Nursing is stressful. There’s no getting around it. It’s true for all patient-facing positions, whether you’re working in a hospital setting or a private office. You’ve got sick or scared patients, stressed-out families, and often long hours to deal with.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that some nurses struggle with stress management continuously. They’re prone to burnout, and sometimes the stress is so severe that it impacts their health.
As a nurse, you know that chronic stress is no joke and can have serious ramifications on the body, including digestive problems, muscle tension and pain, sleep problems, memory and concentration issues, heart disease, and mental health conditions.
Making an active effort to reduce your stress, therefore, is key. And in honor of April’s Stress Awareness Month, we’ll look at eight tips to lower your stress.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the first stress and anxiety management techniques that therapists will doll out to new patients. It involves focusing on the right here and right now with all of your senses (and without judgment).
Cooking is great for mindfulness when the stress is kicking in. You have to focus on chopping the vegetables, smelling the aromas, measuring ingredients, and monitoring the cooking process. It forces you to stop thinking about whatever anxiety or stressors in your life you’re dwelling on.
You can also practice mindfulness during your lunch break or between patients.
Mindfulness techniques include guided imagery and breathing exercises, both of which we’ll discuss in this post.
2. Take a Break from the News
The news is stressful, especially in today’s world. It can be particularly stressful for healthcare workers who are often directly impacted by everything from outbreaks of contagious diseases to new policies that impact how they work.
And, thanks to our phones during breaks, the patient televisions in hospital settings, and even the patients themselves, it’s hard to ever get unplugged.
If you notice that your stress levels are staying high, though, a temporary break from the news may be exactly what you need.
Don’t be afraid to change the subject if a patient brings up distressing news, and if the news is playing in the break room, you can head elsewhere for lunch. And if you’ve gotten into the habit of doom-scrolling on your phone or social media, consider uninstalling news apps or using app-blocking tools for your phone to break the habit. You can also use time-limiting apps to restrict social media usage if needed.
3. Take a Real Break at Work
As a nurse, you get a lunch break and likely a few other short breaks during the day, depending on the length of your shift.
Do you sit at the nursing station to eat, where you may still hear patient complaints, be asked questions from other team members, or even (gasp) catch up on charting or documentation?
If so, you aren’t taking a real break, and to truly reduce your stress, you might need to change that up.
You can go for a walk. If the weather is nice, you can even take your lunch outside, where you won’t be bothered by patients, staff, or your own urge to check in on anyone.
Take off and head to a favorite local cafe. Hospital nurses can potentially find a break room that isn’t on their immediate floor if they need more of a detox but don’t have enough time to leave the premises altogether.
Make sure that you’re disconnecting fully when you need to and that you’re getting the break you need.
4. Try Guided Imagery
Guided imagery is a relaxation technique that involves focusing on a mental image that makes you happy. You can close your eyes and picture yourself on a quiet beach and imagine the sounds of the seagulls and the smell of the salt water.
You can even imagine yourself arriving at home four hours in the future, thinking about how good it will feel to sink into a warm bath or curl up on the couch with your favorite takeout.
Guided imagery works by stimulating the body’s relaxation response, reducing stress. It can actually slow your breathing, reduce your heart rate, and lower your blood pressure.
5. Eliminate Unnecessary Stressors
Life is messy; we have stressors at work, in our relationships, and at home, and we can’t avoid all of them. We can, however, sometimes reduce some stressors.
Work will often be stressful, but you may be able to switch specialties if yours is causing too much stress or burnout. And if you love your job but hate your hospital’s management team, you can find a new position at a different organization.
You may realize that there are stressors outside of work that can be reduced, too, whether it’s a toxic friendship that’s run its course or having a dog at home that you worry doesn’t get enough exercise. You can let that friendship go and either hire a dog walker or find a doggy daycare so that it’s one less thing to worry about.
6. Practice Breathing Exercises
If you’re stressed right now and need to bring that blood pressure down, try breathing exercises.
Breathing exercises are proven to help calm your central nervous system and can reduce both blood pressure and heart rate.
There are plenty of different breathing exercises to try. The most simple and easy-to-remember technique is called “box breathing,” which involves the following:
- Breathe in through your nose while counting slowly to four
- Hold your breath for four counts
- Breathe out through your mouth for four counts
- Hold your breath for four counts
- Repeat two to three times, as needed
7. Engage in Positive Self-Talk
Stress and challenging life events can both start to take a toll on our self-esteem, which can often increase stress further, creating a self-defeating downward spiral.
Positive self-talk—which is the practice of being positive about yourself in your own internal dialogue—can help with this.
Instead of thinking, “I can’t believe I tried for that promotion; I was never going to get it,” swap to “I’m disappointed I didn’t get the promotion, but now I have more interview practice, and my supervisor knows I’m interested in career advancement.”
And instead of “I’m not strong enough to lift patients by myself,” try to reframe it as “I’ll make a plan to get stronger, and in the meantime, I know to call for help with patients over a certain weight threshold.”
Many people struggle with adapting from negative self-talk to positive self-talk, but it can go a long way in helping you cut back on stress.
8. Pick a Stress-Reducing Hobby
This is easily one of the most enjoyable ways of cutting back on stress: finding a hobby that’s good for reducing anxiety and ideally boosting endorphins, too.
Examples of stress-reducing hobbies may include:
- Gardening to get outdoors and practice mindfulness, which can improve your mood
- Finding an exercise class you love, which can release endorphins and boost self-esteem
- Reading a book, which can be calming and provide a positive distraction
- Training your pup, which is good for them, your bond, and your stress levels—once you don’t have to worry about a dog with stressful behaviors in the home
How do you reduce stress despite a naturally-stressful career? Join our community and let us know what has worked for you!