National Nurses Week: Tips for controlling stress


It’s the “Year of the Healthy Nurse.” And as we talk about new ways to take better care of ourselves and those we care about, nurses can share a thing, or two, on taking control of stress.

Think about the last time you visited a hospital or doctor’s office. Chances are, it was the nurse who offered support, comfort, or answered your questions. Nurses handle a lot of responsibility every day. Unfortunately, shouldering that responsibility is stressful. Research has found that 38.4% of registered nurses over the age of 30 experience burnout and feelings of frustration, anger, and irritation. For registered nurses under the age of 30, the percentage rises to 43.6%.

It’s evident that nurses are stressed, and are feeling the pressures of providing the best care possible for their patients. So, as we honor our nurses during National Nurses Week, May 6-12, it’s important to remember that the greatest gift you can give yourself while you care for others is to take the time to care for yourself. An important step in self-care is controlling stress.

When you feel stress working overtime on your well-being, here are five ways to control the dangers of stress before it controls you.

1. Get organized.

In an environment dictated by the need to react, nurses have to deal with many interruptions, many of which can’t be helped. “However, there are many interruptions that are not so important,” Catherine Bynes says. “Interruptions like long non-work related chats with other staff members, checking non-work email, or other non-essential tasks can get you off track quickly.” Taking as little as fifteen minutes before your shift begins makes a big difference in examining the day and keeping control of stress.

2. Be physically fit.

Let’s be honest; Are nurses really short on exercise? However, working on your feet all day does require some relief. “We bring in a massage therapist for students and staff every few weeks where they can receive a 15-minute neck and upper back massage,” says Julie Aiken, CEO of Ameritech College of Healthcare. She added that faculty and staff could participate in weekly yoga sessions, daily group walks, and both students and staff are encouraged to use essential oils to help with stress relief.

3. Get some quality sleep.

At this very moment, a resounding “hah” is rippling through the throngs of nursing students. Quality sleep? Not in this world. But the need for restful sleep has a profound effect on your health and work performance. Experts suggest creating a nightly routine that prepares your body for relaxation and rest. Don’t load up on snacks or caffeine, and make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool. If stressful thoughts keep you up at night, the American Nurses Association says to keep a notebook by your bed. If anxiety is keeping you awake, write those feelings down and let them go until morning.

4. Improve communication skills.

Poor listening or communication skills leads to misunderstandings and mistakes, which almost always results in chaos and stressful situations. Studies show that, yes, you do have time to concentrate your attention on a physician’s or coworker’s instructions or a patient’s concerns.

Good communication improves the quality of care provided to patients. “The best expertise training and continuing education of nurses in matters relating to the proper technique of communications will enable them to respond adequately and humanely to the expectations of patients,” Dr. Lambrini Kourkouta, and Ioanna V. Papathanasiou, RN, MSc, PhD, conclude in a study published by the National Institutes of Health. By reducing the risks of mishaps caused by miscommunication, nurses can experience increased levels of satisfaction in their work.

5. Keep things in perspective.

It’s been a bad day. Not a bad life, or a bad world, or even a bad career choice. When bad things happen, it’s tempting to allow those feelings to take over your entire day—but, don’t.

People depend on you for your knowledge, abilities, patience, and empathy. So when those feelings of discouragement settle in, it’s time to divert them. In a profession that requires constant caring for others, leadership expert Dan Rockwell says to let someone care for you for a change. “Hang with positive people or schedule time to do more of what you love.”

Every health care facility relies on its nursing staff to keep the doors open, so while today may have been rough, or the lessons from the latest mistake may be painful, you are providing a service that keeps the health care process moving.

As we celebrate National Nurses Week, let’s develop healthy habits that will sustain us long after the celebration is over. By developing strong organizational and communicative habits, and maintaining physical and mental toughness, we can reduce the strains of stress while contributing a healthy dose of excellence to our profession.

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