2. Avoid Touching Your Face
People tend to touch their faces many times in a day, and nurses are no exception. Raising awareness of this habit can help nurses avoid it. Not touching your face is up there with washing your hands when it comes to preventing infection from spreading. Nurses can get sick if they touch their faces after exposure to a patient with an infectious disease or when working in a contaminated environment.
Rubbing the eyes or scratching the nose are just two ways illnesses spread. When someone sneezes, the droplets go far and wide. Wearing a mask and washing your hands helps prevent contamination. However, developing a habit of never touching your face is another precaution. If your hands are full of germs, touching your eyes, nose or mouth gain the germs access through these openings.
Nurses suggest grabbing a tissue and using that instead of your bare hands if you want to touch your face. Also, they rub their noses on their shoulders to relieve an itch. Knowing you can transmit germs from your hands to your face and then to your body offers an incentive to stop that practice. Another consideration is using lip balm.
Nurses tend to use a tube rather than one where they use their fingers to apply it to the lips. It can take time to train your hands to never to touch your face while working without first washing them. But breaking the habit of touching your face is an inexpensive way to prevent the spread of contagious illnesses.
3. Be Careful When Touching Surfaces
Nurses are extra careful when they touch surfaces, especially those for public use. Germs live on elevator buttons, hand railings and doorknobs. They are also present on faucets, water fountains and keyboards. Other germ-ridden surfaces include cell phones, light switches, appliances and countertops. And there are many more areas that are full of germs.
Importantly, the viruses that survive on these surfaces cause the common cold. Things you touch every day carry germs, such as money, ATM and store keyboards, gas pumps and even products on the shelves of your local grocery store. Nurses must constantly pay attention to what they touch. Also, cleaning surfaces regularly with disinfectant wipes can limit the spread of viruses.
A good example of this is wiping the cart handle at the grocery store with an antibacterial wipe. Nurses are always conscious of contamination from surfaces, so they often carry wipes with them. One place that is probably the most infected with germs is the gym. People who work out will touch, hold and manipulate exercise equipment daily. They may work out and leave without even thinking about washing their hands.
Underestimating the chain of transmission is the easiest way to become ill. But washing your hands is a simple way to break the chain. It can be overwhelming to think about the chain of transmission. Remember, just picking up your mail, getting an oil change and signing a receipt are all germ sources.
And giving a credit card to a waiter in a restaurant or visiting your local coffee shop also have the potential of transmitting germs. Touching a highly infectious surface and then grabbing your cell phone is another easy way to spread germs. So nurses should think about cleaning their cellphones and even their earbuds if they wear them.
4. Don’t Directly Touch Bodily Fluids
Patients with communicable diseases can spread them in various ways. This often happens through bodily fluids such as blood, pus, mucus and vomit. When someone has an infection they can spread with a cough or a sneeze, nurses usually isolate the person as much as possible. There are many ways nurses avoid touching fluids and inhaling droplets. They may wear masks, gloves, face shields and gowns.
One rule of thumb for nurses is, if its wet, warm and not your own, avoid touching it directly. Of course, there is more to it than that, but protection comes down to basic common sense. If someone has diarrhea, they wear gloves. For example, blood may splash, so they wear eye protection. If someone has a bad cough, they wear a mask.
Sometimes contact with droplets from a cough or sneeze may be unavoidable. But exhaling and walking away from the area until the droplets have settled is one way to avoid them. Most exposure to bodily fluids the failure to follow standard procedures. Wearing protective garments constantly and correctly is essential.
It only takes a small cut on a finger to expose a nurse to infection with a potentially virulent virus. So, gowns, gloves, goggles and face-shields are vital. Nurses also need to make sure that those safety seals on body fluid containers are intact. If nurses are in good general health and have strong immune systems, they’re less likely to get sick.
And if they do come down with something, the intensity and duration should be less than someone who isn’t healthy. Many nurses have robust immune systems. In fact, they seem to build up immunity due to constant exposure. When they first start working, they may become ill quite frequently, but after a while, they don’t seem to be as vulnerable.
5. Stay Hydrated
Staying hydrated is important to maintain high energy levels and mental clarity. Water is essential to many bodily functions. But most nurses have trouble staying hydrated during their shifts. The general rule of thumb is to drink eight glasses of water a day. However, this will vary depending on activity levels, height, weight and climate.
Also, it depends on whether that person has a specific medical condition. In fact, examining the color of your urine is an easy way to see if you are hydrated. Healthy urine is a pale yellow. If your urine is veering toward orange, it signals dehydration. But, drinking enough when working a busy shift can be a problem.
Some hospitals don’t let nurses carry water bottles in areas of patient care because they could become contaminated. However, a nurse who works a 12-hour shift may find it difficult to drink enough to stay well hydrated when they can only drink during breaks. Some nurses set reminders on their cell phones to drink something every two hours. They walk to the break room and have some water when the timer goes off.
