As any dedicated nurse knows, the physical demands of nursing paired with a hectic work schedule can certainly take a toll on your body.
According to a paper by the University of California:
The hospital industry reported the second highest absolute number of injuries and illnesses in the private sector.
So what are the demands of nursing that can lead to on-the-job injuries? The list can be considerably shortened by staying generally healthy and fit in your lifestyle.
Demands such as lifting, long periods standing, mental and physical exhaustion and more can wear on a person who isn’t prepared to handle such things. Fact is, physical requirements of nursing are significant!
The key to feeling great or avoiding injury during and after a long day of work is to anticipate the potential strains. More importantly, is to prepare for the demands in a way that reduce or remove the toll they can take on you.
You can certainly help alleviate the many physical demands of nursing, by using the five tips below!
1. Meal Planning for Proper Daily Nutrition
Typical Demand: No time to eat
Beat It Tip: Meal prep paired with healthy snacking
Perhaps one of the most notorious physical demands of nursing is lack of nutrition.
The average workday is eight hours, but nursing shifts typically run for no less than 12 hours. During this time, nurses have set responsibilities as well as a laundry list of tasks that can rarely be scheduled in advance.
Knowing that one of the top demands for nursing relates to the varying caseload, scheduling is tricky no matter your specialty.
You know that the number of patients and amount of care any individual case needs is hard to anticipate, making it difficult to pre-schedule meal times.
In some instances, a scheduled break may be a protocol for a facility. But in most cases, breaks are taken only when the workload allows.
Many nurses will tell you that breaks are few and far between. Making it to the cafeteria (or even a vending machine) can be difficult. As a result, forgetting to eat entirely is quite common!
Proper nutrition is the cornerstone of overall good health, any health care professional will tell you so.
But how can you maintain a high standard of nutrition when there is hardly any time to eat?
The key to proper nutrition is planning your meals ahead.
Meal planning is a technique in which you “batch” prepare a week’s worth of healthy meals in correct portion sizes. Not only is this great for your health, it’s great for your bank account as well. This article on EatingWell.com is a great place to start if you have never attempted meal planning before.
The perks of preparing your meals as an on-the-go nurse include convenience, a balanced diet, and more time for yourself.
- When breaks are nearly non-existent, grabbing a healthy, pre-made meal from the staff refrigerator is highly convenient.
- Preparing balanced meals vs. getting stuck with whatever is in the vending machine ensures that healthy foods are what’s on the menu. Proper nutrients help carry a tired body through long shifts.
- Set aside a few hours to prepare every meal for the week. The amount of time saved by doing this in one sitting is amazing!
[clickToTweet tweet=”Reduce the physical demands of nursing by planning your meals ahead of time | #nurses #nursing” quote=”Reduce the physical demands of nursing by planning your meals ahead of time.”]
2. Getting Adequate Sleep Every Night
Typical Demand: Long shifts interrupt sleep patterns
Beat It Tip: 7+ straight hours of sleep per night
Nursing shifts can interrupt even the soundest of sleepers’ bedtime routines. If you were to make a list of demands and expectations of nursing, long hours would be right at the top.
With long shifts that run from day into night and visa versa, letting sleep fall by the wayside can seem unavoidable. This is one of the more common physical demands of nursing.
Studies, like this one from the National Sleep Foundation, show that adults between the age of 24-65 need at least 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep to function at maximum capacity.
When you are scheduled for 12-hour shifts, three days in a row, how can this be accomplished?
The key is to getting enough sleep is creating a consistent sleep schedule.
You can also include relaxation techniques to fall asleep fast. This sleep schedule guide from Sleep.org includes a series of techniques, including sleeping in a very dark room, avoiding food and drink right before bed, and more.
For those who suffer from a disjointed and irregular sleep schedule, changing to a consistent routine won’t happen immediately.
The best way to re-train a brain to fall asleep at a certain time is to work towards the desired bedtime by going to bed 10-20 minutes earlier each night.
While the national average is 7-9 hours a night, some people can feel great with less sleep. However, It is widely known that less than 6 hours per night results in a lack of productivity and physical ailments like a headache and added stress.
It may seem impossible to make sleep a priority with all the other responsibilities of life.
Work towards a consistent schedule first, then begin adding sleep time to that schedule when possible.
[clickToTweet tweet=”#Nurses need sleep! Get trained to sleep consistently: go to bed 10-20 min earlier each night.” quote=”Train yourself to fall asleep consistently by going to bed 10-20 min earlier each night.”]
3. Maintaining Strong, Warm Muscles
Typical Demand: Lifting and straining causes pain and tension in muscle groups
Beat It Tip: Stretching and massage
One of the most common physical demands of nursing are the muscle aches and pains.
Nurses are subjected to long hours of standing and walking (and sometimes running) which can tense up the legs and back.
