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5 Tips for Nurses to Manage Stress

April 7, 2023

Welcome to spring, the season of new beginnings and fresh starts! As we kick off Stress Awareness Month, it’s a perfect time to focus on managing stress in our lives, especially if you’re a nurse. Long hours, high-pressure situations, and the emotional demands of caring for patients can take a toll on your well-being. Taking the time to care for your mind and body can help you overcome burnout and empower you to show up in life and work feeling good.

Regularly experiencing levels of stress can be detrimental to both your physical and mental health. Healthcare workers often find themselves battling high-stress levels, with rates as high as 70% of providers, which hinders patient care.

The nursing profession is particularly vulnerable. Nursing shortages in recent years have impacted the entire field of healthcare and added to existing nurse stress, leading to burnout. If you’re struggling with your mental health because of high-stress levels, check out these tips on stress management for nurses.

 

Understanding Stress Management for Nurses

Though it might seem like you have little control over your stress levels, there are actually a lot of strategies you can try to lower them. Stress management techniques offer the chance to relieve some of the physical and mental symptoms you experience, offering you the chance to gain more equilibrium in your life.

Nurses face significant stressors in their day-to-day lives. Fast-paced work environments filled with life-and-death situations, long hours, and nurse shortages that burden healthcare providers all combine to create extremely stressful working conditions.

One problem is that healthcare professionals, including nurses, can only offer quality care if they’re mentally and physically well themselves. A nurse who is experiencing the physical symptoms of stress can’t always devote their full attention to what a patient is dealing with.

For nurses, achieving the right work-life balance is challenging, especially if they’re employed in understaffed facilities. Having no control over your work hours, getting insufficient support outside of work, and dealing with patient deaths and other complications can all impact your mental and physical health.

 

Recognizing Signs of Stress in Nurses

Stress presents with a variety of physical signs and symptoms. Nurse stress can vary from person to person, but there are some classic things to watch for.

These include physical symptoms like:

  • Exhaustion
  • Food cravings
  • Restlessness
  • Chest pains
  • Headaches
  • Faster heart rate
  • Indigestion
  • Sleeping problems

Nurses facing high levels of stress can often become less decisive and experience mood swings. You may notice yourself or coworkers avoiding difficult situations or having trouble concentrating throughout the day. Some nurses dealing with high stress levels might also become more detached.

Emotional symptoms of stress can include:

  • Lack of confidence
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

Stress has a huge impact on your physical health. It affects the musculoskeletal system, causing your muscles to tense up and potentially leading to tension headaches and even migraines.

Stress can also impact your respiratory system, leading to shortness of breath. People who have asthma or other conditions can experience uncomfortable or even debilitating symptoms. 

When you’re stressed, your heart beats faster. Blood vessels dilate, allowing more blood to flow to and from the heart, elevating blood pressure. You can also experience inflammation in the coronary arteries, making heart attacks more likely to occur.

Stress also impacts your gastrointestinal system, triggering pain, bloating, and other discomfort. Constipation or diarrhea can occur, too, and many dealing with high stress levels experience heartburn.

Chronic stress also impacts your mental health, increasing your likelihood of developing anxiety or depression. This is because stress affects areas of the brain like the prefrontal cortex and limbic system, which can lead to emotional and even lasting cognitive changes.

 

What is Self Care For Nurses?

Self-care refers to anything you do that improves your physical, spiritual, or mental well-being. It is essential for nurses facing daily stress and is even mandated by the American Nurses Association’s code of ethics.

The fifth provision of the American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics states that the moral respect that nurses extend to all human beings “extends to oneself as well: the same duties that we owe to others we owe to ourselves.”

Self-care can look different for everyone, but it should involve using some form of relaxation strategy. That could mean deep breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, and anything else that allows you to step away from your stressors.

 

Building Resilience and Coping Skills

An important aspect of stress management for nurses is building resilience. Resilience refers to the ability to adjust to difficult situations.

