Mental Health: Looking after Mental Health Away From Home

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By Zach Norton

January 9, 2023



How Travel Nurses Can Look After Their Mental Health While Away From Home

Nurses undergo tremendous pressure and often experience compassion fatigue, guilt, and a mix of other emotions in a single day. For travel nurses, adapting to new situations and scenarios poses an extra challenge in prioritizing their mental and physical health.

The profession demands unconditional giving, which often results in mental exhaustion. When consistently taking care of someone, many nurses put their own health and needs on hold. It is crucial for travel nurses to find a balance between taking care of their patients and taking care of themselves.

Here are 5 quick ways you can better look after your mental health while you’re away from home.

1. Practice a Daily Self-Care Routine

It’s very challenging for a travel nurses to put themselves first and take care of themselves over others. The sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in helping someone often overshadows the essential individual needs. However, you can help others more effectively when you’re taking care of yourself.

Being in the right mental space is important to provide the best service to a patient. A simple daily self-care ritual can make a big difference in maintaining your health and developing mental toughness. This can be something as simple as journaling or reading a book, getting a good nap, or connecting with friends or family. I journal regularly. These practices will help you rebound from fatigue and unwind from mental exhaustion.

2. Improve Your Quality of Sleep 

It’s a challenge for most travel nurses to get quality sleep at night. Work hours can cover night shifts or untimely calls from patients, so it can be difficult to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. But sleep is essential for your ability to function well; without it, your cognition can suffer.

According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), nurses should have 10 consecutive hours of time off with 7 to 9 hours of sleep between shifts. There will be days when your sleep schedule will be out of your control. The nature of the job means you don’t always know when you’ll be able to change out of your scrubs and put your head on your pillow. But try to adhere to a consistent sleep and waking schedule, and aim for the hours of sleep recommended by the ANA.

Your physical fitness must also be given importance as it is closely connected to your sleep schedule. Any pain or discomfort you’re experiencing needs to be addressed immediately to avoid any impact on your quality of sleep.

3. Practice Mindfulness to Understand Your Mind and Body

The culture of urgency is prevalent among travel nurses as their job demands immediate attention to the needs of the patient. This often clouds the personal needs of the nurses. Mindfulness is a wonderful technique that can be used literally anytime, anywhere.

You can practice mindfulness through techniques like focused breathing and body scan meditation. Here are some mindfulness exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic.

Mindfulness can help you in many ways:

  • Improved physical and mental health
  • Sense of serenity
  • Enhanced attention span
  • Stress management
  • Increased empathy for your patients and others
  • Decreased likelihood of burnout

4. Maintain a Healthy, Balanced Diet

A healthy, balanced diet is essential for combating the everyday stress of being a travel nurse. While eating the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables can be a challenge due to constant travel, simply grabbing a salad or veggie-filled sandwich on your way to work instead of starting your day with processed food can be a big step in the right direction.

A healthy meal paired with good physical activity helps support your immune system and decreases your chances of getting sick. Also, be sure you’re managing your medications while you’re on the road.

Here are a few easy ways you can improve your diet:

  • Always keep healthy snacks in your bag. Seed mixtures, dried fruits, or chopped vegetables are great travel companions. These wholesome snacks are filled with essential proteins, vitamins, and minerals, and keeping them with you allows you a faster recharge than running through the drive-thru or resorting to a candy bar from the vending machine.
  • Stay hydrated. A water bottle is an essential addition to your bag. Water helps you feel energized and prevents dehydration, which is very common while traveling.
  • Consume whole foods. Opt for healthy food choices when you can. Not everywhere you go will have a healthy meal option, but always be on the lookout for one and take advantage of it where possible.

5. Get help when you feel you need it

There is no shame in asking for help when you are not okay. This is true not only when you’re experiencing physical symptoms but also mental health issues like anxiety and depression. A mental health professional can help you get back to feeling your best, so you can get back to giving your patients your best care.

These professionals provide a safe space where you can share your thoughts, and they will also help you navigate things that are going on in your life outside of work, such as coping with loss or managing scanxiety.

Your therapist back home may be able to meet with you over the phone or a video call, and there are online mental health platforms where you can speak with a therapist wherever you are. Sometimes, these tips might not be enough because of the magnitude of the challenge you are facing. In those scenarios, your agency could help you in getting additional resources.

Our job board is a great place to search for your next travel nurse assignment. We have you covered with our housing page if housing is an issue. You can search for what you are looking for.

If you are a new travel nurse or looking into becoming a travel nurse:

Travel Nurse Guide: Step-by-Step (now offered in a PDF Downloadable version!)

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