Guest Blog: How Nurses Can Cope with, Identify, and Relieve Stress at the First Sign

by Andria RN · 2 comments

in ICU

Stress seems to always manage to find us, no matter how much we try to avoid it. It settles in bit by bit until one day we feel like the weight of the world has been placed squarely on our shoulders.   This type of stress is not uncommon for those in the nursing profession or any other healthcare career.  Typically, nurses are too busy during their shifts to identify and mitigate situations or habits that might be contributing to feeling stressed or burned out.  At home, life is just as busy, but in different ways.  Unfortunately, it’s way too easy to sacrifice sleep, healthy eating habits and self-care when family and home responsibilities await us as soon as we get home from work.

One of the best things nurses can to do to cope in stressful environments is to know how to recognize the warning signs of stress and learn the best way that they can cope with them.

Here are some common emotional, behavioral and cognitive warning signs of stress that nurses particularly need to pay attention to:

  • Turning to alcohol, drugs or other risky behaviors to relax
  • Repeatedly thinking about a traumatic or stressful on-the-job (or off-the-job) situation
  • Feeling withdrawn or numb
  • Finding it increasing difficult to concentrate
  • Experiencing intense irritability
  • Creating ways to keep busy/distracted in order to avoid thinking about work

Here are some popular stress-dissolving strategies and techniques nurses can use to alleviate stress.

  • Relax.  OK, this sounds obvious, but it deserves attention. Dressing comfortably, walking or meditating during breaks and building a strong support system are all helpful in creating a more relaxed work environment.  Exercising, taking an actual day off, staying active with yoga, walking or another form of meditative exercise, and practicing holistic techniques such as massage, aromatherapy, yoga and meditation can help keep stress at bay.
  • Adopt a healthy diet plan.  This includes eating a hearty meal prior to your shift, avoiding processed foods and too much sugar, and keeping energized during your shift with healthy, protein-filled snacks like protein bars and fruit, and drinking plenty of water.
  • Use breathing techniques to reduce stress symptoms.  Breathing slowly and deeply is a rhythmic activity that releases endorphins, resulting in an almost instant calming effect.  Walking and laughing are two other rhythmic activities that can produce the same result.
  • Seek out a diversion.  One reason stress is so common with nurses is that so many things are happening at once, as if there were dozens of tabs or windows open on the computer that all needed attention immediately.  By shutting the “noise” out (while on a break, of course) and taking a walk, listening to music or reading the newspaper, nurses can hit their mental “reset” button and return to work with a better perspective.
  • Select a positive thinking co-worker to talk with.  Stay away from as much unnecessary negativity as possible, especially co-workers who thrive on gossiping, criticizing or complaining.

Perhaps one of the most important things nurses can do to avoid stress is to approach work one day at a time and make every effort to appreciate the good things about their career.  Sometimes all it takes is a simple step back to reflect on why we felt called to this profession and to find gratitude in the smaller, more meaningful moments of the work day.


 Tyana Daley is a writer for University Alliance, a division of Bisk Education Inc. She writes about career related topics in the nursing industry such as, career advancement through online RN to BSN programs.
  • oxnard111

    Though I am not in the nursing field I can relate to nearly all of these suggestions. I feel like for me that seeking out a positive co-work helps the most. They can usually help me to think about the situation in a different way. Thanks for the post.

  • medfuture

    nice article…Find Jobs in Healthcare including Nursing, Doctors and more. We have the most extensive list of Health Care & Medical Jobs in Australia…

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