by Nick Marshall
It’s no secret that being a nurse requires great mental and emotional strength, but the physical demands might also come as a surprise. Nurses can cover four to five miles in a 12-hour shift, often with just three 15-minute breaks and a meal break for recovery. And as most nurses will know, actually getting to take those breaks is by no means guaranteed. It can be grueling standing up for hours at a time, not to mention leaning, stretching and lifting. Not surprisingly, nurses report seven times more injuries than other workers. Here’s how to use those breaks to alleviate back pain, fatigue, swelling and muscle soreness.
Invigorating Healthy Snacks for Energy
Without the time to sit down to a proper meal, it’s important to prepare ahead of your shift with some nutritious snacks. Reaching in a rush for high-calorie vending machine snacks, cookies or energy drinks will give a short-term boost but a long-term slump when you need your energy most. Go for high-protein foods instead to keep you feeling full, such as Greek yogurt or hummus dips paired with flatbreads or raw vegetables; nuts and trail mix; or just a boiled egg or two. If you’re packing sandwiches, a cheese or turkey wrap with plenty of salad will boost energy levels without leaving you feeling heavy.
Quick Stretches to Perk Up
You’ll be surprised at the transformation a few minutes of stretching can deliver, easing away any stiffness and powering up the circulation to tired muscles. Find some space and start off with some neck stretches or rotations, and then work out back pain by rolling your shoulders and pressing your shoulder blades together. To loosen up your lower back, especially if you’ve been leaning over a lot, swivel your hips like a Hula-Hooper. Strengthen your core by leaning back against a wall and bending your knees before stretching out your spine to touch your toes.
Guided Meditation for Stress
There may be a perception from TV and the movies that stress is just a normal part of being a nurse, but without an outlet, it can lead to burnout. In fact, one UK study found that 42 percent of nurses were emotionally exhausted. Thankfully, even a few minutes spent meditating can recalibrate the mind and ease stress levels. Find somewhere quiet, set a timer and focus on breathing — drawing air in for four counts, holding for seven and exhaling for eight. Smartphone apps like Calm or Headspace can help you focus while you take your mind to areas of tension in your body and mentally switch off the discomfort.
Inspiration Through Respiration
Thousands of followers have also found that a few minutes spent following the Wim Hof breathing method invigorate the body and restore energy levels. Sit somewhere comfortable (standing is not recommended as light-headedness can occur), and take a series of deep breaths until your feet and hands tingle. Exhale fully, and hold your lungs empty for as long as possible. The process floods the body with oxygen, and over time it can boost the immune system.
As the hours roll by on your shift, it’s normal for aches and pains to build up in the legs and back. A pair of compression socks will certainly help reduce soreness in tired legs, but otherwise just a few minutes stretching, breathing or tuning out your surroundings will help refresh the mind and body.