Nursing Stress: 7 Effective Ways to Deal with Stress for Nurses


ways to deal with nursing stress

By Alana Luna, Contributor

Stress-related injuries, illnesses, burnout and turnover cost the U.S. economy an estimated $250-$300 billion per year, and the demanding nature of the healthcare profession means nurses are at even greater risk than the general public. Stress for nurses is a serious issue, but there are ways to cope. Check out these ideas for minimizing nursing stress and finding your inner Zen.

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Coping with Stress as a Nurse

1. Develop a mindfulness practice

Sometimes the solution for stress comes not from an outside source but from within. Tricia Thompson, a corporate psychologist at Silver Lining Psychology, regularly consults with healthcare professionals and her advice has been featured in several high-profile publications. “Not only has mindfulness been linked to better service to patients,” says Thompson, “but it also helps to reduce stress.”

Thompson offers an online course to help interested parties launch their own practice, but for those looking for immediate relief, she has a quicker option. “To get started, simply take 5 minutes a day to meditate, focusing on your breathing. It can be an excellent way to ground yourself and relax at those moments when you need it.”

2. Get to the root cause

Though mindfulness can be a powerful coping mechanism, Thompson emphasizes the importance of identifying the root cause of nursing stress. “Although there are aspects of nursing that are potentially stressful to all (e.g. workload, compassion fatigue), there are others that may be unique to the individual (e.g. conflict with co-workers, work-life balance, limited autonomy, thought style).”

The source of stress for nurses may also differ from specialty to specialty. Pediatric nurses have their own issues with stress that may relate to the age or vulnerability of younger patients, and emergency department nurses are under constant pressure due to their fast-paced work environment.

Naman Kumar of Airo Health studied mental health and agrees that identifying different types of nursing stress is important. “We tend to shove all kinds of symptoms under stress, but that's not how you start dealing with it. You have to address each episode of stress on its own merit and recognize whether it is caused by low energy, burn out or compassionate fatigue.”

Kumar suggests keeping a journal or using Airo to track anxiety and identify patterns and then changing your habits accordingly

4. Make a plan

Finding ways to minimize stress for nurses is often about strategy. Having a plan to handle the unexpected puts you back in control, and that can decrease your stress levels. Esme Lawrence, BSN, has her own three-step approach:

1. How does my body feel when I experience stress?

2. What am I going to do when I feel stress?

3. Follow your plan to manage stress

Adopt Lawrence’s technique using your own answers to her questions, and remind yourself to stick to your strategy when you feel stress bubbling up.

5. Be your own advocate

Nurses can be so busy championing their patients they forget to take care of themselves. It’s wonderful to have a strong work ethic, but constantly draining personal resources and living with sub-par work conditions significantly contributes to stress for nurses. In the UK, nurses are quitting at a rate double that of previous years. The Royal College of Nursing cited “staff shortages, relentless pressure and poor pay” as the reasons for the unfortunate trend, and those aren’t isolated problems.“

In my experience,” says Thompson, “interpersonal conflict at work can be a stressor for many nurses. They are drawn to the profession because they enjoy being of service and caring for others, but at times, this may interfere with a willingness to be assertive and speak up about concerns.” Learning to speak up is the best way to be heard and affect change, improving the well-being of healthcare professionals across the board.

6. Take your break

The urgency of a hospital setting is a major source of stress for nurses. It’s difficult to walk away for lunch when you now there’s a patient who may need you, and medical emergencies take precedent over your morning cup of coffee or scheduled trip to the vending machine. Still, experts agree that taking breaks is important for replenishing psychological reserves depleted by hard work and grueling routines.

Taking regular breaks offers a range of benefits, including increased productivity, more creativity, less stress and more time to eat healthy or exercise. Whenever possible, set aside your stack of paperwork, ask a coworker to cover your patients and take a breather. Everyone will be better off as a result.

7. Create a self-care routine

Nurses are famous for their dedication, but when work bleeds over into your personal life, it’s easy to lose your sense of self. When that happens, your relationships can suffer, including the relationship you have with yourself. The answer lies in self-care, a practice Forbes says is “not an indulgence” but rather a discipline.

Bubble baths, massages, junk TV and listening to music are all common examples of self-care, but there are other, lesser-discussed examples that are equally, if not more, important:

  • Go to bed on time to get more rest.
  • Say “no” to something you really don’t want to do.
  • Reach out to someone you care about.
  • Make a budget and stick to it.
  • Limit your screen time, especially in relation to social media.
  • Do a good deed for a stranger.
  • Cook a healthy meal.
  • Have an impromptu dance party.
  • Walk your dog.

All of those things feed your body and soul, making you more prepared to contend with all kinds of stress. Mounting stress for nurses is a serious issue. Rather than accepting the pressure, use the tips above to embrace a healthier way of life and learn to enjoy your job again.

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