1. Create a routine that is realistic to you and your schedule
With regard to finding a balance between your studies and your self-care, choose something that is realistic to your lifestyle. For example, if you have never run a day in your life, do not make it a goal to run five miles during your allotted study breaks each day. The goal here is not to go overboard, but to find a middle ground that is beneficial and also therapeutic. You want to nourish your body, not deplete it, so find what fills your cup rather than drains it. The entire concept of "self-care" is to truly care for your body and that entails engaging in enjoyable activities that you look forward to instead of dread.
Additionally, be sure not to burn yourself out. When it comes to studying for the NCLEX, it is easy to get sucked into the pressure of feeling as if you need to be reviewing material 24/7. While yes, studying is of high importance, it is also more than necessary to take breaks throughout the day as well as have a designated end time each day. During the day and depending on the length of your study sessions, you should aim to try and take some sort of break at least every two hours to give your brain a small reset. Attempting to study for long stretches can do more harm than good. Pick a set time each night that you will put all of your material away and focus on something that you enjoy-watch a movie, read a book, listen to a podcast, etc. This will help make sure you get to bed at a decent time and avoid studying at all hours of the night.
Avoid comparing your own schedule to the next as everyone preparing for the NCLEX will have variations in what they can or cannot commit to. Some may be working full time, others part time, while some may only have studying as an obligation during this time so the amount of availability throughout the day will vary. Find what works for you and stick with it.
2. Set time aside each day to unwind
Piggybacking off of tip number one, you want to be sure that you have a cutoff time each day to put your study notes, materials, practice tests, etc. away for the evening. For me personally, I felt guilty when I wasn't studying (similar to feelings that were experienced when I was not studying for exams in nursing school) and it was therefore really challenging for me to create a stop time each day without allowing these feelings to creep in. However, I practiced being intentional and slowly but surely found it easier to put the notes away without feeling bad about it after I reaped the benefits of waking up each day feeling fresh and ready to go.
If you find that you tend to feel similar, just know that it's normal-this is a crucial time period, and it can be easy to want to make sure every ounce of effort is being put in. While it might be difficult at first, it is essential to give your mind the rest it deserves and needs in order to retain information. More is not always better and, in this case, allowing yourself time to unwind and relax will better set you up for the following day. A rejuvenated mind will aid in more productive study sessions.
3. Move your body every single day
After successfully completing nursing school, there can be no doubt that you know and understand the benefits of moving your body each day. Incorporating some form of exercise into your routine can be a useful way to keep stress at bay and even retain information more easily during your study sessions. The trick is to not overcomplicate this, especially if exercising is not something that comes naturally to you. Start small and focus on movements that are enticing. Taking a 20-30-minute walk around the neighborhood or utilizing your living room for an at-home workout are two wonderful options that require limited effort to initiate.
If getting movement in throughout your day is a challenge, try setting reminders on your phone, scheduling time slots or even writing it in on your calendar to be sure it is made a priority. Start small if this is new to you but try to work up to implementing some sort of exercise each day, even just for a brief period of time. As previously mentioned, it does not need to be anything crazy! You'll notice that after some consistency, it will become second nature and your body will begin to crave it!
4. Invest in a water bottle and keep it with you at all times
Staying hydrated throughout the day is important for your body to be able to operate at its best. When we are dehydrated or relying solely on caffeine to keep us going, our bodies run on overdrive, making it hard to concentrate. When you're not drinking enough water, you may feel fatigued and thus less motivated to review any of your NCLEX material.
If you have the option, invest in a water bottle and treat it like your baby-make sure you have it with you wherever you go and keep it in sight at all times. When it's easily visible and filled, you will be reminded that it's there and hopefully drink more water consistently throughout the day. You'll be surprised at how much clearer you can think when you're operating with a hydrated body!
5. Get enough sleep at night
As briefly touched upon earlier, being sure that you are getting enough sleep each night is crucial to your study efforts. If you are attempting to pull all nighters or are going to bed way later than you should be, your body is going to be working overtime to make up for the lost sleep instead of working to retain NCLEX-related information.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for information acquisition, which is what you aimed to do in nursing school and have continued to do during NCLEX review sessions. The trick is to work smarter, not harder and believe it or not, getting enough sleep can aid in doing so! Try to aim for at least 7-8 hours a night.
Be strict about your sleep hygiene and designate a set time to go to sleep each night and a time to wake up each morning and try your best to remain consistent with these.
6. Healthy snacks
Just as it is essential to be drinking enough water throughout the day, it is also important to fuel your body with nourishing foods. Try to focus on fresh foods that have a healthy balance of fats, carbohydrates, and protein. When blood sugar dips too low, it is hard to concentrate and can lead to feelings of frustration and even anxiousness. Whether you're studying at home, the library, a park, a friend's house, etc., make sure you are packing some snacks to take with you and refuel your body during breaks. Some good ideas include fruit and nut butter, veggies and hummus, cheese or meat sticks, and yogurt.
Aside from snacking, do your best to have satiating meals in between. Starting the day with a filling breakfast can set you up for success and allow a decent amount of time to go by before feelings of hunger creep back in. Staying comfortably full is a good state to be in when studying!
It can be tempting to hit the ground running with your NCLEX review at 100 miles per hour without wanting to stop. There are many emotions associated with this timeframe and the excitement and nervousness of it all can drive our actions. With that being said, take some time to re-center following the hype of graduating nursing school and hone in on what steps need to be taken to get you from where you are now to the registered nurse you want to be in the near future. While studying is a crucial piece of the puzzle, don't forget that taking care of your body takes precedence before you can do so. Take care of you so you can take care of business on your NCLEX!