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Coping Strategies for Stressed Nurses

Being a nurse requires a significant amount of physical and emotional stamina, particularly when direct patient care is involved. According to a recent article from American Mobile on levels of stress in the profession, “ANA’s latest health risk appraisal found 82 percent of responding nurses reported a significant level of workplace stress. It was identified as the top work environment health and safety risk.”

The article also states, “A 2016 study involving nurses at a Midwestern hospital, led by Timothy R. Jordan, MEd, PhD, professor of public health at the University of Toledo in Ohio, found 92 percent of nurses reporting moderate to very high levels of stress.”

Long-Lasting Effects

Dealing with ongoing elevated levels of stress can affect a nurse’s individual performance, health and career longevity. When exposed to a stressful work environment for an extended period of time, nurses may be less enthusiastic to go to work and begin to show signs of burnout. Burned-out nurses experience decreased job satisfaction, a declining interest in patient care and compassion fatigue. These conditions may lead to nurses leaving the profession entirely.

High stress levels on a consistent basis can have damaging effects on an individual’s health. Healthcare professionals working in busy areas may find it difficult to tend to their most basic needs throughout the day, such as taking regular breaks for nutrition, hydration, bathroom needs and recharging. When paired with a 10 to 12 hour shift, the demand on the body can prove particularly grueling.

Jordan was again quoted in the article as saying, “Nurses under long-term, chronic stress can experience blood sugar imbalance, insomnia, weight gain, suppressed immune system, gastrointestinal problems, blood vessel damage, and heart disease”.

Coping Methods

When dealing with chronic stress, it is imperative to be aware of unhealthy coping habits that develop and focus on practicing self-care. According to American Mobile, “nurses under stress commonly used unhealthy methods of coping, with 70 percent saying they consumed more junk food and 63 percent reporting they ate more food when faced with workplace stress. Sixty-nine percent did not exercise regularly, and 22 percent were binge drinkers.”

The topic of self-care for healthcare professionals has received increased attention in recent years, partly due to retention issues and a rapid burnout rate. Addressing the issues from an administrative standpoint — providing nurses with techniques to decrease stress levels, for example — can help alleviate the nursing shortage in the long term. Ensuring regular breaks and meal times are just one piece of the puzzle.

Other self-care options include relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, yoga or guided mediation. These may also lead to more restful sleep for a longer duration, which also plays a vital role in overall wellbeing. Some nurses may benefit from creative pursuits like painting or writing, while others may enjoy the release that physical activity provides. Practicing mindfulness when faced with stress can help nurses prioritize self-care.

High Standards

Nurses frequently feel as if their work is never done. There is always something to be done for a patient, a peer or the unit. A sense of never being caught up coupled with inadequate staffing can cause emotional unrest.

Charge nurses should prepare for the day ahead to the extent possible, planning for staff breaks and coverage. Having time for a mental refresh and for meeting personal physical needs can help staff stay focused and content. Nurses at their personal best provide more attentive and compassionate care.

Take care of yourself — your patients, friends, peers and family will thank you!

Learn more about the UTA online RN to BSN program.


American Mobile: Nurses Under Stress: Top Ways to Cope

Everyday Health: Why America’s Nurses Are Burning Out

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