Tips for Handling Stress as a Nurse

It’s no secret that being a nurse is stressful. You have to take care of multiple people at once, and it is crucial to maintain focus throughout the shift. On top of that, you may be dealing with persistent staffing shortages, frequent changes to protocols, and team members with poor communication skills. 

While each work environment is unique, most nurses must also learn to manage the emotional burden that goes along with the job. Interacting with patients and their loved ones can be draining, especially when you have to tell them the opposite of what they want to hear. Nurses must be empathetic to these sensitive situations, and this constant need to put on a brave, kind face can be challenging to maintain over time. 

It is crucial to address chronic stress because it can impact your emotional, mental, and physical health. Many people aren’t aware that chronic stress can lead to difficulties with sleeping, increased blood sugar, and a weakened immune system. It can cause fatigue and dissociation, which may make nursing life even more challenging.

Nurses can take steps to try to alleviate chronic stress and pursue a long, fulfilling career. Consider the following tips for preventing chronic stress associated with your job:

Establish a solid support system

It’s crucial to have a support system both inside and outside of your work environment. Typically, working in an intense, stressful environment brings colleagues together, as they have likely experienced similar challenges together. This is great for when you need a few minutes to vent about your day or confide in someone who understands what you’re going through.

On the other hand, engaging in too much venting within the work environment can also breed negativity, so it is important to find a healthy balance. We get so caught up in our individual struggles that we sometimes forget how much of a positive impact we make each day. Establishing a support system outside of work can help bring different perspectives into the mix without adding to negativity within the workplace.

Know Your Triggers

Your personality and your personal experiences are going to influence your stress level and how you manage that stress. Getting to know yourself and your triggers can help you avoid situations that are stressful or even recognize that the emotional or physical responses you’re having are related to stress. Pay attention to the situations that tend to stress you out at work (some people find it helpful to make a written list), and see if you can identify the sources of stress. 

For example, many people struggle more with stress when they are hungry, and nurses are notorious for having to eat on the run whenever they can find a few spare moments. When your basic needs aren’t being met, you won’t be at your best. You can’t control how many nurses are on the floor or all of the medications you have to pull, but you can put a protein bar in your pocket to help offset hunger on a busy day.

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Focus on your breathing

This is something you can do both at work and at home. Taking a few minutes to breathe deeply and slowly can help naturally calm your body and mind. It takes the focus away from the immediate stressor and allows for a second to stop, refocus, and regroup.

Some nurses find it useful to duck into a storage closet or a single-person restroom to take a few moments to breathe, especially following a particularly stressful situation. Practices like yoga or meditation can be helpful outside of work, when you’re able to have more moments of silence. 

Find an additional passion to pursue

Most nurses go into their field because they have passion for others and are natural caregivers. In order to keep this passion ignited, you may have to refocus yourself on something else that you care for outside of work. Finding a hobby or interest to pursue on your days off can be reenergizing and beneficial for both the body and mind.

For example, consider taking up an artistic hobby, such as painting, playing music, or even acting in a community theater program. Some people like to play intramural sports, which is also a great way to meet new friends outside of your work environment. Personally, I am studying a second language and find it both challenging and exciting to develop a skill outside of my workplace.

Stick to a routine

Healthcare settings are unpredictable, and the lack of control over your environment at work can contribute to chronic stress. One way to combat this is to have your own, personal routine in which you take care of your body and mind. This means eating well, exercising, spending time outdoors, and investing time in the people you love.

Having a daily (or weekly) routine provides the comfort of, in some ways, knowing what to expect. This routine should include acts of rest and self-care and should not serve as a “to-do list” that adds more stress to your week. Some examples of healthy routines include: going to bed at around the same time each night, planning to watch your favorite TV show once a week, or regularly scheduling a spa treatment. 

Set personal boundaries

As a nurse, it can be hard to say “no” when you are needed, especially if you work on a unit that is poorly staffed. Overtime money is also tempting, but you have to remember to give yourself time to rest and recover as well. Saying “yes” every time you are needed for an extra shift and whenever you are asked to come in early is going to drain you over time.

Another way to set boundaries as a nurse is to leave your non-nursing problems (such as family conflicts) outside of work. Trying to juggle the stressors that come with the job in addition to the stressors of your home life can be overwhelming. Learning to compartmentalize and focus on one task at a time is helpful for getting through particularly stressful times.

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