Top wellbeing tips for nurses during uncertain times

Andrew Berrie
Andrew Berrie

Head of Workplace Wellbeing, Mind

It’s an uncertain time in nursing in the UK. The cost of living crisis is affecting many of us, and nursing unions have been on strike over pay this week. While it seems progress is happening, being the centre of national news stories can add stress to an already pressurised job. When your work is focused on caring for someone else, it’s important to remember to look after yourself too. That includes recognising how the impact of the strikes might be affecting you.

What you can do to support yourself

A certain amount of pressure at work​Pressure versus stress Video This two-minute video explains the relationships between performance, pressure and stress – and how stress can cause and worsen existing mental health problems.Free By: Mind View resource can be good, helping us to perform and to feel energised and ready to meet new challenges. But being under intense pressure for too long can lead to stress. Keep a look out: you might start to feel more irritable, wound up, depressed or like your thoughts are racing and you can’t switch off.

The period we’re in is unique, but that just makes it more important to pay attention to how you’re doing. Here are some tips for looking after yourself in work:

1. Take some time before your shift.

Mentally prepare by working through a readiness checklist. This could include the following:

    • Challenging negative thoughts and assumptions about what the day might bring. Imagining the worst will fuel any anxiety.
    • Taking six deep breaths, to slow your heart rate and put your body into a calm, ready state.
    • Purposefully leaving worries behind. Write them down, say them or shut them in your locker.
    • If you enjoy mindfulness or relaxation exercises, this might be a good time to do them.
A nurse takes a moment alone in a hospital

2. Take your breaks

Sometimes it’s tempting to work right through and get the job done, especially in this environment of increased pressure. But taking a break​Creating a 10-minute Pause Space Web page This guide is designed to help team leaders to run a short session, called a 'Pause Space', which allows staff to take some time to relax, reflect on their work, and show appreciation for their colleagues.Free By: NHS England and NHS Improvement View resource is important and can allow you to rest and recuperate, even for just a little while. Don’t feel guilty – it’s not a luxury but there for patients’ safety as well as yours.

3. Check in with your mind and your colleagues

Make a point of regularly pausing to focus on how you’re all doing. You could complete a wellness action plan (WAP)​Guides to wellness action plans Web page Wellness action plans are an easy way to help support your own mental health at work and that of your team members. Mind has guidance and templates to get you started, for both employees and line managers.FreeSign up to receive by e-mail By: Mind View resource and encourage your team to do the same, or look at How are you feeling today, NHS?​How are you feeling today, NHS? Website It's easier to recognise someone's physical than emotional wellbeing. This easy-to-use tool has been developed with NHS staff to help them talk openly about emotional health, look at its impact and plan actions to enable more good days than bad.Free By: NHS Employers View resource for a quick way to discuss how the day’s going.

Don't neglect other aspects of your physical health

4. Look after your body during your shift

The measures you need to take to keep yourself and your patients safe and protected are probably forefront in your mind every day. But don’t neglect other aspects of your physical health too.

For example, it’s not always practical or easy to eat well​Sleep and food PDF Sleep and our mental health are closely related. This one-page PDF guide from Unilever explains the relationship between what we eat and drink and how well we sleep.Free By: Unilever View resource. However, prepping meals and healthy snacks before shifts or at the beginning of a work week can help us eat better, feel energised and get the correct nutrients for a taxing shift. It’s just as important to stay hydrated before, during, and after shifts. When you do manage to get breaks, try to catch up a bit on sleep​Sleep enablers and preventers PDF This one-page PDF offers advice on what behaviours can help you to have a good night's sleep, and which habits you might want to change.Free By: Unilever View resource where you can.

A woman is preparing packed lunches at home.

5.Think about your work/life balance

Working long shifts in such a challenging and fast-paced environment can leave you exhausted. This all makes it more important than ever to take care of yourself by doing something you enjoy sometimes too.

Think about ways to take some time for yourself in your personal life. Build in opportunities to do things that relax you and make time to stay in contact with those you care about.

Consider three things that went well

6. Leave work at work

The fact is, your shifts are likely to be tough, and traumatic experiences​Self support techniques after a traumatic incident PDF Healthy processing of traumatic incidents is essential in policing to reset your stress response, to file events as past, and to move on to the next job. This guide can help.Free By: Police Dependants’ Trust View resource do happen. Having a ‘going home checklist’ that you do before you leave the building can help you switch from work to home mode. You could do the following:

  • Take a moment to think about the shift.
  • Acknowledge three things that were difficult. Take any learning that is needed, then let them go.
  • Consider three things that went well.
  • Choose an action that signals the end of your shift. Something as easy as doing the same action when clocking out.
  • Now switch your attention to home. Think about how you’re now going to rest and recharge.

More support

These tips may not be for you, and as things change, what works now might not work next week. You might look into the wellbeing apps that are now free to NHS staff, or the RCN counselling service. There are more ideas on Mental Health at Work. If you’re in need of mental health support now, please visit Our Frontline or text the helpline on 85258. Take care of yourselves and thank you for all that you are doing.

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