Prioritizing your well-being is part of building resilience, but so is celebrating your strengths. At the end of each shift, look back and focus on what you did right. Instead of focusing on what you could have done differently, pick out three things, big or small, that you’re proud of after each workday.

It’s also important to develop emotional intelligence. If you make mistakes, hold yourself accountable, but also look for ways you can improve instead of focusing on only the negative aspect of the error. Put yourself in other people’s shoes to change your point of view. This can help you during conflicts.

You also want to teach yourself to be flexible and recognize your stressors. You will likely not be able to avoid your stressors, but you can prepare to meet the challenges they bring.

It’s also crucial that you build healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress. One of the best ways to do this is by allowing yourself to unwind after a long day. Don’t ruminate over what occurred. Instead, do something you enjoy, such as watching a movie, reading a book, or taking a bath.

Another excellent coping mechanism is talking to others. Isolation can make stress worse, so make sure you have someone to lean on after a hard day.

 

5 Tips for Nurses to Manage Stress

1. Engage in some self-care

Nurses are engineered to take care of others. Sometimes, you may need a reminder to take care of yourself, too. Self-care is a crucial part of stress management. So start by taking breaks when needed, getting enough rest and sleep, eating well, and staying hydrated. Engaging in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, exercise, or meditation, can also be helpful! Remember: taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of others.

Turn to physical activity to provide a boost of endorphins while also ensuring that you’re eating correctly. And try to create balanced meals that give you the energy you need to tackle your busy days. It’s also important to prioritize getting enough sleep since being tired can make any challenge appear insurmountable. Make sure to find time to do the things you enjoy, too. Read a book for a few minutes before bed or listen to music that relaxes you. All of this can help you set aside your job and focus on your well-being.

 

Remember: taking care of yourself is just as important as taking care of others.

 

2. Utilize support systems

Nursing can be a rewarding profession, but it can also be incredibly stressful. Coping with that stress is a challenge, so having a support system is key.

When you have someone in your corner to talk to about the stress of nursing, it can make all the difference. Being heard and validated can create a powerful sense of connection, community, and support— even on the most difficult days.

If you find yourself overwhelmed, ask for help. Reach out to family members and other loved ones or even to co-workers. 

There are many forums and even social media pages that can help you connect with healthcare professionals. You can also reach out to projects like The Emotional PPE Project and Therapy Aid Coalition. These options provide assistance for those dealing with mental health concerns that stem from the demands of nursing.

3. Advocate for yourself

Nurses have lots of experience advocating for patients but often fail to do so for themselves. On top of the long hours nurses work, they also face pressure to pick up extra shifts or responsibilities. Remember, you have the power to advocate for yourself to prioritize your health and wellness. By setting clear boundaries on the hours and shifts you can take on and communicating your needs with leadership, you can get the rest you need to avoid burnout.

4. Practice stress-reducing techniques

Everything from yoga to deep breathing exercises can serve as a helpful stress-reducing technique. Some people find jogging or walking around the neighborhood to be a good way to manage stress, while others find journaling a great option. You can also try:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Aromatherapy
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Guided imagery
  • Massages
  • Doing something that makes you laugh

Choose the techniques that resonate with you and give yourself permission to take a break and focus on your own self-care – you deserve it.

5. Seek out resources

As a nurse, you are not alone in dealing with stress. Many organizations offer resources and support for nurses dealing with stress. You can also try out some stress-management apps and see what works best for you!

 


 

You can’t pour from an empty cup. While nursing is a rewarding profession, but it can also take its toll on your physical and mental health. By prioritizing your well-being, you can minimize stress and show up feeling good in all areas of your life. 

If you’re looking to find a new career path, the team at GHR Healthcare offers nursing job opportunities you can depend on. Whether you’re not sure which is the right option, LPN vs. RN, or you’re wondering what kind of nursing pay and benefits you can expect, we can help.

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