Nurses have countless responsibilities—providing exceptional care to patients, diagnosing symptoms, filling out mounds of paperwork, emotionally supporting families, adhering to scores of regulations—the list is never-ending. With all of these responsibilities, nurses, your most important responsibility is often slighted—your duty to care for yourself.
Even outside of work, nurses are more likely than any other group of people to care for others while neglecting their own care, which often leads to severe stress levels that can result in serious health problems.
For this reason, we’ve compiled a list of six actionable stress management techniques that can help nurses avoid the stress levels that often lead to burnout.
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What is stress, and how can it affect nurses?
Stress is the body’s means of responding to physical, psychological, social, and emotional demands placed on it.
Stress can be brought on by myriad circumstances, and they don’t have to be negative events to be stressful. Some types of stress actually can bring about positive results.
For instance, ‘survival instinct’ is simply stress felt by your brain as it perceives danger. In this case, the outcome of stress is a good thing, resulting in a necessary ‘fight or flight’ response.
However, most types of stress are bad, especially those that are caused by stressors that can—and should—be avoided.
Naturally, every human is susceptible to all of these forms of stress—but nurses are particularly prone to developing serious levels of stress for a number of reasons, including:
- Being overworked while simultaneously feeling underappreciated
- Personnel shortages which pile on higher workloads
- Work-related risks from infectious disease exposures, injuries, etc.
- Sleep deprivation due to working rotations, long shifts, too many shifts in a row, etc.
- The necessity of dealing with difficult patients and families
- Lack of support from administrators, physicians, and other healthcare professionals
- Extreme time pressures
- Contact with seriously ill patients
- Ongoing contact with death
In a 2016 paper, BMC Nursing, a peer-reviewed nursing journal published by United Kingdom’s BioMed Central, stated that the stress levels nurses experience can have a negative effect on their own lives as well as on patient outcomes (source).
Nurses who don’t learn to properly manage their potentially high-stress levels often experience serious life fallout, including chronic health conditions, lack of work enthusiasm, a feeling of dread about going to work, anger, resentment, social withdrawal, extreme fatigue, overwhelming anxiety, and more.
And all of these events can lead to nursing burnout or a lesser-known concept referred to as ‘compassion fatigue.’
Compassion fatigue occurs due to the emotional and physical stressors nurses experience from spending years witnessing patient suffering.
It often leads to such psychological symptoms as cynicism, detachment from patients, detachment from one’s own family and friends, mental and physical exhaustion, diminished sense of self-worth, diminished sense of the importance or effects of nursing work, and more.
Compassion fatigue is so real that Mother Theresa understood this concept well and urged her superiors to make it mandatory for her nuns to take one full year off out of every four to five in order to heal from care-giving (source).
The resulting side effects of nursing burnout and compassion fatigue are unmistakable and can happen to every nurse. This is why it’s critical for all nurses to learn to effectively manage their stress levels before they experience life-altering negative impacts.
6 Actionable Nurse Management Techniques
1. Work Out
Sure, nursing itself is a workout, but it may not be enough. Why? First, your job is what’s causing the stress levels, so the idea here is to do something else, something different, something outside of work.
Second, when you’re at work, you’re required to do whatever ‘exercise’ is necessary to get the job done. In other words, you don’t have a choice.
But with a regular exercise routine, you can choose the workout you want to do, not the one you have to do.
One of the best forms of workout to reduce stress levels is to work out in the water. Aqua aerobics, swimming, jogging or walking in a pool—these are all excellent forms of exercise because they combine cardio workouts with ‘resistance,’ or weight training (source).
But perhaps more important for nurses is the fact that simply immersing yourself in water, in and of itself, is a splendid form of stress management.
Related Article: How do Nurses Find Time to Workout?
2. Eat a Balanced Diet
Working out and eating right—they go hand in hand, and these two actions are enormously effective at helping nurses to reduce their stress levels (source).
Eating a poor diet of junk food, empty carbs, sugary snacks—these not only sap your strength because they contain virtually no nutrients; they also lead to chronic health conditions that nurses just can’t afford to develop.
Having a sugary or otherwise unhealthy snack every now and again is okay, but for the bulk of your diet, choose green, leafy vegetables; lean meats and poultry; wild-caught salmons and other fish; nuts, seeds, and berries; fruits; and plenty of water.
