Nurses come under a great deal of stress every day, and it makes no difference how much those nurses might love what they do, that stress is always going to have a negative impact on their health and overall wellbeing.
The truth is that stress is part of a nurse’s job. It is an emotional career to be a part of, and trying to do your best for your patients, having to work long, hard hours, being physically exhausted, and needing to keep up to date with your studies in online nursing programs is all going to add up to cause stress. Everything that happens, good or bad, is going to affect you, and sometimes these things can affect you negatively.
So what can be done when ‘nurse stress’ (a very real and very traumatic issue) causes you problems in your work and home life? You might think that you simply have to ‘get on with things’ and keep working through, no matter how tired or upset or, indeed, stressed you might be feeling. Yet this is not how it has to be, even if that is the way it was done in the past. Today, knowing so much more about mental health and the problems that mental illness can cause, even temporarily, there are a number of different coping mechanisms in place to help you. Read on to find out what some of them are so you always have an arsenal of options ready to use if and when the stress of nursing becomes too much.
Learn to Say No
Most of the time, a nurse’s first inclination when asked to do something will be to say yes. This is what they are trained for, and it is what a big part of a nurse’s job really is; helping others when they require assistance, whether that person is a patient, a doctor, a fellow nurse, a family member, or anyone else who is asking for something.
The problem comes when you, as a nurse, already have a busy schedule. Maybe you have already been asked for help by a number of other people, and you’re trying to work through the requests while also doing your own work. Or perhaps you have promised your family you will leave the hospital on time because you have a date or some kind of special occasion or celebration to be a part of. Perhaps you have work for your online nursing programs to complete. Maybe you just need a break and you know you shouldn’t take on anything else right now.
Your instinct might be to say yes, despite all of the reasons to say no, and this is where the problems can start. You need to remember that you have to look after yourself, as well as your patients. If you are unwell and stressed, lacking sleep or not eating properly, you aren’t going to be at your best as a nurse, and no one wants that to happen.
Sometimes then, when you are completely honest about things, you are going to have to say no. Learning to say no isn’t easy for someone who wants to help as much as a nurse will, but it is crucial nonetheless. Releasing yourself from the obligation of always having to say yes will certainly reduce your stress levels.
Some nurses see their careers as a calling. They are always looking for new online nursing programs to engage with, for example, and they want to spend their entire lives helping as many people as possible. Others see nursing as just a job, something they do because they are good at it and have the right technical skillset, but this is all it is to them and nothing more.
The American Sociological Association conducted research into which type of nurse was most likely to feel stress and even to ‘burn out’, and the results were that nurses who wanted to help and who had a calling were going to suffer more. This is likely to be because the more caring the nurse, the more they are going to feel empathy for their patients, and the more work they will try to take on to make things better for them, and for those around them.
This is where understanding how to compartmentalize is going to be of great help. This essentially means leaving your work exactly there; at work. When you go home, you should try not to think of your patients or the hospital, clinic, or another place of work you might have, depending on the type of nurse you are. This is not going to be something that the most caring nurses are able to just do right away, especially if they live with other medical professionals or they are studying for their online nursing programs – the thought of their job is never far away. However, it is essential you try as hard as possible to separate your home and work life if you want to reduce your stress levels and be happy and healthy in both areas.
Find Emergency Coping Strategies
Sometimes it is just not going to be possible to stay away from stress – no matter how hard you try, there are always going to be times when you feel overwhelmed at work or because of work. No matter whether it’s because a patient has passed away, a patient’s family member has become angry, you have made a mistake, or you’re trying to work towards your online nursing programs while doing your job the best you can, stress can find a way in.
In these cases, it is a good idea to have emergency coping strategies to hand to reduce your stress as quickly as possible so you can get back to work. These strategies are not going to work in the long term, and the results are likely to be temporary, but they should work long enough to allow you to finish your shift or complete your task so you can go home.
A few of the best emergency coping mechanisms for nurses include:
- Practicing deep breathing techniques
- Counting to 10 before doing or saying anything
- Taking a break and being by yourself somewhere quiet for just a few minutes
These techniques should be enough to help get you grounded again. However, you will need more permanent stress reduction help for long term wellbeing. The key with these techniques is to be honest with yourself and those around you; if you need to step away for a short amount of time, you’ll need to do just that, and let people know how you’re feeling.