Additionally, nurses are required to lift patients and move heavy equipment. Leaning over, pushing and pulling, and lifting can cause significant strain on the shoulders, neck, back, and arms. Tight muscles can cause pain and limited mobility.
The key to avoiding muscle aches lies in proper stretching.
While a nursing shift may not commonly be considered a workout, the amount of physical activity involved requires use of the same pre-workout techniques.
Stretching and warming up the muscles takes a relatively short time, but the benefits are long-lasting!
This Mayo Clinic article walks readers through basic stretches that can increase flexibility and help muscles become loose and lean for optimal use. Stretching before and after a nursing shift will noticeably reduce the strain felt during and after a long workday.
With all the physicality that goes into a typical work day, making time for exercise may not be priority number one. However, three 30-minute workouts per week will drastically increase stamina and strength, and decrease muscle aches and tension associated with overworked, weaker muscles.
Workouts do not always need to be high-intensity. Pilates or yoga will train the heart and muscles in a gentler but effective way if exercises like running or weight-lifting are too much.
4. Reducing Your Emotional Stress
Typical Demand: Difficult schedules paired with high-pressure work
Beat It Tip: Practicing relaxation techniques
It is no secret that emotional stress will create physical symptoms.
The demands of nursing profession lend to high-stress levels in nurses. Stress can run very high due to taxing schedules and the sheer importance of the job.
Spending extended periods of time working with sick patients and their families will take a toll on anyone. Although nurses are trained to handle the emotional stressors, it is only natural to feel stressed every so often.
The key is to reducing stress is practicing relaxation techniques.
These techniques are a practical and proven way to lower stress and increase overall happiness. Below are a series of techniques you can use during short periods of downtime to re-focus, re-energize and de-stress.
Breathing exercises are proven to immediately lower stress levels.
- Sit or stand with a tall posture.
- Breath in deeply and slowly through the nose, into the belly.
- Count to five as you take a deep breath, feeling your belly rise.
- Exhale slowly through the mouth, counting back from five.
- Put your focus on the air entering and exiting your nose, lungs and mouth.
- Repeat five times to slow heart rate when feeling stressed.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Breathing exercises are proven to immediately lower stress levels. #nursing #nurses” quote=”Breathing exercises are proven to immediately lower stress levels.”]
Visualization exercises are used to prepare and strengthen the mind prior to stressful situations. Widely used by professional athletes and promoted by spiritual teachers and therapists alike, this technique trains the brain to envision positive outcomes.
- Close your eyes and envision a positive, productive shift.
- Fully immerse yourself in this vision so that you can feel, hear, smell and see a good day unfolding.
- Envision yourself moving through the day as if you are doing it, versus watching yourself do it. In other words, don’t be an audience member; be the lead actor.
- Practice the visualization technique on a regular basis to strengthen your confidence in your ability to have good days regardless of outside factors.
[clickToTweet tweet=”Use visualization exercises to prepare and strengthen your mind prior to stressful situations. #nursing #nurses” quote=”Use visualization exercises to prepare and strengthen your mind prior to stressful situations.”]
5. Staying Hydrated All Day
Typical Demand: Too busy to drink water
Beat It Tip: Scheduled water breaks + water bottle that tracks intake
Just like making time to eat, making time to stay hydrated is extremely important.
Dehydration will take a toll before hunger will.
In fact, dehydration often feels like hunger, and taking a long drink of water can give a body what it needs to feel healthy and perform well.
The more severe effects of dehydration include:
- stiff muscles and joints
Clearly, the effects of dehydration can significantly impact job performance.
The key is to staying alert is by increasing water intake to consistently hydrate.
It is recommended that an adult drink at least 6-8 8 oz. glasses of water per day. Every person is unique and some people will feel well with less, while some will need more.
Studies show that water is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Making an effort to drink more water will inevitably lower the effect that the physical demands of nursing take on you.
- Keep a bottle of water with you during the day. Try one of these high-tech water bottles that tracks your intake.
- Take a drink of water every time you pass a water fountain while at work (if possible).
- Set a reminder on your phone to take a drink every hour.
- Flavor your water naturally with fruit or antioxidant-rich cucumber
- Drink a glass of water before every meal.
- Make a game out of it and challenge your co-workers!
It’s true the physical demands of nursing are straining on your body and mind. However, you can help decrease (and potentially eliminate!) negative effects when practiced with consistency.
Let’s review our tips to beat the physical demands of nursing:
- Meal planning for proper daily nutrition
- Getting adequate sleep every night
- Maintaining strong, warm muscles
- Reducing your emotional stress
- Staying hydrated all day
In a nutshell: eat, sleep, stretch, relax and hydrate!
➡ Do you have additional tips that help you beat the physical demands of nursing?
Share them with us in the comments below!