Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is a challenge for students, no matter the discipline. For working nurses looking to study for an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner program (MSN-FNP), it can be exceptionally difficult. Online programs for advanced degrees in nursing, such as those available from Bradley University, can help working professionals integrate study more effectively into their busy lives; however, staying on top of a schedule that features a full-time career and study remains a challenge for most individuals. In addition to professional responsibilities as a registered nurse, MSN students typically need to juggle personal and familial responsibilities, as well. These myriad duties often can lead to stress and burnout among nursing staff in the school, Liz Ferron and Julie Boertje explained in an article from American Nurse Today, a journal of the American Nurses Association.
This article will examine some effective approaches that can help RN students maintain a healthier work-life balance.
A closer look at the consequences of poor work-life balance
What constitutes a healthy work-life balance cannot be understood in definitive terms, as personal happiness varies among individuals, and what one individual considers to be a manageable workload, another may find to be stressful. Understanding when a work-life balance is unhealthy is easier, however. As explained in an article by Mental Health America, a nonprofit group dedicated to advocacy for individuals living with mental illness, a person’s work-life balance can be characterized as poor or unhealthy when he or she experiences high levels of stress and unhappiness on a routine basis. The consequences of a poor work-life balance, in terms of physical and mental health, include the following:
- Strained relationships
The “life” component of the work-life balance idiom is understood to signify the hobbies, interests and interpersonal relationships that underscore an individual’s non-professional world. Consequently, when an individual’s work-life balance becomes strained, he or she is at a higher risk of dedicating less time to maintaining important relationships with others — relationships that are typically a source of happiness, comfort and strength the Mayo Clinic staff explained. For example, registered nurses (RNs) with poor work-life balance may find that they are missing important milestones in their children’s lives, such as birthdays and first steps, which could create stress and unhappiness in their relationship with a significant other.
- A less healthy lifestyle
Extreme stress actually can make individuals more susceptible to illness, as it can weaken the immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic staff. Furthermore, overly stressed individuals are at a higher risk of making decisions that are bad for their health, such as not getting enough exercise, eating convenience foods high in saturated fat or overindulging in alcohol.
- Persistent tiredness
When individuals have heavy workloads, they are at a higher risk of receiving less sleep than is recommended for a healthy lifestyle, increasing the chance of fatigue. When one is overly tired on the job, the risk of errors increases notably. That result can have life-threatening consequences for patients when individuals work in medical settings, Marcia Faller, writing for American Nurse Today explained. As Faller noted, the risk of errors among nursing staff increases substantially — by up to three times — if nurses work longer than the traditional 12-hour shifts.
Strategies for maintaining a healthier work-life balance
Below are some effective strategies that working RNs studying for an advanced degree can employ to ensure that they strike a healthier work-life balance:
- Creating a schedule
Deanna Bland Hiott wrote in Nurse Together, an online nursing resource, that professionals are advised to make use of calendars, smartphone apps and/or personal organizers to map out their working week and create a schedule. Professionals then can share their calendars with family members and friends via apps, email or other programs to ensure that expectations are managed in terms of when they have free time available. For example, if a working nurse’s spouse is aware of the time carved out for study and work, it will be possible to plan family activities around that schedule.
- Keeping on top of assignments
Leaving assignments until the last minute is an ineffective strategy that can lead to stress and the risk of poorer performance, Fran Roberts noted in an article for Scrubs Magazine, a resource for nursing professionals. RNs, therefore, are encouraged to plan out their course workload in advance, understanding when crucial assignments are due and setting aside time to work on them in advance.
- Incorporating time away from electronics
Taking regular breaks from all responsibilities and spending quality time with others is key to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Taking time out of work, whether to see a movie, read a book or have dinner with friends, is not enough if there is a chance of becoming distracted by professional and school-based responsibilities. Given that technology such as smart phones has blurred the lines between a professional and private life, these negative distractions typically are derived from electronic devices, Deborah Jian Lee explained, writing for Forbes.Those looking to achieve a healthier work-life balance are advised to “unplug” from electronic devices, even if it is for a small period each day. Robert Brooks, a Harvard-based professor of psychology, elaborated on this important point: “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment.”
- Focusing on self care
Ferron and Boertje stressed that individuals with heavy workloads should carve out time in their daily schedules to take care of their physical and mental health. Examples of positive self-care include exercising routinely, whether that’s running or brisk walking, participating in classes dedicated to fitness or mental well-being such as an exercise or yoga class, receiving a healthy amount of sleep and eating well. Although it can be difficult for working professionals to find time for such activities, even small efforts can make a difference. For example, as Boertje and Ferron stated, even limited daily exercise, for 10 minutes or more, can help relieve symptoms of stress.
Consider Bradley University
If you are interested in furthering your nursing career, consider applying to Bradley University’s online MSN-FNP program. Designed to help you open more professional doors, the MSN-FNP program’s online format can help you achieve a healthier work-life balance. To learn more, click here.