While all jobs can be stressful, nursing is consistently ranked among the occupations with the highest stress levels. At least 86.7% of nurses in the United States report experiencing moderate stress on the job, which can damage their lives and professional abilities. Stress and the emotional burden of nursing often lead to absenteeism, low job satisfaction, reduced productivity, reduced patient care quality, and burnout. Many of these effects can be avoided through planning and an understanding of your personal stress levels. Learn more about managing on-the-job stress, from wearing comfortable scrubs to practicing meditation, to finding more enjoyment in a challenging yet rewarding profession.
Clear, effective communication is necessary for all jobs, but it is critical in nursing, where lives hang in balance. When doctors and nurses fail to communicate clearly, and vital information is left out at shift changes, the quality of care suffers and stress levels rise. One of the best ways to ensure everyone involved knows what is going on is to read back all instructions, so they know all the information has been conveyed. Repeat back any instructions to doctors, and ask your team members to do the same when you pass on information. If your facility does not already use them, suggest that they invest in mobile computer carts. This allows each member of a patient’s support team to enter information at the patient’s bedside or elsewhere around the ward. When integrated with the electronic health records system, it allows for updates to patient data in real time, allowing you to spend more time on patient care and improving your job satisfaction.
Understanding your stress triggers can give you insight into how best to cope with them. A good way to do this is to keep an honest, detailed daily journal. You can record physical signs of stress like muscle tension, headaches, and increased heart or breathing rate. Also, note specific things that caused stress, such as a coworker, a particular work task, or a pet peeve. Understanding what stresses you out can help you avoid or develop strategies to manage your stressors.
Nurses are selfless and dedicated to caring for others. Unfortunately, sometimes, you forget to care for yourself when giving your all to others. You can engage in self-care in many ways, including:
- Eating a healthy balanced diet: Nurses receive minimal downtime during a shift to eat, but meal-prepping your lunch and snacks at home can help you maintain a balanced diet and give you the energy you need to perform your best.
- Exercising regularly throughout the week: Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days per week can help maintain your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health and reduce workplace fatigue.
- Connecting with family and friends: Chatting on the phone or catching up for a coffee with friends and family can help you decompress, provide emotional support, and distract you from workplace stressors.
- Performing meditation or mindfulness exercises: Guided visualization and meditative breathing can help you control stress levels at work. On your break, listen to a guided meditation podcast or practice deep abdominal breathing during peak stressful situations at work.
- Setting healthy and firm work-life boundaries: Avoid accepting additional shifts or overtime if you feel overstretched.
- Arranging after-work massages or relaxing spa treatments: Make a long soak in the tub or a gentle massage a weekly treat that you can look forward to.
One of the best ways to reduce stress is to have an active life outside work where you can decompress and have fun. Outdoor hobbies like hiking have been shown to relieve stress and lower the risk of depression. Even just 20 minutes in nature can reduce stress hormone levels. Taking a walk mid-shift or before and after work could help you manage your stress better, as can longer walk or hikes on your days off. Yoga and Pilates are also great destressing hobbies because they focus on deep breathing and mindfulness, which can help regulate your nervous system. Team or group activities or sports that build community are also great ways to relieve work stress and improve overall mental health
Uncomfortable work clothes can make a stressful day worse. While scrubs are often comfortable, not all scrubs provide the perfect fit. Finding the right outfit that keeps you cool and comfortable all shift long will help you combat your work stress better. You should find the right scrub tops that give you a maximum range of motion and ample storage space. Choose one made from moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics such as a cotton-polyester blend or a polyester-spandex blend for durability and comfort, and choose a top with side vents for added cooling. Choose men’s or women’s scrubs with a drawstring or elastic waistband to achieve the perfect fit.
Recent times have been hard on nurses; the COVID-19 pandemic pushed already stressed nurses into an incredibly mentally and physically difficult situation. Suddenly nursing became a potentially life-threatening occupation, and social divisions boiled over in hospital wards, putting nurses directly in the firing line of angry, misinformed patients.
Surveys have also shown that only 53% of nurses feel satisfied with their salary package, suggesting that many nurses feel they receive insufficient compensation for the work they do, and up to 44% are considering other occupations. But nursing is more than just an occupation. It is a calling to help the sick and wounded; it is a noble profession worth the stress and difficult times. One of the best ways to combat stress is to remember why you chose to become a nurse. Reframing your stress can help reduce it by putting it in perspective. Studies on stress management in the workplace found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques like cognitive restructuring positively impact stress reduction and improve mental health.
Managing stress is a vital part of being a nurse. Finding out what stresses you and developing ways to mitigate it can help you perform at your best at work, providing your patients with quality care while protecting your mental health.