Taking Care of Your Mental Health as a Travel Nurse

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During this time, organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) “fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.” For travel nurses, this last year (and beyond) were particularly stressful why they were combatting the pandemic. Travel nurses were forced to face more isolation and stress than usual and were often working incredibly long, arduous shifts. This month is a great time to reset your mental health and prioritize adding healthy practices into your daily routine. There are other Stability articles, like “Stress Reducing Tips for Travel Nurses,” that can be used as references and guides, but look below for further tips on how to take care of your mental health as a travel nurse. 

The Stats

Firstly, it’s important to know that people who suffer from mental health issues like depression and anxiety are not alone. According to NAMI, at least 21% of all adults in the United States are affected by some type of mental illness. The two that seem to affect the most people across a 12 month span are anxiety disorders (19%) and depression (8%). NAMI offers plenty of infographics that relay information on estimates of how many people are affected in the states. 

Why is Taking Care of Your Mental Health Important? 

According to a study found on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website, “mental illness-related stigma, including that which exists in the healthcare system and among healthcare providers, has been identified as a major barrier to access treatment and recovery, as well as poorer quality physical care for persons with mental illnesses. Stigma also impacts help-seeking behaviors of health providers themselves and negatively mediates their work environment.” Not only does poor mental health affect your ability to take care of yourself, but as a travel nurse, it can affect the quality of care you give your patients. 

Self-Care Tips for Travel Nurses

Use talk apps like BetterHealth

It might feel hard for a travel nurse to find a counselor or therapist to talk to regularly while on assignment. However, modern technology provides licensed therapists via apps, like BetterHealth. Each counselor on BetterHealth are licensed professionals and must provide proper documentation to work through BetterHealth. There are a few different ways people can speak with BetterHealth professionals, including messaging, phone calls, and video conferencing. Cost varies from $60-$80 a week. 

Journal as much as you can.

As the University of Rochester Medical Center points out, journaling can “[help] you prioritize problems, fears, and concerns,” “[track] any symptoms day-to-day so that you can recognize triggers and learn ways to better control them,” and “[provide] an opportunity for positive self-talk and identifying negative thoughts and behaviors.” Across many medical studies and reputable sources, journaling time and time again has proven to be a beneficial practice. Journaling can be tailored to the specific person – it can be daily, weekly, freeform, structured, etc. If you receive counseling through a talk app like BetterHealth, they may give you prompts to get you started. 

Pamper yourself!

Each person has a different way of pampering themselves, but here are a few ideas: 1) Take an epsom salt bath. This is particularly good for tired muscles, which a lot of travel nurses have after working long shifts. As Healthline points out, epsom salt is “thought to soothe tired muscles and reduce swelling.” 2) Plan a special night in. A day off can be a mini stay-cation including favorite foods, rented movies, a glass of wine, or a good read. 3) Get a massage. Like epsom salt baths, getting a massage from a professional masseuse can help relieve tension in the body, which can help alleviate mental tension. 4) Exercise! This doesn’t have to be lifting weights at a gym (although that is great, too). Exercise is found in many forms, like brisk walking, sports, swimming, etc. 

Stay connected

As demonstrated throughout the pandemic, staying connected with friends, family, and loved ones is extremely important. According to the American Psychological Association, there’s evidence linking social isolation “with adverse health consequences including depression, poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, accelerated cognitive decline, poor cardiovascular function and impaired immunity at every stage of life,” all of which can lead to mental health issues. It might seem difficult to do for travel nurses because of long shifts, some of which last through odd hours, but it’s very important to schedule time to chat with people. Luckily, the world is in a modern age, which is helpful to stay socially connected. 

If you’re struggling, speak with a doctor

Travel nurses are no stranger to those struggling mentally. There’s an unfortunate stigma surrounding mental health issues, but it is okay, and highly encouraged, to seek out medical care if you feel like you need help. Websites like Psychology Today offer free databases of therapists and psychiatrists that can be reached out to. There are plenty of online resources to get someone started if they’re seeking out care for their mental health. 

All in all, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time for a person to reset and refocus on themselves. Small steps can lead to big changes and can be beneficial for a person’s overall mental health. Being a travel nurse can be stressful, especially on the outskirts of a pandemic, so it’s especially important for people to remember to prioritize their own health. 

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