Related Article: 10 Best Healthy Snacks for Nurses
3. Laugh Loud and Laugh Often
Nurses simply know too much about medicines to believe the old ‘laughter is the best medicine’ adage. However, we nurses also are way too smart just to dismiss this concept altogether.
Laughter may not be the ‘best’ medicine, but its near-medicinal effect most definitely makes it one of the most powerful methods of managing stress levels (source).
Being a nurse isn’t just physically demanding; it’s exceptionally psychologically and emotionally demanding as well. Therefore, it’s vital for all nurses to find as many non-threatening kinds of humor throughout the day as possible.
Here are a few ways to add laughter to every single day. First, don’t ever take yourself too seriously; learn to laugh at yourself in an innocuous way that will help you ‘shake it off’ whenever necessary.
Second, trade-in that romance movie you planned on seeing tonight with a good comedy that will bring on some hardy laughs. Finally, find a comedy club near you and take in a fun night of stand-up this weekend. Nothing will make you forget the stress of the day like a hundred good laughs tonight!
4. Get Enough Sleep
In our busy society, sleep is way underrated. Too many people just don’t get enough of it, and nurses top the list of the most sleep-deprived.
You must get at least six restful hours of sleep every night—but seven to eight are even better. Here are some methods you can use to help you get the most restful, seven-to-eight-hour night’s sleep possible (source):
- If possible, avoid taking naps during the day
- Get into bed only when you’re sleepy enough to actually fall asleep
- Get the television out of your bedroom
- Stop doing physical activity such as household chores or workouts four hours before bedtime
- Try to observe the same bedtime each night (or as often as possible)
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible
- Use a sound machine or soft music to help you fall asleep
- Never use your bed as a place to study
- Turn off your cell phone when you go into the bedroom
- Take a warm bath or shower just before bedtime
- Leave worries at the bedroom door; if you really must, you can pick them up in the morning!
5. Care for Your Feet
As a nurse, you often spend long hours on your feet. You stand for long periods of time. You move about on the job almost constantly.
You lift patients from chairs to gurneys, from gurneys to beds, and from one chair to another. You run down hallways, alongside emergency gurneys, upstairs, downstairs—it’s murder on your feet, ankles, legs, hips, and joints.
Experiencing the negative impacts of all those long shifts and all that hard work can cause your emotional stress levels to rise due to the physical effects you’re feeling.
Wearing the proper supportive shoes and compression socks that provide enough comfort during your entire shift is vital to keeping your stress levels low.
And, when your shift is finally over, try an Epsom salt foot bath that will reduce leg and foot pain—so you can do it all again tomorrow!
Related Article: 5 Benefits of Compression Stockings for Nurses
6. Consider Changing Your Nursing Specialization
If you’ve tried all of the above stress management techniques and you still feel your job is leading you down a negative path, consider switching up your nursing specialization, particularly if you’ve been at it for years.
This will help you to see nursing, patients, and even life itself from a totally different perspective. It can even lead to a promotion and a higher salary, which can help to lower financial stressors if you have them.
However, changing your specialization isn’t necessarily about a promotion or even more money; it’s about finding a new niche that will help you to view your job from a refreshing new angle.
This may be just what you need to catapult you back into loving your job as much as you did before its stressors began mounting.
7. Know When to See a Doctor
The last part I’m going to add is from the Mayo Clinic. Their recommendation is if you’ve made an effort to lower your stress, and it’s not working then make sure to see a doctor or medical provider (source).
Nursing has been named one of the top 10 most stressful jobs by leading occupation resource Salary.com, a website that helps people ‘understand their worth (source).’
And the worth of nurses is immeasurable. No one can possibly comprehend the pressures of our profession by standing on the outside looking in, which is why it is incumbent upon us to care for ourselves.
Taking care of yourself is not just about being able to care for your patients. You deserve to be cared for every bit as much as your patients do! Choose just one of the above stress management techniques and put it into action this week.
You’ll soon begin seeing your stress levels diminish. Then try to implement one new technique each month in order to see a marked decrease in the stress you feel from your job.
Doing this will reduce the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, such as anger, fatigue, isolation, anxiety, apathy, and dread about going to work.
Ultimately, you’ll feel a significant difference that will help you to regain your joy.
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