Relocation. Changing nursing jobs. Long shifts. Saving lives. Travel nurses work hard!

Dealing with all the extra pressures of adapting to new environments while leveraging a family life and social life can be taxing on your energy and motivation. Stress may be inevitable to a degree, but in order to stay healthy and prevent the stress from affecting you mentally, physically, or spiritually – decompression and downtime are key!

Stress can mess you up. It can affect your sleep. Mood. Anxiety levels. It’s important to do something, anything, to help you de-stress and decompress during your time off travel nursing assignments or even after a long shift.

There’s no denying that travel nurses work hard. And, with the added pressure of adapting to new environments, family, and social life on top of taking care of all your patients, it’s natural to get a little stressed every now and then. But, in order to be your very best, it’s important to not let the stress take control of your mind and body.

Here are five travel nursing tips on how to decompress and make the most of your time off.

1. Don’t Take Your Work Home with You

When I was working as a travel nurse, I often had to remind myself not to take my work home with me. For some people that work in the service industry or a factory setting, this type of conscious effort might be easier than it is for a nurse – you clock out and you’re done.

While working as a travel nurse, it may not seem so cut and dry. The stress of learning a whole new routine in an unfamiliar work environment can be challenging. Not to mention, working as a registered nurse and being there for patients during their most critical times and working closely with their family members concerning serious issues can be heavy day to day. But when you clock out, try free your mind of the workplace and avoid the habit of talking about work while you’re not there.

One way to help accomplish this is to make use of a provided locker space on-site and physically drop off your things while mentally reminding yourself work stays at work. Bring a combination lock, and leave things at your workplace you either don’t need while you’re not working or don’t want to have to laying around reminding you of work, plus you don’t have to worry about forgetting items, like your name badge!

For me, I left everything except my scrubs at the facility. My badge, clipboard, hemostats, random collection of 2x2s, tape, scissors, flashlight – you know all the typical arsenal a nurse uses – along with my nursing shoes. Keeping your nursing shoes clean and out of the weather and out of your living space with random hospital germs, is a great time saver and a way to leave work at work!

2. Take Time to Exercise

Get the endorphins flowing. Even if it’s just a little bit. Exercise is the worst enemy of stress. It simply can’t survive in its presence. Making the effort to get your body moving is going to pay off with gains in both the short term and the long term.

While getting off work following a butt-kicking 12-hour shift might not have you feeling inspired to get to the gym – you might be surprised how effective working out right after work can be. It’s a great way to clear your mind and unwind after a day working as a travel nurse.

Do what makes sense for your schedule. If you feel like going for a run, do it. Hitting the gym? More power to you. At the very least, you can also walk around the facility you work. Even if you do not have the time to get the exercise in post-shift, you can increase your movement by taking the steps and challenging yourself to walk as much as possible while at work. No matter how fast you’re going, exercise is going to send energy throughout your body and increase endorphins and blood flow to the brain.

3. Pay Extra Attention to Self-Care

A common theme among travel nurses I worked with in the IT implementation field is that many of them were obsessed with self-care in the form of manicures, pedicures, massages, and I am sure you can include hair treatments, etc. To be honest, the job was amazing in the aspect that it was not tiring physically and you were basically were expected to stay awake and be available to answer questions when needed. Once the hospital staff was on the system for about a week, the rest of the three-month assignment had several shifts in which I answered only five or less questions in an entire 12-hour work day.

At first, I did not understand how many of the experienced traveling IT nurses would feel so stressed and splurge on self-pampering. However, this particular assignment offered (and most people took up) 12-hour shifts five to seven days a week. After I worked several 60-hour work weeks, I finally understood that even though the work was not physically exhausting and stressful, like staff nursing is, being at work for those long hours takes its toll. Taking the time to care for yourself helps keep you refreshed, it lifts your spirits, and can potentially help you avoid nursing burnout.

4. Clear Your Thoughts Through Meditation or Prayer

Even if you’re not into yoga per say – there is still great value in the practice of meditation. Do not be confused and think that you need incense and yoga pants in order to meditate. According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, meditation means:

  1. “To engage in contemplation or reflection; or
  2. To engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness.”

Prayer is another way you can spend time clearing your thoughts and feeding your spirituality. By taking this time to yourself where everything else is quiet and you can focus on your inner peace and thought processes, you can regroup, refocus, and recharge your spiritual energy – which you can use to provide the best possible care to patients without getting burned out.

5. Don’t Forget to be a Tourist on Days Off

One of the top reasons why nurses choose to become a travel nurse is to explore new locations and experience new cultures and meet new people. All too often, we as travel nurses get so caught up in doing the best we can to do a great job while we are at work, that we spend our time off simply trying to rest and prepare to go back to work.

Instead of thinking about work on your days off, remember why you became a travel nurse in the first place, which includes experiencing new things. Grab your camera and your best “tacky” tourist shirt you can find (ok you can leave the shirt at home if you’re not into that kind of thing), and get out there and explore the city you’re working in. Find tourist websites and create a list of attractions and venues you want to see while you’re on assignment.

On your days off, make a special effort to get out there and see and do all the things on your list. Also, keep your mind open to new opportunities as they arise that weren’t on your initial list. “Where does this hiking trail lead?” You’ll never know unless you walk it. Who knows, you might just stumble upon the most beautiful waterfall you’ve seen. Follow your intuition and be spontaneous, while using your smarts to stay safe.

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Written by Miranda Booher, RN

As a twelve-year Registered Nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and healthcare marketing, Miranda brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has a impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Uruguay, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her hanging out on the beach with her loyal husband, three crazy kids, and their beautiful German Shepherd-Husky dog.

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