Reviewed by: Sharee Patnaude
Nurse stress is a very real thing, we’re sure you can relate. Regardless of how much you love your work in the nursing profession, stress and emotional exhaustion can have a significant impact on your health and well being.
We all know that a day in the life of a registered nurse can be super stressful.
Life’s most impactful and emotional experiences are part of the job, but that doesn’t mean they don’t affect you. In addition, clinics, hospitals, and other health institutions around the country are (periodically) overcrowded and understaffed, which can lead to nurse stress and nurse burnout.
According to Becker’s Health, 70% of nurses feel exhausted and burned out at some point during their careers.
A lot of this nurse stress and emotional exhaustion is due to-often temporary-heavy workloads that require them to work longer hours than normal.
Nursing job stress isn’t always of the “bad” variety. Sometimes positive situations can be overwhelming. Occurrences like the ones below can actually create “stress” even though the situations are favorable.
- When a patient pulls through against all odds,
- When learning to use new software or equipment,
- Or even when getting a promotion.
That’s why it’s important to develop healthy habits and coping strategies to minimize the negative stress related to nursing job tasks and increase your resilience.
Keep the following nurse stress and burnout-busting tips in mind:
1. Learn to say “No.”
As healthcare workers, it’s often our natural inclination to jump right in when someone asks for our help.
However, if you already have an overloaded schedule, your first concern should be to keep yourself healthy-otherwise, you won’t be able to take care of your patients properly.
So instead of always extending a helping hand, take a moment to consider whether you really have the time and energy to do so without adding a bunch of new nurse stress-inducers to your day.
And if you can’t help out, say so firmly yet politely.
2. Practice compartmentalization.
According to a Mckinsey survey, 51% of nurses walk away from their career because of the emotional toll it takes on them.
This is because when you feel a high level of empathy for the people in your care, it can be taxing and contribute to your stress levels.
Fortunately, if you know how to compartmentalize, you can leave your work-related concerns at work when it’s time to go home after your shift.
Read this Psychology Today article by Maria Baratta titled “ Compartmentalizing: A tool for achieving balance between work and home ” to learn more about this tactic for nurse stress management.
3. Develop emergency coping strategies for nurse stress.
When you get overwhelmed, you need some effective emergency coping strategies. These will help you regroup, calm down, and figure out how to move out of nurse stress situations.
Some examples include:
- Taking a quick break by yourself somewhere quiet
- Taking a couple of deep breaths
- Counting to 10 before responding.
If you don’t have the opportunity to do either of these things, then it can be helpful, to be frank, and calmly say, “I’m feeling rather overwhelmed right now. I’d like to take a moment to catch my breath, and then I’ll be right with you.”
4. Create your personal safe place in your home.
One of the best things you can do to combat the effects of nurse stress is to make your home your safe place.
A few ideas include:
- Choose furniture and accessories in your favorite colors
- Play music that helps you relax
- Have some plants in every room
Of course, if you share a home with your spouse or partner and kids, then you need to take their space into account.
If this is the case, then see if there’s one room or even a part of a room that you can claim for yourself.
For example, you could put an overstuffed armchair in a quiet corner, add a nice soft rug, as well as a side table with a plant and a scented candle.
Use it as your sanctuary where you can read, listen to music, watch your favorite shows on your tablet-or just relax with a nice cup of hot chocolate.
5. Do something everyday that makes YOU happy.
If your days look like “wake up, commute, work, commute, sleep, repeat,” then you need to add a little bit of happiness to elevate your mood and add some positivity to your life.
Reserve 20 to 30 minutes a day to do something that makes you happy.
Avoid nurse stress by taking a long relaxing bath after work. Or start doing crosswords or Sudoku instead of watching TV at night. Perhaps, take up drawing or crafting.
Just make sure that whatever it is, it’s not an “obligation” or something you do for any other reason than that it brings you joy.
