It’s one of the bitterest ironies in medicine: nurses take care of other people to the point that they often don’t have the time to take care of themselves. Eventually, this lack of self-care can have significant real-life consequences. More than half of all new nurses quit the job entirely within their first five years.

Nursing school can be just as grueling. Here, you combine the pressures of hospital work with the challenges of being a college student. It isn’t a pretty picture, but there are ways that you can make your time as a nursing student as healthy and productive as possible.

In this article, we take a look at healthy habits that keep nursing students at their best.

Step 1: Focus on Getting Good Sleep

Did you know that the average college student needs about nine hours of sleep to function at the highest level? Less than that can result in stress, anxiety, weight gain, and cognitive fuzziness. Basically, your body starts getting wonky when you deprive it of sleep.

It can be hard to manage healthy sleeping habits along with school, class, and social commitments. However, there are definitely ways to do it and still live a rich life. Give yourself a curfew on school nights. Look for opportunities to catch up with friends during day hours.

Find activities that allow you to fulfill social obligations while still seeing your friends. Go to the gym together. Have a study party (kids say “study party,” right?). Meet each other for meals. You get the picture. There are plenty of fun things that happen well before midnight. Give them a try.

Step 2: Eat Right

While most freshmen don’t quite gain fifteen pounds, they don’t exactly maintain their healthy eating habits from home either. Like sleep, proper nutrition contributes to how well your body is able to function.

Eating right helps you regulate your weight, but it also provides you with more energy and can even boost mental clarity.

It’s not always easy to find delicious, healthy food in a college cafeteria, but with a little bit of effort, it can be done. Take a look at what they have going on at the salad bar.

Step 3: Exercise

Exercising is another lifestyle choice that can contribute to your overall energy levels. Regular physical activity increases muscle strength which then boosts your capacity for endurance. That’s something nurses will need in spades. Spending twelve hours on your feet at a time isn’t easy even for people in their twenties.

Most experts recommend 30 minutes of exercise a day. Note that exercise, in this context, describes activities that elevate your heart rate. Walking to class is great, but it may not have all of the benefits you get from a solid session at the rec center.

Step 4: Learn to Assess Your Feelings

This is just a good life skill to have in general, but also one that will allow you to better manage professional stress. It’s important to be able to take a step back and really understand how you feel. Sometimes, little things can have a big impact on the way you experience the world. Maybe you feel anxious about your current workload. Maybe your ability to meet your needs has been a hair off lately.

Whatever the situation, being able to identify it is important. Mindfulness exercises like meditation can go a long way toward helping you understand and address your feelings.

Step 5: Never Be Afraid to Ask for Help

Self-care doesn’t have to be entirely self-driven. While you are ultimately the only one responsible for ensuring your needs are being met, the school (and, in fact, your eventual workplace) will have resources in place to make sure you are staying healthy.

This could involve anything from wellness classes to appointments with counselors. Remember— it’s not enough to simply understand your needs. You also must have the courage to ask for help when you feel in over your head. That’s a great skill to have both at school and in life.

Why Does this Matter?

Well, why does it? There is a decent chance you are reading this article at a college campus, surrounded by people who are burning the candle at both ends. Why should you be the only person sacrificing social interactions in favor of getting a good night’s sleep?

Taking care of yourself can be a hard choice to make when you feel like self-care is coming at the cost of social engagement. However, it’s important to look at this aspect of your college life as an extension of what you will be doing in the professional world.

In the introduction, we mentioned that more than half of all incoming nurses leave within the first five years. That’s a bitter pill to swallow— especially when you factor in that you will still have many years of paying for a degree you aren’t even using anymore ahead of you at that point.

As a nursing student, you will learn medicine, but you may not learn how to have a career in medicine. It’s a small but challenging distinction that deserves consideration. If you want to be an effective nurse, you need to be an effective human.

That means giving your body the stuff it needs to feel good and work well.

We separate our professional and personal lives by this barrier that doesn’t actually exist. Now, this separation does have practical applications, making it easier to relax at the end of a long day. But when personal life self wants to stay up until 2 AM streaming the Sopranos on Max, it’s time for work-self to speak up.

Self-care is a skill that needs to be learned just like anything else. College is the perfect time to learn it Believe it or not, but right now your schedule is probably as open as it will ever be again until the day you retire (sorry to break it to you).

Use that time to find effective ways to balance all of your needs.

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