Learning from the pros: how experienced nurses handle stress
Nursing is a gratifying career, but this profession isn’t a piece of cake. Long shifts, irregular hours, disturbed sleep patterns, emergencies, handling multiple patients, and facing the trauma of death with the patients’ families contribute to most nurses’ experience.
Nurses must interact with distressed family members and complex patients, deal with death, illness, mortality regularly, and keep up with their job requirements.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still looming, the consequent contamination anxiety and the increased demand for healthcare have multiplied this burden tenfold.
A study reports that nearly 50% of all nurses claim that they undergo moderate to high stress at work, and more than 60% feel emotionally exhausted.
This persistent acute stress can affect a nurse’s mental and physical health, reduce their performance at work, and drain their energy.
While many nurses might accept this as a part of their job, this thinking is not healthy. There are ways you can cope with such stress, and you should adopt them; do not compromise on your health for the sake of your patients’.
Let us now outline some beneficial tips that experienced nurses use to handle stress and how you can enhance your coping abilities too.
- Practicing deep breathing
New nurses are bound to experience some stress as fresh graduates because of the sudden and perhaps unexpected workload.
However, with time and experience, your skills will be polished further, and the reduced uncertainty will help overcome stress.
Further education courses like a nursing administration master’s degree help expand your expertise and train you in dealing with critical management areas and leadership issues, thereby helping reduce work-related stress.
In the meantime, use deep breathing as your go-to stress reducer whenever you experience any stress level during work. As trivial as breathing might sound, it has a tremendous impact on your state of mind.
Many breathing techniques take very little time and easily fit into your busy schedule. Assign a specified time in your daily routine to practice deep breathing, whether at work or home.
To use the deep breathing technique, inhale and breathe into the belly; avoid taking short or shallow breaths as these are characteristic of stressful situations.
Some commonly used breathing techniques involve the 4-7-8 method, belly breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation method.
In the 4-7-8, inhale for four seconds through the nose, hold the breath for seven seconds, and then exhale for eight seconds via the mouth.
Belly breathing involves holding a hand over the belly and one over the chest, then breathing in from the nose while feeling the stomach expand and the chest remaining still and exhaling from the mouth.
For progressive muscle relaxation, breathe in and out while tensing and relaxing muscles in groups. Deep breathing is undoubtedly a blessing in disguise as a stress relief!
- Taking out time for meditation
Meditation also works wonders as a stress relief tool to relax your mind. Through meditation, you can clear your mind of intrusive thoughts and unnecessary information. Doing so gives your mind some time to rest and escape the continuous jumble of information.
Meditation techniques involve sitting in a quiet place, shifting focus to the inner world, and taking control of your thinking process.
Contrary to popular belief, meditation does not require being completely alone, surrounded by aromatic candles or fancy cushions.
Some techniques can be practiced in any situation you feel stressed out. Sometimes simply going out for a walk when you have time and focusing your attention on the intricacies of your environment will be very helpful.
- Including exercise in the daily schedule
Incorporating even a small amount of time in your schedule for some form of physical activity can boost your mental health immensely.
Nurses who exercise regularly can release their physical tension and mental stress because physical activity produces endorphins, natural ‘feel-good’ hormones.
Ideally, the exercise you choose should be enjoyable for you, not another burden on top of your daily tasks. Join a gym, go swimming, walk, jog, lift weights, do yoga, whatever you enjoy most.
In addition to keeping yourself active, this will provide you with a break from your tiring schedule and let you take out time for yourself.
In the long run, exercise is known to increase the production of the feel-good neurotransmitters, minimize the effects of stress on your body, and boost your mood.
The ideal practice for any nurse is to create smart goals. Don’t set targets that are too high to achieve. Schedule a fixed time in your routine, and only take out short periods of exercise if you cannot fit in an extended exercise routine.
- Maintaining a healthy sleep schedule
Much research suggests the significance of healthy sleep cycles in ensuring good overall health. Sleep is known to minimize the risk of depression and other such mental health conditions.
It helps stress management and counters other medical problems like heart disease or diabetes. While sleep enhances stress management, stress-reduction techniques can improve the quality of sleep.
To improve your sleep pattern and quality, practice deep breathing, improve comfort, eliminate distractions, avoid caffeine before sleep, and exercise 2 hours before bedtime.
These techniques will ensure that you are well-rested before the next busy day at work.
- Seeking therapy if needed
It is perfectly okay if you need professional help to deal with your work stress. If self-care methods do not work, consult a therapist so that you can target its root cause.
If you suffer from anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, anger management problems, eating disorders, and other such issues, it is time to seek help.
Cognitive, behavioral, and group therapies, together with relaxation training practiced under the guidance of a psychotherapist, will work wonders for you.
You will be able to provide your patients the best care possible only if you are healthy yourself, both physically and mentally.
Stress is a part of their daily practice for nurses, and knowing how to manage it well is a great asset. Experienced nurses who can manage their stress well excel because they are more productive and efficient.
To minimize and handle the daily stress, learn deep breathing practices, take out time for meditation and exercise, sleep well, and don’t hesitate to seek help if you are in need. Your mental health should be your top priority.