Healthy Thinking Tips for Nurses: Ways to Keep Your Mind Clear

COVID-19 cases are climbing, and the number of critically ill patients are overwhelming hospitals. How can nurses best survive the onslaught? With healthy thinking tips for nurses. 

“Nurses’ psychological health issues have become a public-health epidemic, threatening nurses’ and the public’s health and safety,” said Holly Wei, PhD, RN, CPN, NEA-BC, associate professor at the College of Nursing at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, and a spokesperson for the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). 

“These healthcare issues have been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues its disastrous spread in the United States with uncertainty and unprecedented prediction. A Pulse on the Nation’s Nurses Survey earlier this year by the American Nurses Association demonstrated that [more than] half of the frontline nurses felt emotionally overwhelmed and reported psychological symptoms.”

Keeping a Positive Outlook

Maintaining a positive outlook and keeping thoughts on an upbeat note can help nurses cope with the current situation. 

“As nurses and physicians are faced with challenges and stressors at work every day, it is vital to learn to develop and maintain an optimistic outlook and keep us physically and emotionally healthy,” Wei said. 

Healthy thinking tips for nurses include starting the day with an affirmation. Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, CSP, FAAN, The Inspiration Nurse, has developed a set of inspirational cards, with daily affirmations and recently released inspirational posters. She also posts positive messages for nurses on her Facebook page. 

Often affirmations can become reality. Self-talk is a powerful messenger. Starting the day on a negative note will likely lead to a more difficult day. But starting out the day with a message to yourself, such as “This is going to be good day” may turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

In a recent blog, Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, APRN-CNP, FAANP, FNAP, FAAN, at The Ohio State University in Columbus, and ANA Enterprise’s Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative, recommended reading a positive-thinking book for about five minutes daily before work. During shifts or at other times of stress, nurses can also transform negative thoughts to positive ones, drawing on cognitive-behavioral skills to reframe thoughts.

Loving kindness meditation offers another avenue for healthy thinking. In this meditation, nurses start by thinking of a person with warm feelings toward the nurse and then envisioning that person offers an affirmation, such as “May you be well, happy and at peace and free from pain, hunger and suffering,” explained Donald Altman, MA, LPC, owner of in Portland, Oregon, and author of Simply Mindful: A 7-Week Course and Mental Handbook for Mindful Living.

“[The meditation] uses security-priming words,” Altman said. “Think of it as a blessing you are sending to yourself.”

After a while, the person meditating can send that message or something similar to him- or herself and then to others, even unfriendly people, who may need the warm feeling. 

Altman explained that loving kindness meditation can increase nurses’ feelings of safety and calm. The meditation can be done just about anywhere, such as during a break or in the car before or after a shift. Nurses can combine the meditation with being in nature, diaphragmatic breathing and other self-care measures. 

Practicing Self-care

Positive thinking is one part of a self-care program to boost nurses’ resolve to safely get through this crisis. Wei called self-care “vital.” It can help nurses build resilience. She also encouraged nurses to find meaning in their work, connect with an energy source and nurture interpersonal connections. 

“Some strategies to promote emotional hygiene include self-reflecting, praying, spending time with family and friends, setting boundaries between home and work, practicing yoga and mindfulness, eating a balanced diet, and getting adequate sleep and moderate exercise,” Wei said. 

“Getting sufficient sleep and moderate exercise are fundamental to nurses’ psychological well-being, which, in turn, affects nurses’ physical health. Physical health and psychological health are thoroughly intertwined,” she concluded.


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