Being dehydrated is like being a car without gas. In fact, your body needs water to work well. Eating fruits rich in water, like watermelons, oranges and grapes can also help with hydration. Along the same lines, nurses try to avoid eating too many salty foods, which can increase dehydration. Also, when working in a fast-paced environment or in a hot climate, it may help to replenish those electrolytes you lose by perspiring.
One tip is to drink a half water/half sports drink or electrolyte-infused water during breaks. Nurses often say they are so busy with their patients, they don’t have time to pee or to drink. This may be true, but it is not the right mindset. Not caring for yourself in this way has negative consequences for your health and your patients.
6. Stay Home When You’re Sick
Many nurses are unsure if or when they should call in sick for work. They may drag themselves to work when they’re ill for various reasons. There may not be a clear-cut answer as to when to stay home. However, there are a variety of symptoms they should not ignore. For instance, a fever, a body rash, cough or gastroenteritis could indicate that you should not go to work.
Working while sick makes nurses less productive. So, staying at home is the best way to recover and prevent others from getting sick. At the beginning of an illness, you are more likely to be contagious. If you have a strenuous position, going to work when you’re feeling ill could make the illness worse. Also, recovery could take much longer.
Taking medication can make nurses drowsy. And not being alert while working with sick patients can have serious consequences. Nurses who care for the elderly, babies, cancer or organ transplant patients need to stay away from work while sick. These patients have weak immune systems, so they are more susceptible to illness. So, they are at greater risk of catching or cold or having a disease transmitted to them.
Ultimately, no-one who is sick with a contagious illness should be taking care of patients. Sometimes situations like fear of consequences, staff shortages, and insufficient sick leave can result in ill nurses going to work. If nurses feel under the weather but have to go to work, they should use extra precautions, like wearing a face mask when attending to patients.
7. Pack Your Own Food
Most nurses work in a fast-paced environment and are often short on time. This can lead them to rely on fast food high in additives, sodium, fat and sugar. However, planning provides a way to add fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins to the diet. Eating a diet low in sugar and fat and high in whole foods encourages good health.
Seasonal fruits and veggies boost the immune system because they are full of vitamins and nutrients. Eating a good breakfast can set nurses up with energy for the whole day. Breakfast should consist of foods high in protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Yogurt, whole wheat bread, fruit and shakes are all nutritious options. Some healthy snacks to take to work are kiwis, papaya, yogurt, sunflower seeds and almonds.
Garlic is one food that has an ability to boost the immune system. Broccoli is another food that’s full of vitamins and minerals. Ginger is known to decrease inflammation and may help with a sore throat. Spinach is rich in vitamin C and contains antioxidants and beta-carotene. So Popeye’s favorite food may increase your ability to fight infections.
Some evidence suggests taking zinc within the first 24 hours of a cold may shorten its duration and intensity. Many people turn to vitamin C when they have a cold. The vitamin C in citrus fruits may increase the production of the white blood cells that fight infection. Also, red bell peppers contain twice the amount of vitamin C as citrus fruits and are rich in beta-carotene.
8. Practice Moderate Exercise
Maintaining physical fitness is essential, especially in a career that is physically demanding. Many nurses work long, strenuous shifts and have a vast array of responsibilities. Physical exercise not only promotes health, but it can be an effective release from stress or tension. A brisk daily 30-minute walk increases immune cells circulating in your body. This means it could help reduce your sick days.
Before starting an exercise program, nurses need to consider their schedules, proximity to work and what type of exercise they prefer. They need to think about whether they have more energy in the morning or evening, and what motivates them most. Also, they must take into account whether they prefer group classes or exercising on their own. They should consider their current level of fitness, too.
Many nurses who live close to work walk for fresh air and exercise before a shift. Others go for a walk on a lunch break or take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. This might not seem like much exercise, but it all adds up. Nurses should make exercise a priority on their days off. This means that at least they are exercising a few days a week.
Remember, it doesn’t help to set unrealistic goals. Those who are too hard on themselves tend to give up. Exercise helps strengthen the immune system, but only if it is moderate and consistent. However, excessive exercise can make the effects of a virus worse. Nurses who are creative about exercise and don’t worry about what it is or where they do it tend to stick to it better, too.
For those who don’t enjoy walking or jogging, dancing to music or marching in place while watching a favorite TV show are options. Exercising for at least 30 minutes a few days a week is essential. Joining a gym close to your workplace and exercising before or after a shift is another simple option.
9. Get Your Vaccines
Flu vaccinations aren’t just for infants or the elderly. Getting a flu shot might seem inconvenient because a new one is necessary every year. However, it is the first line of defense against flu viruses that are constantly changing. Unless a person has a medical condition that prevents them from doing so, getting that annual flu shot can save days of illness. If your workplace doesn’t provide them, vaccines are available at clinics, pharmacies and physician’s offices.