Have a Safe Place
One of the best things you can do when it comes to reducing (and ideally eliminating) the effects of stress when you’re a nurse is to ensure your home is a safe space or has a space within it that you can call safe and feel secure in.
This might be your whole home, or it could be a room or part of a room inside it. It might even be an outside study or garage. Where it is will always be your choice, and there doesn’t have to be a reason for feeling safe in one particular place; you need to do whatever works for you.
In order to make the space comfortable, you should have items that represent things you enjoy. Choosing furniture or decorations in your favorite colors is a good place to start, and checking that you have the ability to play relaxing music (either by having a good wifi signal or having a machine to play music on) will work wonders too. You might choose to listen to a guided meditation in the room or space, or light aromatherapy candles, for example. Including plants as part of your décor is also regarded as a good idea when it comes to reducing your stress levels.
This space is your sanctuary and should be a place you can go to whenever you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Even if you just spend half an hour in there a day, this can be enough to make you much more like yourself again, and ready to face the day. This space shouldn’t be used for studying for online nursing programs or thinking about your job. It needs to be somewhere you can go to get away from these thoughts for a while, so make sure you don’t bring any work-related items in there with you.
What Makes You Happy? Do it!
If you are feeling stressed, no matter how much you love your job, you are going to need to find something that makes you happy that you can do each day to reduce your stress levels and keep you calm. This could be anything at all from painting a picture to listening to music to scrolling through old photographs to researching online nursing programs. Don’t allow others to dictate what you should be doing in these moments; if you want to enjoy a jigsaw or go for a job, do it.
When you are replacing your fears and worries with something you enjoy, your blood pressure will lower, your heart rate will decrease, your breathing will slow, and you will release serotonin into your body. Known as the ‘happy hormone’ it’s obvious that this is going to make you much less stressed.
Try to do whatever it is that makes you happy every day. You can do it before, during, or after work depending on what it is, but it should become part of your daily routine in order to help you stay as stress-free as possible.
Have Friends that Aren’t Nurses
Nurses work long hours and they also work shifts, and this can mean that it feels they are at the hospital (or other medical places of work) much more than they are anywhere else. If they only have friends who are nurses and they want to socialize with these friends, that can make this feeling even more prevalent – there is just no ‘escape’ from the world of nursing, and it might feel difficult for them to be themselves and truly relax. This can lead to added stress and a definite feeling of overwhelm.
In order to combat this issue, try to have friends outside of work so that when you socialize with them, talk to them on the phone, check over their social media, and so on, you won’t be bombarded with medical talk and hospital news. Of course, being friendly with the people you work with is important, and talking to them about things like your online nursing programs is fun, but having other friends is just as crucial as it means you don’t have to be reminded of work in your downtime and relaxation will come that little bit easier to you.
Spend Time in Nature
Nursing is not, for the most part, an outside job, and you will be working within the same four walls for long periods of time. In some cases, especially if you are working night shifts, you might not get to go out in the sunshine very much at all, and certainly taking the time to gulp in some deep, refreshing breaths of outside air is going to be difficult.
This is why you should always make time to go out in nature when you can. Just a quick walk around the block can be enough, and if you have more time a trip to the beach or a hike through the woods can be incredibly rejuvenating. The more time you spend in nature, the calmer and happier you will be; even watching a documentary about nature can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce any feelings of tension, anger, or fear.
If you can’t get out as much as you would like to, surround yourself with images of nature. This could be a poster or print in your home, a leafy background on your laptop or phone, or even clothing that represents nature by its color or the images depicted on it.
Ask for Help
Sometimes it is just not possible to deal with nurse stress by yourself. Try as you might, overwhelm and burn out can be just around the corner, and no matter what you do you can’t seem to get back on track.
This is not something to feel ashamed about, and is perfectly reasonable. It is crucial if you do feel this way to ask for help from a friend, family member, colleague, superior, or a professional therapist. You need to pick someone you feel comfortable talking to, and get the help you need. If you don’t, your stress will become worse, not better, and you will find you become seriously ill because of it.
No matter how much you love nursing and how keen you are to study for online nursing programs, if your stress gets too much, you might have to quit altogether. So getting help is essential.