Healthy Aging: Is Nursing Taking a Toll on Your Health?

Nursing isn’t for the faint of heart. It means working long hours, dealing with life-or-death situations, and caring for patients when they’re at their worst. The challenges of working as a nurse may be rewarding, but they can also affect your physical and mental health. Nurses often suffer from joint and muscle pain, lasting stress, fatigue, and even anxiety and depression.

We’ll look at how nursing affects the mind and body and how you can improve your health and safety in the workplace by practicing self-care.

How Nursing Affects Your Health

As a nurse, you need to be there for your patients every step of the way, regardless of what’s going on with your body. Key findings from the American Nurses Association’s Health Risk Appraisal shows widespread physical and mental health concerns among nurses. According to the report, 68% of nurses surveyed said they put their patients’ health, safety, and wellness before their own. That means you may overlook certain aspects of your health, including your physical and mental wellbeing.

  • Physical Health Effects

Nursing is a physically demanding job. The report shows 59% of respondents claimed they worked 10 hours or longer daily. 56% to 57% reported often coming in early and/or staying late and working through their breaks to accomplish their work, and 33% said they had often been assigned a higher workload than that with which they were comfortable.

All those extra hours can do a number on certain parts of your body, especially if you’re doing manual labor throughout the day. 45% respondents ranked lifting/repositioning of heavy objects as a significant health and safety risk for nurses. 51% reported experiencing musculoskeletal pain at work.

Nurses also face the risk of sexual and physical assault on the floor. About 25% reported having been physically assaulted at work by a patient or patient’s family member, and 9% were concerned for their physical safety at work.

  • Mental Health Effects

Nursing can also take a toll on your mental health. In fact, workplace stress was identified as the top work environment health and safety risk in the report. About 82% said they are at a “significant level of risk for workplace stress.”

However, it’s not just the work that can affect your mental health. About half of the respondents had been bullied in some manner in the workplace, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and added stress in the workplace. Nurses suffer from depression at twice the rate of the general population, putting the figure somewhere around 18%. Depression is often characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and grief, especially if a nurse loses a patient or has been the victim of physical or sexual assault.

Practicing Self-Care

These issues aren’t just a hazard to your health, they can impair your ability to care for patients. You won’t be as effective on the floor if you’re suffering from depression, back pain, or burnout. That’s why it’s important to practice self-care both at work and when you’re off the clock.

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise, and try to get a full night’s sleep when you’re a nurse. On average, respondents slept seven hours in a 24-hour period, and 48% of respondents did muscle strengthening activities two or more days per week. About 67% of those surveyed said they have access to worksite wellness health promotion programs, including those that teach mental and physical health.

Furthermore, 56% indicated they had access to healthy foods such as fruits, vegetables, or whole grains during their work hours. Yet, nurses still have some work to do when it comes to their diets. Only 16% ate five or more servings of fruits or vegetables per day, and 35% ate 3 or more whole grain servings. The average body mass index (BMI) for respondents was 27.6, which is considered “overweight.”

If your facility does not offer healthy eating options or an onsite wellness program, consider talking to your supervisor or facility director. You may have to go out of your way to eat healthy at work or pack a lunch at home.

It’s also important to see your doctor regularly. About three-quarters of those surveyed said they received routine checkups and dental care within the past year.

If you feel unsafe at work, let a supervisor know before the situation gets out of control. Report incidents of bullying, physical and sexual assault and even attempted physical or sexual assault. You and your colleagues need to handle medical devices and objects according to safety regulations. 90% responded that they are familiar with their workplace’s written safety guidelines and policies, so take a few moments to look back over these policies to make sure you’re staying safe on the floor.

With all that added stress, it’s important to relax and destress when you’re not at work. Take a mental health day by spending time outdoors or with loved ones. Avoid spending too much time on your smartphone or looking at social media. Try doing yoga, meditating, getting back in the gym, or even talking to a psychologist.

Self-care is an integral part of your job. If you ignore your physical and mental health, your patients could suffer as a result. You deserve to be happy and healthy in and out of your scrubs. Use these tips to age healthy as a nurse, so you can keep saving lives for years to come.

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