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Finding Balance: A 3-Step Approach

Finding Balance: A 3-Step Approach

Let’s face it: Nursing school can be tough.  So is being a parent or a spouse, or sometimes even a friend.

There are a lot of articles written about balancing school, work, and home life. And there’s no doubt that nurses and nursing students can face extraordinary stress. The study and practice of nursing are both physically and emotionally demanding.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t achieve balance, although “balance” may not be the perfect word for it. Very rarely will you experience an even three-way split between school, work and life. So right off the bat, consider thinking about achieving satisfaction in each of your roles.

How do you go about doing that? There are definitely some common themes in the literature and also in the advice shared by Galen College’s nursing faculty.


Manage Your Time

Time management can be especially challenging for those who are called to nursing. Many of these individuals aren’t typically known for their likelihood to say “no.” But creating a schedule and sticking to it can go a long way to alleviating stress.

It’s important to set boundaries. Look for ways to define time limits, and then enforce those limits. Set aside specific time to study; find the best time and place where you can focus on your studying with minimal interruptions. But make time for friends and family, too — as a nurse or nursing student, it’s important to nurture those supportive relationships.

Dr. Kathy Burlingame, Dean of Galen’s Online RN to BSN program, has this concrete advice for nursing students: “Start your assignments early and don’t procrastinate. Develop a plan for success by mapping out your coursework, work and family schedules all in one place. And celebrate small milestones with your loved ones!”

Nurses must face the catch-22 that their dedication fosters — being prone to overwork because it’s hard to feel like you’re off-duty. Unfortunately, this leads to burnout, which in turn can lead to less effective patient care and unsatisfactory self-care.

During your day or shift, don’t forget to plan for and take breaks. Not taking a break is actually more detrimental than taking 10 minutes for a walk or finding a quiet place to meditate. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people can sustain a maximum level of concentration for no more than 90 minutes. After that, your ability to retain information decreases dramatically. It’s hard to practice nursing or “ace” a test when you’re not thinking clearly!

Remember, time management is a skill that can be learned. It will be important to master this skill as a student because you’ll definitely need it in your nursing career.  So, put some time into managing your time!


Practice Positivity

Take a tip from cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): the way that individuals perceive a situation is more closely connected to their reaction than the situation itself. In other words, the way you think about a situation will impact the way you feel about it.

As a nurse, many of the situations you experience will be difficult emotionally. In their article on “The Power of the Positive,” Roberts and Strauss point out that negative emotions in nurses can be exacerbated because nurses are trained to look for the negative – that is, negative indicators about a patient’s health.

Importantly, as Roberts and Strauss also state, “being positive isn’t all about happiness and smiles. It’s about finding ways to increase the whole range of positive emotions.”

One helpful habit to get into: At the end of your day, take a few moments to reflect on the positive things that occurred. And work on positive self-talk — that internal dialogue that frames your reactions to life’s circumstances. Just like time management, positivity can be practiced.

It’s also okay to ask for help. Students and nurses need a home and a work support system, and sometimes you also may need the extra support of a professional counselor.


Acknowledge & Accept

“The first step toward change is awareness.
The second step is acceptance.”
– Nathaniel Branden, Canadian-American psychotherapist and writer

Acceptance is a powerful state of mind.  First, there is no escaping stress — it’s a fact of life, if not specifically a fact of nursing. A little stress is a good thing because it can motivate us to try harder, to learn from our mistakes. But of course, too much stress isn’t good for you and it isn’t good for the patients in your care.

Start by acknowledging the stressors in your life that are and are not in your control. Accept those stressors that you can’t change and work on developing healthy coping strategies for them.

No one’s perfect, right? Admit your mistakes and move on. Be open to reasonable feedback. Ask for help when you need it, and learn how to delegate, even at home, trusting that others will do their jobs. Enjoy the process, not just the outcome.

In his article for Greater Good Magazine, Leif Haas talks about the compassion paradox often experienced by health care workers. First, there’s an overwhelming desire to problem solve when it comes to patient health, yet sometimes it’s more helpful to listen before jumping into fix-it mode. The second part of the paradox is that compassion requires a certain amount of detachment from the outcomes. The only way to show true compassion is to stay present and focused in the moment, rather than worried about the future.

Even while you practice positivity and mindfulness in your role as a nurse, you will sometimes need to give yourself permission to grieve. When it comes to working with others and caring for others, try not to judge — rather, ask questions and try to see from others’ perspectives.


The Last Word

According to Dr. Nancy Bellucci, a member of Galen’s online nursing faculty, when it comes to competing responsibilities, there are six basic principles of management:

The learning journey requires one to be:

  • Patient and kind to oneself
  • Open to change
  • Patient with the process
  • Willing to spend priceless time away from family and friends
  • Dedicated to working to the final goal
  • Persistent, resilient, and motivated to meet the demands of the degree

Achieving balance — or gaining the skills that make you feel more satisfied — is not going to be a one-shot deal. Students and nurses must work at it, and periodically it’s a good idea to reevaluate your goals and priorities. Along the same lines, remember you don’t have to change everything at once.  Try making a small change and see if it makes a difference, and then try something else.

Will nursing school and your nursing career be tough sometimes? Of course. Will it be worth it?  You bet.

“Be prepared to put your heart and soul into your nursing education and career,” says Dr. Connie Cooper, Dean of Galen College’s Louisville Campus.  “As challenging as nursing is, you’ll get back much more than you put into it.”



Beck Institute.  What is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)?  Retrieved from

Bellucci, N. (Sept. 10, 2018). A personal interview: Dr. Nancy Bellucci’s path to persistence. Galen College Faculty Focus, 8 (9), 6-10.

Boertje, J. & Ferron, L. (Nov. 2013). Achieving a work-life balance.  American Nurse Today, 8 (no. 11). Retrieved from

Haas, L.  (2018, July 30) The Compassion Paradox Faced by Health Care Workers.  Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from

Jantz, G. L.  (2016, May 16). The power of positive self-talk.  Retrieved from

Johns Hopkins University. School-life balance.  Retrieved from

Mayo Clinic. Work-life balance: Tips to reclaim control. Retrieved from

Roberts, P. & Strauss, K. (July 2015). The power of the positive.  American Nurse Today, 10 (no. 7).  Retrieved from

Thew, Jennifer. (2018, Feb. 20). Is nurse work-life balance a myth?  Retrieved from

University of Texas. (2017, March 9). Why work-life balance is important for nurses. Retrieved from

Walsh University Online. (2018, January 4) The top 10 tips for nurses to maintain work/life balance.  Retrieved from

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