Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post from Keith Carlson, RN, BSN.
When it comes to leading a balanced and healthy life, work-life balance can be challenging for those of us employed in health care. Sadly, many nurses find this an especially difficult area to improve, so coming up with concrete strategies to combat poor work-life balance is crucial for preventing burnout and increasing personal and professional satisfaction.
Work-life balance is a juggling act, but one that we can truly get a firm grasp of when we consciously choose to pay it the attention it deserves.
The nursing process—including assessment, diagnosis, planning, implementation and evaluation—can be an excellent tool for making changes on any level of one’s life. When it comes to work-life balance, it can easily be applied as one explores what this concept means and how to enjoy its benefits in your own life.
When we decide to assess our own work-life balance, we use our powers of observation, self-reflection, and critical thinking to observe our life in an objective manner.
In assessing our degree of work-life balance, we begin by observing how much time we spend at work compared to home. Is there an apparent imbalance? Many of us spend more waking hours at work than with our families. But are there some aspects of this equation over which we can exercise some control?
Aside from the time we spend physically working, how much of our spare time is spent thinking about, preparing for, or debriefing and recovering from work? Does work bleed into our “psychic space” so much that it overshadows our ability to enjoy ourselves when we’re not working?
Are we making time for the things that bring us joy or the things that drive us on a variety of levels? “Making time” for something isn’t really possible—there are always only 24 hours in a day. However, finding time and creating space for those activities that bring our lives into balance and health are both possible, and unimaginably important.
The list of things that we need to do for our health and well-being is long and different for everyone. What’s important to you? Exercise, time with family, friendships, time alone, spiritual development, physical care (sleep, eating well, etc), creative pursuits, access to nature, travel, relaxation? No matter the list, the outcome is the same: doing the things we love and that bring us joy can help bring us back into balance and mitigate the adverse effects of stress and work.
So, now that we have assessed our situation and lifestyle, what are the “nursing diagnoses” that we would use for ourselves? I propose several that seemapplicable to many nurses:
Self care deficit is a traditional nursing diagnosis that describes a nurse who spends so much time caring for others that she doesn’t care for herself.
Alteration in leisure refers to the nurse who is always doing something, but never takes the time to relax, recreate, and have fun. Leisure is an important aspect of self- care that is so easily overlooked.
Alteration in work-life balance is self-explanatory. This nurse’s lifestyle needs balance.
I’m sure you can come up with some diagnoses for yourself or try making one for a friend or colleague. It may seem like a simple, fun exercise, but it can actually tell you a great deal about yourself.
Now that you have assessed your life and come up with a few diagnoses, it’s time to make a plan. Do you need to schedule time with your significant other for dates and fun outings? Would you consider signing up for that music class you’ve wanted to take for years? Does your nutrition need improvement, or do you need to spend more time with family and less time thinking about work? You’ve arrived at the stage where you make a plan similar to the plans you’d write for a patient who needs to make some lifestyle changes after a hospitalization.
This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of self-care and work-life balance. All the diagnoses and plans in the world won’t accomplish much if you don’t implement the changes that you’ve planned.
Like a patient who has been prescribed physical therapy exercises after a joint replacement, you need to activate your will and your motivation to put your plans into action. Schedule that weekly date with your husband, sign up for that class, adjust your diet, drink less coffee, practice better sleep hygiene—do whatever it is that you’ve decided needs to happen in order to restore some balance to your life.
Next, we come to evaluation. This is not the end of the process, but the stage at which we evaluate our plans and the ways in which their implementation succeeded or failed.
Evaluating means being realistic, changing the plan or the expected goals , or perhaps just encouraging yourself to try again with more determination to truly follow through.Was that plan to exercise seven days a week just a little too ambitious? Perhaps you need to decrease it to four days per week so that it’s more reasonable and geared towards success. Did you and your husband forget your planned date night more than half the time? Does something need to change in order to make that more possible?
It’s Up To You
Work-life balance isn’t something that your employer or spouse is necessarily going to remind you about. If being on your own doesn’t seem like a recipe for success, you can enlist a friend as your “accountability buddy” as you try to implement some positive changes in your life. You can also hire a coach who will hold you accountable and assist you in the entire process of assessing, planning, and implementing the changes that you desire to make in your life.
This process is ongoing, dynamic, and lifelong, so embrace the notion of self-care and work-life balance as part of being human, and then take the necessary steps to move towards the healthy, balanced end of the continuum.
Nursing@Georgetown welcomes guest opinions. Expressed opinions are those of the individual authors/organizations and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Georgetown University.
This content is for informational purposes online, and is not meant as personal health guidance.