Caring For Your Mental Health While On Assignment

A healthcare career has many advantages and rewards, but handling life-and-death situations every day can deteriorate your mental health. As a travel nurse away from your home and the surrounding support that comes with that, caring for your mental health is challenging but more crucial than ever.

Here are nine ideas to keep your mental health strong during an assignment. 

For additional help, read this article to learn specific strategies for managing stress as a healthcare worker.

Prioritize your physical health
When you’re not at your best physically, your mental well-being suffers, too. By caring for your body, you’ll also take care of your emotional and mental health. Eating and sleeping well while exercising regularly should be part of your daily routine.

Spend time outside.
Being outdoors recalibrates both your mental and physical health. Green spaces lower your risk of depression and help you recover from psychological stress faster. Studies show that being in nature increases our focus and restores our mental capacities. Even sitting on a park bench while eating lunch has restorative powers that can improve your day.

Set goals and prioritize. 
Outline “now” and “later” tasks can help balance your mental health. And saying no to new tasks when you feel overwhelmed keeps you on track.

Schedule some fun to unwind.
Take time each day -- even on workdays -- to do something that brings you joy. This will look different for everyone. For some, it might be reading a book or drawing. For others, it could be watching a nostalgic TV show or listening to music. Maybe you'd prefer to go out and explore new surroundings or FaceTime with friends. The activity itself isn't important; it's the feeling during and afterward that matters. 

Have phone-free zones.
Spending hours scrolling through social media or the news can add stress, so set firm phone-free times. For instance, make a habit of putting your phone down during meals and shutting it down 30 minutes before bed.

Practice gratitude.
Being thankful helps keep us mentally healthy. Focusing on the positive can also keep self-doubt in check. Consider keeping a gratitude journal or saying at least two things you’re grateful for each day. Try reframing your thinking from "I have to" to "I get to." Learn how other nurses practice gratitude.

Keep connected.
Don’t neglect your relationships with family and friends, even if they live far away. Have regularly scheduled time together virtually, and then plan for in-person time when you’re back in the area. And if you really want to make their day, send them a postcard or a hand-written note in the mail.

Quiet your mind.
Meditation, mindfulness, and prayer are all ways we dial down internal stress. Relaxation exercises, like box breathing, may also improve your frame of mind.

Download apps.
There are apps available to help you increase mindfulness. And the best part is that many of them are free. Flex your mental health muscles by downloading these free mindfulness apps by taking quick, 10-minute breaks each day to stay consistent.

Chat with a professional.
Getting help for a mental health challenge is a sign of strength. You should schedule some time to connect with a professional if your sense your mental health declining. Don't wait until it's detrimental. Treat mental health just as you would your physical health. Incorporating preventive measures with mental health professionals can help keep your worries at bay.

Looking for additional mental health support for nurses? 
Find a library of well-being resources on our Wellness page, including:

  • Tips to get better sleep
  • Getting the most from time off
  • Healthy eating habits and discounts on meal prep kits
  • Staying well on the road
  • Fitness tips
  • Free apps, and more!
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