6. Make friends outside of the workplace.
Most of us spend 40 or more hours at work every week, as well as an hour or more commuting.
So it’s only logical to become friends with your coworkers and that’s a good thing because you need a support system at work. In fact, being friends with your colleagues can help you cope with stressful work events.
However, when all of your friends are also your colleagues, then you’re more vulnerable to continuous nursing job stressors because you’re also more likely to discuss professional matters even when you aren’t at work.
That’s why it’s good to make friends who have nothing to do with your day job.
Try doing this by:
- Joining the local gym or sports team
- Doing volunteer work
- Going to local meetups with people that have similar interests
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t spend time with your “colleague friends” at all. But when you find yourself becoming stressed because the topic of work is constantly coming up, then it’s advisable to ask your friends to keep “shop talk” to you when you’re all at work.
7. Spend time in nature.
Have you ever wondered why it is that when you go for a walk in the park or along the beach, you come back feeling more relaxed-sometimes even rejuvenated?
According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality & Healing , spending time in nature or even just viewing scenes of nature reduces fear, anger, and stress.
It has measurable physiological benefits for nurse stress management, including:
- Lower blood pressure and heart rate
- Relieved muscle tension
- Reduction of stress hormone production
Try to spend at least an hour or so in nature every week-whether that’s walking your dog in a nearby national park, playing a round of golf, or even taking up a sport like sailing or paddleboarding, so you can spend time on the water.
It’s also helpful to surround yourself with images of nature.
If you spend a lot of time looking at computer and device screens and put beautiful photos on display.
Some ideas are:
- The ocean or lakes
- Woods or a quiet forest
Using these natural elements as your desktop images and screensavers can give your eyes and mind some points of rest throughout the day.
8. Keep a journal.
Have you ever wanted to unload all of your frustrations and worries-but you don’t want to burden someone else with them?
Then keeping a journal is a great way to express negative nurse stress and work through difficult situations.
Some people find it fulfilling to purchase a hard copy journal to write in, while many others prefer to use an app and keep a journal on their computer, tablet, or phone.
Some words of caution: if you choose to keep a digital journal, don’t keep it on an employer-owned device.
In addition, even if you’re using your own device, secure your journal with a good password.
The whole point of journaling is that you can express yourself without being worried about how others might respond to your thoughts.
9. Exercise regularly.
Regular exercise is one of the best ways to manage nursing stress and nurse burnout in the long term.
As Mayo Clinic points out, exercise increases the release of endorphins and as a result, improves your mood, reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Plus, it can also help you sleep better!
Exercise can be anything such as:
- Ballroom dancing
- Rock climbing
- Water polo
To make exercise a habit you enjoy rather than a chore you’d rather forget about, choose an activity you like and be flexible in how and when you exercise.
10. Seek professional help.
If you’re still not feeling good, despite doing all you can to cope with and reduce nurse stress, then it’s advisable to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist.
Oftentimes, your employer provides counseling as part of its wellness package, but you can also seek help outside of your professional environment.
Counselors and therapists are trained to help you understand where your stress is coming from. They will work with you to develop effective coping techniques, as well as make any changes you need to manage your stress in the long term.
Are you feeling overwhelmed with the everyday nurse stress related to your job as a healthcare professional?
Stress is without a doubt a part of everyone’s life. However, if you keep these 10 tips in mind, it doesn’t need to impact your long-term health and wellness.
And remember to bookmark this article! Because even if you’re not experiencing nursing job stress right now, you might need some stress-busting advice at some point in the future! For more advice on your travel nursing career, get in touch with MAS Medical today.
In what ways do you reduce your nurse stress situations?
Share with us in the comments below!
Sharee Patnaude, Principal Recruiter II: Sharee just celebrated her five year anniversary with MAS, and has seven years’ experience in the staffing industry. She lives in New Hampshire, and in her free time enjoys spending time hiking in the White Mountains, paddle boarding, and traveling the country.