12 Ways To Manage Work-Related Stress
Nursing stress is a widespread problem; these practical tips make managing stress possible
Whether you are currently on a travel nurse assignment or working as a staff nurse, you are sure to confront numerous stressors on a daily basis. From true life-and-death situations and ethical dilemmas to understaffing constraints and co-worker disagreements, nurses know that work-related stress can start to add up. And this nursing stress can wreak havoc on your personal health and your ability to provide the best care for your patients.
Never fear. You may not have a lot of control over your working environment, but you can control how you react and take proactive steps to manage your stress levels, both on and off the job.
Consider these 12 tips for coping with and managing stress:
1. Start your nursing shift well-rested. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7–9 hours of sleep every day. Not only will you feel better with enough sleep, but a rested body and alert mind make it easier to deal with stressful situations that come your way.
2. Eat healthily and hydrate often. Be prepared for a long shift with energy-filled snacks and healthy food that can keep you satisfied. Avoid too much sugar or caffeine, which can make you feel jittery and more easily stressed. Consistent hydration is also important to help you avoid headaches and fatigue and keep you feeling your best throughout your shift.
3. Be positive and keep your sense of humor. Caring for patients with a positive attitude and your humor intact makes the workplace more enjoyable and less stressful for everyone. “We get too busy doing, but when we focus on caring we can enjoy ourselves again,” said Julie Donley, RN, BSN, MBA, wellness author, and nurse manager at Devereux Children’s Behavioral Health Services of Pennsylvania. “We are responsible for our own experience, so if you aren’t having fun you need to look inward,” she explained. Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, author and speaker on nursing stress and humor, added that practicing humor at work takes a little imagination and intentionality, but it can produce great results: “Humor increases productivity, decreases stress, increases resilience and improves health.”
4. Don’t fret about unmet expectations. The gap between expectations and reality can be a huge source of discontentment and stress for nurses. “It is okay to have expectations, but often when reality shows up and it doesn’t meet our expectations we become angry and it is all we can think about,” explained Donley. “Complaining doesn’t make work fun for anyone. First, accept the current reality, then be proactive, offer ideas, and work to improve communication.”
5. Be mindful of your mental and physical state. As you work through your shift, watch out for any stress-related symptoms. If you notice that your pulse is racing or you are snapping at people unnecessarily, you may need to pull back and take a breather--literally. Simple visualization and deep breathing exercises, such as what the American Institute of Stress calls the Quieting Response, take only seconds and can help keep nursing stress levels in check.
6. Take real breaks. Don’t skip breaks, for starters; work with your nurse colleagues to be sure that everyone can have the time that they need, then spend your time wisely. Get outside if you can to take in some fresh air and a fresh perspective, or spend a few minutes in a quiet place where you can close your eyes and take some deep, calming breaths. A short nap may even be in order if your hospital allows them and has a place where you can stretch out.
7. Discover your personal stress-busters. What is your mental happy place? Does it help if you talk to a friend, read, pray or listen to music? Is there a certain spot on the hospital grounds that helps you feel peaceful? Know what works best for you when it comes to managing stress.
8. Take advantage of on-site fitness resources. If your hospital offers an on-site fitness center, consider spending part of your lunch hour in the gym and start the second part of your shift feeling de-stressed, re-energized, and ready to conquer whatever is in store.
9. Talk to someone. If you are feeling the effects of work-related stress, don’t keep it bottled up. Find a mentor, co-worker, or friend who will let you vent. If you need more professional help, seek out the on-site occupational health team or wellness center, or talk to counselors available through your health insurance program.
10. Leave work at work. Aaron Moore, MSN, RN-BC, who writes a blog for TravelNursing.com, recommends ending each shift by washing your hands and using that time to mentally wash away any worries about your shift; don’t let the “what ifs” and pressures follow you home. However, if you are feeling distraught over a patient or something that happened at work, don’t get behind the wheel until you have calmed down and possibly debriefed the situation with someone you trust. Driving when you’re upset could put you and others at risk.
11. Make exercise a habit. The Mayo Clinic reports that exercise in almost any form can act as a stress reliever; being active can boost your feel-good endorphins and distract you from daily worries. So whether you prefer yoga, walking, swimming, racquetball, or something more exotic, take the time to do it consistently. You’ll feel more relaxed, reduce symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety, improve your sleep, and be ready to cope with work-related stress.
12. Make the most of your time off. Another way to ensure that work pressures don’t overwhelm you is to enjoy your time off to the fullest. Unwind with co-workers after your shift, take your dog for a walk and make a concerted effort to enjoy family activities, get-togethers with friends, and/or solo adventures. Travel nurses can make a job feel like a working vacation by trying new activities, experiencing the local culture, and exploring the surroundings in their assignment city.