How nurses can find the balance in a hectic career

Written by Eric Titner

Being a nurse is not an easy career choice—nurses typically face a host of pressures and challenges throughout their professional lives that the average worker never has to confront. The stresses of a job in which you’re constantly dealing with serious life and death issues, working in hectic and emotionally charged environments, and juggling the physical and mental demands of grueling work schedules make nursing a job that’s not for the faint of heart.

Nurses report that they consistently grapple with existential career issues like burnout and having non-existent work-life balance. With everything they have to deal with on a regular basis, is it any wonder that nurses sometimes find themselves struggling to maintain a healthy distinction between their time on and off the clock?

If you’re a nurse who sometimes finds that the intense demands of your job make it difficult to maintain a feasible work-life balance, you’re not alone. According to the Careers in Nursing website, “Some nurses may struggle with work-life balance because of the nature of the job, long hours and shift work commitments. Some say nurses are especially vulnerable because they are socialized into a caretaker role, and the result is that they may put other’s needs before their own. Nurses should pay extra attention to managing work-life balance to ensure they derive maximum satisfaction from their work while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”

Imbalance can have a lasting impact on your happiness and well-being—on top of increasing the chances of suffering burnout and job fatigue, it can impact your ability to perform work tasks effectively, negatively affect both personal and professional relationships, and lead to a host of mental and physical issues including depression, anxiety, insomnia, and serious illness.

With all of that said, there are effective strategies for maintaining a healthy balance while working as a nurse. Consider taking advantage of the following tips for keeping your professional and personal lives in order and running smoothly.

Know yourself

Just like workers in other fields, nurses are unique individuals with different likes, dislikes, motivators, passions, and bandwidths for work. There’s no “one size fits all” approach for how much work is too much and how much of your life needs to be reserved for personal time. Some nurses live to work and have few personal demands on their time and focus; other nurses have tons of personal obligations and interests that need to be attended to in order for them to stay happy and healthy.

Be honest with yourself when determining how much time you need for your personal life, and draw a hard line so that your work doesn’t spill over on a consistent basis. (Yes, most of us have to deal with occasional late work nights, but that’s to be expected in today’s hectic work world.) Make sure not to volunteer too much of your time to working overtime and extra shifts—the extra money can be great, but be aware of the “hidden costs” of relinquishing your personal time. Know yourself and your needs, and do your best to respect them.

Have healthy outlets

When you do have some personal time to yourself, how are you spending it? Are you sitting at home thinking about your next shift, replaying stressful work events in your head and dreading having to go back to work? It’s great to have time off work, but if you’re only using it to vent and fret about the job, then it’s wasted time that isn’t helping you maintain a healthy balance.

Instead, consider making healthy and productive use of your time in ways that have nothing to do with nursing. Do things you find enjoyable: spend quality time with friends and family, find a hobby that relaxes you, and challenge yourself in new and unexpected ways. The key is to find something that helps you stay grounded and sane when things at work get tough.

Find support

This bit of advice is valuable in all professions, but it’s particularly important for nurses to find a trusted source of support who they can turn to, especially when things get intense. Nurses shouldn’t discount the value of venting their feelings when they’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed—it can be a great tool for getting a handle on your emotions on particularly stressful days. Someone who can help you do a “reality check” when you’re losing perspective can be an invaluable resource. Your support buddy can be a trusted friend, colleague, or even someone senior to you—as long as it’s someone whose opinion and viewpoint you trust and who is equipped to recognize when your work-life balance is going off-kilter.

Being a nurse can be a stressful and challenging career—but that doesn’t mean it needs to take over your life completely. Use the strategies and advice presented here to help you keep the elements of your life balanced, realistic, and in check.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.