Travel Nurse Wellness: Strategies for Maintaining Mental Health in Nursing

Nursing is an inherently demanding profession, both physically and mentally. The average nurse faces long hours on their feet and deals with high-stress levels daily. For travel nurses, these challenges can be even greater, amplified by the added pressures of adapting to new environments quickly, varying workplace cultures, and frequently changing routines. 

Several studies show that nurses experience higher stress and job dissatisfaction rates than almost every other profession. In fact, according to a survey by the American Nurses Association, over half (56%) of nurses are struggling with burnout. Yet, two-thirds of nurses who said they’re facing mental health concerns are not seeking out or receiving the support that they need. 

Despite these challenges, travel nursing can also be an incredibly rewarding career with countless benefits. The flexibility to choose their assignments, for example, allows travel nurses to explore new parts of the country, often with housing and travel expenses covered. Plus, travel nurses typically earn higher pay rates than permanent RNs and gain diverse clinical skills by working in different healthcare settings. 

That said, finding ways to prioritize your mental and emotional well-being is a must if you’re a travel nurse feeling the effects of stress or burnout. To continue delivering quality care to your patients, you have to take care of yourself first and foremost. This article shares simple yet practical wellness strategies for maintaining your mental health and well-being as a travel nurse. The goal is to help you continue thriving in your career while ensuring you’re healthy, happy, and motivated. 

Understanding Travel Nurse Wellness 

The life of a travel nurse can be one of adventure and professional fulfillment. In addition to providing lifesaving care in diverse settings and meeting new people from all walks of life, travel nurses enjoy the flexibility to choose their schedules and experience the thrill of exploring new places while they’re away. 

However, this lifestyle also brings about unique difficulties that can significantly impact mental health. Travel nurses are vulnerable to many of the same stress, burnout, job dissatisfaction, and compassion fatigue issues as other nurses. But, since they’re typically far away from their families and loved ones, finding mental health support for nurses who travel for a living can be even more challenging. 

The Importance of Nurse Wellness 

Prioritizing mental health and wellness is essential for nurses’ emotional well-being and the quality of care they provide to patients. 

When nurses are physically and mentally healthy, they can do their job more effectively and compassionately. On the other hand, high levels of stress and burnout can lead to mistakes, decreased job satisfaction, and, ultimately, a higher turnover rate. This means that prioritizing RN mental health is vital for maintaining a solid and competent nursing workforce.

The Current State of Mental Health in Nursing

More than half of all nurses experience burnout, and this rate tends to be even higher among those working in acute care settings, which is common for travel nurses. 

A 2023 study by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing found that nearly 51% of nurses reported feeling emotionally drained, and 29% felt at the end of the rope a few times a week or every day by their job demands. For travel nurses, these stressors can be compounded by the frequent relocations and adjustments to new work environments, disrupting personal routines and social support systems.

Common Mental Health Challenges for Travel Nurses

While there are many benefits to being a travel nurse, such as a flexible schedule, great pay, and the chance to travel, it also comes with its own set of challenges, some of which are unique to travel nursing and others common to all nurses and healthcare workers. 

Stress and Burnout 

Stress and burnout are significant issues for both travel and staff nurses. The demand of the job, combined with long hours, high patient loads, and the emotional toll of providing care in high-stress environments, can lead to severe burnout. Plus, the transient nature of travel nursing, with its frequent relocations and new work environments, adds an additional layer of stress.

Signs and symptoms of burnout may include:

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased irritability or mood swings
  • Feeling detached or disconnected from work
  • Decreased job satisfaction and lack of motivation
  • Frequent headaches or physical complaints

Read our blog on how to prevent burnout in nursing

Depression and Anxiety 

Anxiety and depression in nurses are also common, with an estimated 40% of nurses reporting experiencing feelings of depression due to their jobs. For travel nurses, the constant changes and lack of a stable support system can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and sadness, potentially leading to depression. The pressure to perform well in unfamiliar settings can also contribute to these mental health challenges.

Signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety may include:

  • Persistent sadness or low mood
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Restlessness or feeling on edge
  • Avoiding social interactions
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to seek help immediately. You are not alone.

For Immediate Help:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Crisis Text Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741

For More Resources:

Loneliness and Isolation

Travel nurses often work far away from their families and loved ones, which can cause feelings of loneliness and isolation. Since assignments typically last only a few weeks, it can be difficult to form lasting relationships, increasing the sense of isolation.

Signs of loneliness and isolation may include:

  • Feeling disconnected from others
  • Persistent feelings of loneliness
  • Decreased interest in social activities
  • Increased feelings of sadness or depression
  • Difficulty forming or maintaining relationships
  • Feelings of being misunderstood or not fitting in

Cultural and Social Adjustment

Another challenge for travel nurses is continuously adjusting to new cultural and social environments. Each new assignment may involve different workplace cultures, local customs, and social expectations, which can be difficult to navigate and adapt to, especially when the assignment is only temporary. 

