When I made the decision to apply for nursing school, I put myself up to the task of building some healthy habits that I could ultimately bring into my career as a nurse. I have since enacted two simple rules for a healthy life as a nurse.
Rule Number One: Exercise. Walk, bike ride, treadmill, whatever.
Sticking to an exercise program was not a problem while I was working a 9-to-5 office job and had all the free time in the world. When nursing school started, I had a part-time job, a clinical schedule, a lecture schedule and a much-needed sleep schedule to contend with. In addition, the stress of starting an entirely new career caused my anxiety levels to skyrocket.
Exercise has always been my primary method of controlling my anxiety, and I was determined to figure out a way to get out and move a few times a week. On clinical days, that meant hitting the gym at 4:45 a.m. Brutal, at first…but I got used to it.
Rule Number Two: Don’t cut out the rest of your life entirely (just pick out the good stuff!).
I was told at the start of my nursing program to “Kiss your family and friends goodbye.” This was not a concept that I was comfortable with. I know from past personal and professional failures that all work and no play makes me mean and crabby.
I made a deal with myself that I wouldn’t miss any of the “big stuff,” like weddings, showers and birthdays. I had to be strict about my study schedule if I agreed to attend an event, but I spent my first semester of nursing school without feeling like I had compromised too much of my integrity as a friend, girlfriend, daughter or sister.
I recall something one of my patients said when I asked him about the qualities of a good nurse: “If you’re going to be lecturing me on living a healthy lifestyle, you had better look like you live one yourself.” Like it or not, I have thrust myself into a career where I’m a role model.
We are not given a superhero cape when we pass the NCLEX, so our health has to be a main priority. One thing I’ve learned during nursing school is that I’m a much better nurse when I’m a healthy nurse.