Updated: January 27, 2022

Nursing has long been a career based on a labor of love. These skilled, tenacious individuals manage the bulk of patient care, regularly deal with emergency situations and distressed loved ones, all while maintaining a professional and caring composure – and that was before the pandemic. In this article, we provide tips to help nurses stay calm and focused.

Now it is more difficult than ever for anyone in this profession to get through those long, grueling shifts. If you are a nurse, these are 6 tips to help you stay centered and grounded even though your body and mind are exhausted and you still have hours to go.

Nourish Your Body

Creating a meal planning routine isn’t just about saving money and meeting your diet goals, it’s about fueling your body with the energy it needs to get through a long shift. Putting together an assortment of healthy, accessible snacks that you can eat quickly throughout your shift will help keep your energy levels up and your mind focused.

Nourishing your body also helps ensure you have the nutrients you need to stay healthy as a frontline worker. Hydration plays a pivotal role as well in overall hunger management and wellness, as dehydration often presents as fatigue, nausea, and brain fog.

Create a checklist of healthy snacks you need to get through each shift — as well as a small treat to nourish your soul and reward your hard work.

Create a Sleep Routine

Regular office hours aren’t a thing in the medical field, especially for frontline care workers. Many nurses work long, 12-hour shifts, including night shifts. Inconsistent scheduling and interrupted sleep patterns can make creating a sleep routine feel impossible.

While you may not be able to maintain the same sleep routine every night, there are some practical, healthy sleep tips you can implement to ensure your body gets the rest it needs. Try to maintain consistency in your routine as much as possible, even on your days off. Create a space that promotes quality rest by blocking light and using ambient noise to signal to your body that it’s time to rest.

Never underestimate the power of a restorative nap. A 20-minute power nap — especially during a shift — can give your body the reboot it needs to keep going.

Monitor Caffeine Intake

Caffeine is a nurse’s greatest frenemy. On the one hand, it will give you a boost to get through those long shifts. On the other, it could further interrupt your sleep habits and create a vicious cycle. Increased caffeine intake can also impact your anxiety levels, which can be debilitating during an emergency situation.

If you have caffeine during a shift, start with one serving at the beginning of your shift, and restrict your intake to a few smaller servings throughout the rest of your shift. Stop consuming caffeine at least three hours before the end of your shift to let your body prepare for rest.

You might also consider switching from coffee to green tea, or iced green tea. Not only is green tea refreshing and caffeinated, it’s loaded with antioxidants that have many health benefits, including improving brain function and lowering your risk of heart disease.

Practice Breathing Techniques

When your body feels threatened, your adrenaline kicks in. This creates a panic response that overrides your senses and makes it difficult to focus and stay calm. Taking deep, restorative breaths slows the body down and interrupts the panic response, so you can get grounded and centered.

When you feel a sense of panic, stop and take a deep breath. Let your breath out slowly, and repeat this sequence a few times, as needed. Then, return to the task at hand. It’s also worth exploring additional techniques, such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), to help reduce anxiety after a stressful event.

Model Behaviors for Others

Mental Health Tips: How To Stay Focused And Calm

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Nurses are professionals at the “fake it until you make it” approach to staying calm. When you start to feel panicked, show the behavior you want to exude to others around you. Focus on becoming the voice of reason and model of calm to help the patients, family members and peers around you.  

This strategy is surprisingly effective during tense, emotion-driven situations and can help diffuse feelings of anxiety and stress for others. You might even remind yourself to calm down in the process as well.

Use Self-Care and Emotional Processing

Finally, make time outside of work to practice self-care and stress management. Get out in nature, connect with friends and family, and practice the hobbies and sports that bring you joy. As a nurse, you’ll often experience people at the worst times in their lives, and those experiences will stay with you. Don’t bottle them up – find a healthy outlet so you can let go and keep moving forward.

With these practical tips, you can stay calm and focused during long shifts, and you can look forward to recharging your battery during your down time.

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Sources: 50 State Boards of Nursing, University Websites, U.S. Department of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ranking Methodology.