Signs of cultural and social adjustment issues may include:

  • Feeling out of place or culturally isolated
  • Difficulty understanding or adapting to local customs
  • Increased social stress or anxiety 
  • Miscommunications or misunderstandings with colleagues or patients
  • Feeling overwhelmed by cultural differences

Housing and Relocation Stress

Frequent relocations and finding suitable housing can be a major source of stress for travel nurses. The uncertainty and logistical challenges of moving can impact mental health and well-being, potentially leading to or exacerbating existing mental health challenges.

Signs of housing and relocation stress may include:

  • Anxiety about finding and securing a place to live
  • Stress related to moving logistics and expenses
  • Difficulty settling into new environments
  • Feelings of instability or lack of a permanent home
  • Increased fatigue and exhaustion from frequent moves, including difficulty sleeping at night
  • Challenges in maintaining routines and self-care practices

Strategies to Support Nurse Mental Health and Wellness on the Road

As a nurse, the inclination to care for and nurture others is in your DNA. Helping people improve their health and recover from illnesses is probably why you do what you do. Yet sometimes, it can be easy to forget to pay the same attention to yourself. Consider incorporating these strategies into your routine to maintain your mental and physical well-being while traveling.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is essential for maintaining your health and wellness, especially in the demanding field of nursing. Make time each day for activities that help you relax and recharge, whether reading a book, calling a friend or a loved one, or practicing a hobby you enjoy. Engaging in activities that spark joy can help reduce stress and improve your mood. 

Build a Personal Support Network

Having a strong support network is key. Make an effort to connect with peers and mentors who understand the challenges of travel nursing. Join professional groups or online nursing support groups and communities, such as Triage’s private Team Triage Facebook group, to share experiences, blow off steam, or seek advice. This can be a great resource for meeting others who are in similar situations and can offer support and guidance. 

Stay in Touch with Loved Ones

Human connection is crucial to maintaining mental health, and sometimes talking to our loved ones can be just the cure we need. Regularly staying in touch with family and friends can provide emotional support and help reduce feelings of isolation. Consider scheduling regular video calls or setting up a group chat with fellow travel nurses. Building relationships can make a huge difference in your emotional well-being.

Use Mental Health Resources

Utilize mental health resources for nurses and medical professionals to stay happy and motivated as a travel nurse. Triage has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that provides therapy for healthcare workers, referrals, and follow-up services. 

Additionally, some healthcare organizations have wellness programs specifically designed for travel nurses. These programs might include stress management workshops, peer support groups, medical traveler apps, and wellness coaching. You can also try mindfulness and mental health apps, which provide meditation, relaxation, and stress management tools that you can access anytime, anywhere.

Exercise and Eat Well

Regular physical activity and a balanced diet are vital for maintaining energy levels and managing stress. Aim to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, whether it’s a morning jog, a yoga session, or a quick workout at the gym. Physical activity releases endorphins, improving your mood and reducing stress levels. It also helps keep your body strong and resilient, which is incredibly important for the physically demanding nature of nursing.

Choosing nutritious meals is also essential. A balanced diet rich in fruits, veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains fuels your body and mind, giving you the necessary nutrients to energize you throughout the day. Avoid excessive caffeine and sugar, leading to energy crashes and increased stress levels.

Get Enough Sleep

As a nurse, you know that getting adequate rest is crucial for recovery and maintaining high performance. Establishing a regular sleep schedule is one of the most effective ways to ensure you get the quality sleep you need. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, if your schedule allows it. If you’re switching from night shift to day shift, take the proper precautions.

Make your sleeping area as comfortable and conducive to rest as possible. This can include investing in a good-quality mattress or pillows, keeping your bedroom cool and dark, and minimizing noise and light disruptions. 

Seek Professional Help

Seeking help when you’re struggling is a sign of strength, not weakness. Whether in-person or online, counseling services and therapy for nurses can offer support tailored to your specific needs. Professional therapists are equipped to help you develop coping strategies, manage stress, and work through any personal or professional issues that come up professionally or in your personal life. 

Many therapists also offer specialized services for healthcare workers. These professionals are trained to understand the unique pressures and experiences of nursing, such as burnout, compassion fatigue, loneliness, etc. Talking to someone who understands what you’re going through can make a great difference in addressing any specific mental health concerns you might have. 

Take the Next Step with Triage 

Travel nursing can be an exciting and fulfilling career that allows you to combine your dedication to patient care with the freedom to explore new places and enjoy a more flexible schedule. But while it provides amazing experiences and professional development opportunities, it’s also important to have effective wellness strategies to address the challenges that may come with the job. 

If you’re a seasoned nurse seeking to expand your horizons or have your sights set on becoming a travel nurse, at Triage, we can help you find the perfect travel nursing job that fits your lifestyle. Check out our travel nursing jobs or contact us today to get started on your travel nursing journey.