when I lost a baby (I work with infants). Lighting the candle is my way of honoring the life that passed and I find comfort in doing so. You have to find a way to let yourself mourn and sometimes that can also mean having a good cry. Nurses are human and it’s not unusual to grieve for the loss of a patient you’ve come to know. On really hard days when I don’t feel like I can drag myself back to work, I make a point of putting on an ‘80s dance song and dancing in my scrubs for the duration of the song before I leave the house. The more dramatic and crazy the dance, the better the day will be.
Ali Mileski, RNC-OB, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, NY

Celebrate Small Wins

In nursing, it’s always easy to pick apart your day and find things you could have done better or to get frustrated by how overwhelming the work is. However, if you find time to celebrate the small wins it can do wonders for your job satisfaction and attitude. Did you just do an awesome job on a dressing change that no one else could? That deserves a high five. Started a difficult IV? Do a mini victory dance. Nursing is full of wins if you know where to look for them. Each one is worthy of a reminder of just how awesome it is to be a nurse and make an impact.
Brittney Wilson, BSN, RN, Blogger at, Nashville, TN

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