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Finding Time for Work-Life Balance

By Sheryl Ness, MA, BSN, ADN, RN

Nurse asking herself an important question

Do you find that you’re having problems finding just the right balance between your work and life responsibilities? If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. One in four people in the U.S. describe themselves as “super stressed” as they try to manage work time with family and social time. This is especially true with the extra layer of stress most nurses are trying to manage during the current pandemic.
Setting priorities in both these areas of your life can be very tricky. It’s especially important for nurses, who are often taking care of others in their work life, to have a healthy sense of well-being, satisfaction, and contentment with their life in general. Achieving a well-rounded sense of balance in both your work and personal life is the ultimate goal.
If you’re feeling so stressed that it feels as if things are out of control, there are ways to actively work toward finding your balance. You may be feeling as if burnout and stress are affecting most areas of your work and life. If you’re like most nurses, it’s probably been a while since you took time out to pause and consider a work-life plan focused on you.


Reflecting on choices

Reflect on the Positives and Negatives

Take a step back and reflect on what you feel is working well in your work and home life and what is not going well. What are the things that stress you out the most? What elements of your work and home life do you have control over?
As you do this reflection, it might be helpful to write down the things that come to mind.
Create a list of those aspects of life that are most important to you. Label this list your positive list. You could even place them in order of importance to help you prioritize where to focus most of your energy, separating items according to work and home life.
Then create a second list of the things that feel out of control or that are your biggest source of stress. Label this your negative list. Do this for your work and home life as well. After you create this list, place these items in order of how much control you have over the changing what is not working in your work or life.

Set Your Priorities

When you’re done making these two lists, start by looking at the top 1-2 items on the positive list and then write down some ideas on how to do more of the things you love and less time doing the things that stress you out. Just write down anything that comes to mind – even if you’re not sure how to make it happen. It’s important to do this step. If you don’t write them down, it’s less likely that you’ll be successful.
For example, if you would like to spend more time with your partner, schedule a regular date night together. Put it on both your calendars and talk about what you’d like to do together. Or, if you want more time doing activities with your family, do the same with this. Plan out special outings and clear your schedule for time together. Maybe a positive on your work list is to spend time learning a new skill that will help you advance in your career. Seek out resources and others who can support you in making this happen.
For the things on the negative list, write down some ideas on how to do less of these. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by making dinner every night. Create a weekly menu and assign family members or others to help you with the tasks. Having others involved will help take the load off you and might even be a fun activity instead of feeling like a chore. Perhaps you tend to take extra shifts at work because you have trouble saying “no.” Make a plan and even practice your response when you are asked to work extra shifts. It could be something like, “I have decided to make family time a priority at the moment.”

Create a list of those aspects of life that are most important to you. Label this list your positive list.

Two heads are better than one

Talk About What You Need

Once you have done this reflective exercise and set your priorities, talk about it with others who can help you make your plan a reality. If your goal is one in your personal life, talk with your family and friends. Let them know that you need to make a change and tell them why it’s important to you.
If your goal is work-related, talk with your manager. Let them know how you are feeling. Ask for flexibility in your schedule if possible. It’s even okay to let them know if you’re feeling stressed or a lack of control. Often there are work resources such as an employee assistance program (EAP) that you can utilize that can be very helpful.

Lean on someone now and then

Seek Out Support

Once you start talking with others about what you need, you’d be surprised how much help and support you’ll find. When you have your ideas, ask for input from family and friends. This way, they will also understand when you say “no” to extra commitments and be more supportive. Asking your manager and colleagues for help will also let them know how you are feeling and give them an opportunity to offer to help when you need it.
If things feel like your so stressed that you can’t move forward, seek out help from a mental health professional. Having a regular time to connect and discuss your feelings with someone neutral who can also help guide you can be incredibly helpful. You might also seek help from a life coach who can formally work with you on your goals as you seek a better work-life balance.

Plan your work-life outline

Create Your Work-Life Plan

Once you have your work-life plan outlined, stick to it as much as possible. Everyone’s work-life goals will be different and can be very personal. Keep your goals written down and revisit them often. If needed, adjust them as time goes on and your priorities change. If you are a planner, it can be helpful to write down short-term and long-term goals to help you achieve the balance that brings you the happiness and contentment you seek. It’s so worth spending this time on yourself so that you will have a healthy future and care for yourself and so that you will have the energy to care for others as a nurse.

Bouncing with joy

Take Care of Yourself

Creating balance is all about taking care of yourself. Nurses are not always good at putting themselves first. Even if the changes are baby steps at first, you will start to feel a better sense of control over your life. Remember to place a focus on healthy strategies and self-care. Some of the best ways to manage stress and feel more balanced include:

  • Create a task list every week to stay on track.
  • Eat healthy and nutritious foods.
  • Stay well hydrated.
  • Do your favorite exercise on a regular schedule (walk, bike, dance, tai chi, yoga).
  • Make it a priority to get enough sleep every night.
  • Focus on hobbies and creative outlets (gardening, cooking, painting, etc.).
  • Unplug from your cell phone and work e-mail when it’s time to focus on home life.
  • Use your relaxation strategies when needed (deep breathing, a 5-minute mindfulness break, listening to music, etc.).

RESOURCES:

Apps

  • Breathe
  • Calm
  • Cozi
  • Insight Timer
  • Way of Life
  • Happify
  • PathSource
  • Sleep Cycle
  • Simple Habit

Websites

Stress Management, American Holistic Nurses Association
https://www.ahna.org/Home/Resources/Stress-Management

Work-Life Balance, Rewire
https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health

Guided Meditations, UCLA Health
https://www.rewireinc.com/work-life-balance

REFERENCES:

Lupu I & Ruiz-Castro M. (2021). Work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from
https://hbr.org/2021/01/work-life-balance-is-a-cycle-not-an-achievement

Mental Health America. (n.d.). Work-life balance. Retrieved from
https://www.mhanational.org/work-life-balance

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019). Brain basics: understanding sleep. Retrieved from
https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Understanding-Sleep

Preventive Cardiovascular Nursing Association (PCNA). (2018) 6 healthy work-life balance tips for nurses. Retrieved from
https://pcna.net/6-healthy-work-life-balance-tips-for-nurses/


Blog Author, Sheryl M. Ness, MA, BSN, ADN, RN

About the author:

Sheryl M. Ness, MA, BSN, ADN, RN

Sheryl Ness has been an RN since 1985, working in the areas of transfusion medicine, endocrinology, neurology, and oncology. She achieved assistant professor of oncology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and has a master's in transcultural nursing. She has worked for over a decade in the field of oncology education, teaching nurses, allied health staff, and patients. She is published in the Oncology Nursing Forum, the Journal of Transcultural Nursing, and the Journal of Cancer Education. Since 2009, she has written for nursing textbooks and designed curriculum for medical residents, nursing students, and other allied health professionals.


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