Mumps, measles and other diseases can quickly spread from one individual to another. It only takes coughing into the air in front of an unprotected nurse for the nurse to contract a disease and pass it onto others. For this reason, most hospitals have made vaccinations mandatory. So, nurses must prove they have received the relevant vaccinations. Nurses are on the front line when it comes to battling the resurgence of diseases like measles.
Anti-vaccine movements have contributed to the reappearance of some of these diseases. Some nurses themselves are anti-vaccine. However, many play a major role in educating families and communities about how to prevent disease. Nurses are in a beneficial position to deal with some of the misinformation that exists regarding vaccinations.
If a nurse is exempt from vaccination, the workplace has to determine what steps they must take to reduce the risk of transmitting a disease to patients. A nurse may receive disciplinary action by refusing to participate in a mandatory vaccination program. Also, those nurses who are exempt and don’t follow steps to reduce the risk of disease transmission are subject to disciplinary action.
10. Get Enough Sleep
Working night shifts and long shifts can take a toll on your body. A lack of sleep contributes to fatigue and medical errors. It not only causes fatigue and lethargy, but it can result in the inability to cope with stress or manage difficult emotions. It also reduces creativity, as well as problem-solving and decision-making skills. And, it can impair learning and concentration.
Even a minimal loss of sleep can affect coordination, judgment, mood, mental sharpness and reaction times. The recommended number of hours of sleep for adults is seven to nine hours a day. Apart from all the other negative effects, not getting enough sleep also affects the immune system and increases the risk of getting ill.
But many nurses who work in hospitals do long 12-hour shifts. However, some only work three days a week so they have a chance to rest. Nurses must get enough sleep whenever they can. Cutting back on sleep is never a good idea. When exhaustion sets in, the immune system becomes weak.
Sleeping uninterruptedly for eight hours on a regular basis encourages a strong immune system and keeps you healthy. Some ways to adjust to working night shifts is to use the following tips when trying to sleep during the day:
- Don’t drink too much caffeine because it will keep you awake.
- Turn off all your electronics.
- Use a black-out curtain in your window to mimic nighttime.
- Exercise when you get up instead of before going to bed.
Most nurses love to drink strong coffee when starting a shift, and that is fine. Caffeine is a stimulant, but in small to moderate amounts, it can help with mental clarity. It is only a problem when you consume it in excess. And the best way to prevent that is to stick to one cup in the morning and drink water the rest of the day.
11. Find Your Work-Life Balance
Nursing means dealing with difficult situations, so it is easy to become burnt out. Finding a balance can help reduce stress, which weakens the immune system. Nurses try to do things they enjoy to de-stress when they are not on shift whether it is gardening, taking a hot bath, meeting with friends or reading a book. Indulging in leisure activities helps to decrease fatigue.
Taking time for loved ones, having fun and relaxing can help create a balance. Emotional health is as important as physical health because nurses deal with patients, families, and colleagues in challenging situations. Nurses need to cultivate relationships with people who care for them and bring out the best in them. And this also means reducing contact with those who drain their energy.
A common saying is, “You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself.” Nurses are human beings, not robots. So, to be effective, they need to make taking care of themselves a priority. That way, they will be strong and healthy enough to do what they need to do for their patients. It’s worth taking the time to remain healthy and happy. Also, humor can be a healthy way of coping.
Laughter reduces stress and increases your immunity. Carving out time for meaningful spiritual practices also helps when coping with the emotional stress of nursing ill patients. An hour of massage is equal to eight hours of rest. Nurses have found that spending time in a spa or massage center soothes their tense muscles and makes them feel relaxed. And lastly, going to a yoga class can also be beneficial.
12. Maintain Healthy Habits
Nurses may neglect routine checkups because they feel they don’t have time for them. But not going for recommended routine appointments may result in problems they could have avoided. All men and women should go for annual physicals, testing and check-ups. Women nurses need mammograms and pap smears, as well. Both male and female nurses must follow their doctor’s recommendations for other exams, such as colonoscopies, too.
Nurses should weigh themselves weekly. Many nurses are overweight because they tend to eat junk food rather than planning their meals. The nature of the profession means they have little time, so grabbing an unhealthy snack is the easiest way to cope. They need to catch any weight gain early before it becomes a problem. Maintaining high energy levels is important for nurses, so being overweight can make the job more difficult.
Smoking and excessive drinking are not advantageous for nurses who need strong immune systems and plenty of energy. Smokers are at risk of many different health complications. If nurses drink alcohol, they should do so in moderation. Otherwise, it can affect the standard of their work, as well as the care of their patients.
One of the roles of a nurse is to educate patients about their health. They get patients to think about what they are doing that could be detrimental to their health and then they help them make adjustments. Nurses who don’t follow and demonstrate the best health practices in their own lives will find educating patients difficult. How can they expect patients to do what they are not doing themselves?
These are the 12 ways nurses can stay healthy. Although each step is simple, they may take a bit of effort and time. However, successful nurses understand the role they play in improving the lives of patients on all levels. So to be the best nurse you can be, try these tips daily and consistently.