How to Protect Your Own Mental Health When You’re Starting Out on a Nursing Career 

Debra Riley


Nursing is not only an essential profession that will always be in demand, but it can also be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career path. At the same time, it’s a challenging field to be in: the rollercoaster of emotions, long hours, and the chaotic nature of the job can take a toll on your well-being.

While there are limits to what you can do to control your work environment, taking proactive steps to care for your mental health can have a positive impact on your job satisfaction and overall well-being.

Below, we share our best tips for protecting your mental health as you step into the challenging yet rewarding realm of nursing so you can avoid burnout and improve resilience.

Let’s get to it!

mental health for nurses

Prioritize Sleep for Optimal Brain Function

Studies show that sleep has a profound impact not only on our cognitive function and energy levels but also on our emotional and mental well-being. For this reason, it’s crucial to prioritize sleep in your life – ideally, you should get eight hours of quality sleep every night, but when that is not possible, short naps can perk you up and keep you more emotionally stable throughout the day.

Insider Tip: Develop a pre-sleep routine to signal your body it’s time to wind down. Avoid bright lights and screens at least an hour before bedtime and opt for relaxing activities like reading or meditation. A nice, hot shower can also help.

Manage Stress Through Mindfulness Techniques

The nursing profession is inherently stressful, but that doesn’t mean you should feel stressed out all the time. To combat stress, incorporate mindfulness techniques into your everyday life.

This can be meditation, which you can do before or after work, as well as during your break: even five minutes of meditation can make a difference when accompanied by deep breathing exercises. Another great stress-reducing exercise is yoga.

Insider Tip: Find a stress-relief technique that suits your personality the most or one that works best with your schedule.

Experiment with different methods until you discover what brings you the most peace.

Establish Healthy Boundaries

Due to the nature of work, nursing can be all-encompassing, and it’s easy to let it seep into your personal life. But to protect your mental and emotional well-being, it’s vital to establish a healthy work-life balance.

The best thing you can do for yourself is set a limit on your availability: when your shift ends, avoid work-related communication and take the time to unwind.

Also, learn to say ‘no’ to extra shifts when you’re tired or overwhelmed. While it’s commendable to be dedicated, overcommitting can lead to burnout and compromise your mental well-being.

Insider Tip: Designate specific “off-duty” hours and adhere to them religiously to create a mental separation between work and personal life. Also, politely decline extra tasks or shifts when you feel overwhelmed.

Find a Counselor to Work With

While a career in nursing can be very fulfilling, it can also be extremely stressful, especially if you’re a highly empathic person. If you ever find yourself facing stressors that seem insurmountable, seek the support of a counselor or therapist.

Counselors can provide a safe space for you to unpack your thoughts and emotions and offer strategies to navigate the unique challenges that come with a nursing career.

Insider Tip: Take the time to find a counselor who has experience with healthcare professionals or understands the unique demands of the nursing profession. An experienced therapist can provide you with coping mechanisms tailored to your specific experiences.

good sleep for health

Extra Self-Care Tips for Mental Health and Well-Being

When you’ve done the basics and you want some extra tips to keep you in tip-top shape, try these simple but effective self-care practices.

  • Nature Prescription: Nature has a profound impact on mental health, so make sure you spend time outdoors regularly. Whether it’s a walk in the park, a hike, or simply basking in the sun, make sure you do it every day.
  • Digital Detox Days: The digital space can be incredibly toxic and reading the catastrophic news every day can negatively affect your mental health. To protect yourself, designate “digital detox” days when you refrain from using devices.
  • Daily Journaling: Journaling can be used as a tool to cope with stress, especially when writing about feelings and thoughts related to stressful work events. Make it a daily habit.
a stressed nurse

Final Thoughts

As you step forward into the rewarding world of nursing, remember that your well-being is as crucial as the care you provide to others. Embrace the journey, armed with strategies to nurture your mental health, and you’ll find the strength to flourish in your new career.

Always carry the knowledge that in taking care of yourself, you’re becoming the best nurse you can be – for every patient and every challenge that lies ahead. Here’s to your success and happiness in the incredible adventure that is nursing!