The Power of Self-Reflection on Nurse Well-Being

Learn how one simple habit can help you refocus and stay motivated in your nursing career. Developing a habit of self-care and reflection after each shift can help cultivate positive emotions that work to counter burnout and support your well-being and mental health. Try NurseGrid's new Shift Reflection tool to get started.

Staying motivated as a nurse can be tricky—who hasn’t spent a few hours after a particularly long and tiring shift replaying the whole thing in their head? We’ve all been there. But, unfortunately, it’s human tendency to dwell on the negative while letting the positive fade away. Not only is this unhelpful, but it’s also not providing any benefits to your well-being or your passion for nursing.

Need a better approach?

At NurseGrid, we like to look at the entire shift. Take the good with the bad, and balance the observations about what went wrong with what went right. We call this practice shift reflection, looking at every aspect of a shift objectively while it’s still fresh in your mind. We feel it’s one of the keys to building resilience and helping nurses thrive.

We sat with Susan Bauer-Wu, a registered nurse, president of the Mind & Life Institute and a Keener app advisor, so she could explain why this easiest of “contemplative practices” works and how nurses can make it a habit.

She confessed that she wished she had had this powerful tool in her toolbox when she was a nurse. “I know it would have been helpful,” she said. “Over time, I’ve learned that reflection after a full and intense workday can help me make sense of things, remind me of what I accomplished, and reinforce that I’m making a difference.”

Let’s take a closer look at why taking the time to reflect is so important.

Shift reflection can help you make sense of things.

Every shift has its challenges; there are so many variables when it comes to nursing – attending providers might be short with you, patients might pass away on your shift, a colleague may challenge you. And when these types of things happen, it’s best to process them sooner rather than later.

“Shift reflection lets you mentally synthesize what happened during the work shift, so you can more freely let go and relax when you’re home,” Bauer-Wu said. “It also helps you be more mindful and gain insights into how you felt and responded to what happened during the shift. That way, you can learn to turn off your autopilot and instead establish — and reinforce — positive, skillful habits and ways of responding to work challenges.”

Shift reflection can be a reminder of your accomplishments.

A nurse’s schedule can be crazy, and a lot can happen in a 12-hour shift. And when you add in back-to-back shifts, it gets even harder to remember anything from those first few hours. That’s why Bauer-Wu says taking the time for shift reflection is critical, as it can help you recall, reaffirm, and consider all the things you accomplished or learned.

“This can be big life-saving kinds of things or simpler ways of bringing a smile to a patient, family member or colleague through something you said or did,” she said.

Self-reflection can replace frustration with motivation.

A tough shift can be enough to make you want to turn in your badge and throw away your scrubs, especially when those unhelpful ruminations follow you around long after you’ve clocked out.

But letting go of those “I can’t do this anymore” feelings and remembering you are making a difference can be critical in maintaining your motivation and passion.

“[Taking the time to reflect helps] connect nurses to their professional calling and can bring meaning and fulfillment to their work and lives,” Bauer-Wu said. And making the time to reflect on those feelings of gratitude and fulfillment can help to balance out the unavoidable, stressful aspects of working as a nurse.

How to develop a habit of shift reflection.

There’s no denying the importance of reflection when it comes to working as a nurse. From personal well-being to long-term career motivation, taking the time to process and reflect on your working hours is critical when it comes to nursing.

So how do you go about developing a habit of shift reflection?

If you’re using NurseGrid to keep track of your schedule, it’s easy to use our latest feature, Shift Reflection, to reflect on your shift, release any work-related stress, and keep a log of any emotions that come up.

Another option is to utilize your commute, like Bauer-Wu. “I’ve found it helpful to do such reflection on my way home from work,” she said. “It’s a transitional buffer between work time and home life, so when we get home, we can be more fully present for our family and personal responsibilities.”

Journaling is also a great way to process and reflect on the events of a shift. “Writing can help us gain perspective and feel like a greater release than simply mental reflection,” she said. Writing things down can also help to mentally let go of any anger, stress, or frustration.

No matter which route works for you, be sure to reserve time to reflect on what went well that shift or what you found particularly rewarding. Bauer-Wu recommends trying to identify three specific experiences during the shift that brought you a sense of accomplishment, joy, or satisfaction.

Cultivate empowerment and affirmation with shift reflection.

Developing a habit of self-care and reflection after each shift can help cultivate positive emotions that work to counter or prevent burnout while supporting your well-being and mental health.

“The more we can notice and reflect on rewarding experiences during the workday, the more affirmed and empowered and better we’ll feel,” Bauer-Wu explained.

Creating time and space for this type of reflection can have a ripple effect on everyone around us — our patients, families, colleagues, and friends.

So, the next time you clock out, take a few minutes to reflect, release, and create a better work-life balance.

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