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How to Combat Stress at Work

The topic of nursing jobs has been getting a great deal of press lately.  Titles like, "Georgetown University Study: 5.6 Million New Healthcare Jobs Expected By 2020", and "Nursing Tops List of High-Paying Jobs In the Future" have inspired many to consider becoming a nurse.  From LVNs to RNs, traveling nurses to nurses who work with hospice, the possibilities for nursing jobs seem endless.  However, along with the excitement, the lure of a good paycheck, and the possibilities for variation within the same field, there is a price to pay.  Nursing jobs are high-stress jobs.

How Can Nurses Combat Stress At Work?

Factors contributing to stress cased by nursing jobs are vast.  For new nurses, the learning curve is steep and nursing student cohorts and nursing preceptors aren't available anymore. The threat of malpractice suits, combined with ever increasing health insurance mandates, have taken the documentation process to higher and more stringent levels than ever.  Hospital beds are overflowing due to nursing shortages. All the while, nursing jobs require nurses to professionally balance job responsibilities while emotionally and physically interacting with the sick and dying.  

If you are a nurse, it is important that you take the time to honor yourself and practice stress management on a daily basis. Your health is key to being able to serve the health of your patients.

1) Nourish Yourself

Nursing jobs often involve long hours, with shifts running as long as 12 hours at a stretch.  It is imperative that you take care of your own health, in order to meet the needs of others. You know on the airplane when the flight attendant says, "Secure your own oxygen mask correctly before placing the oxygen mask on your child"? You are the adult and your patients are the children.  

Make sure that you are eating well, exercising and getting enough rest.  If you aren't in optimal health the stress that is present in nursing jobs will begin to take its toll on your own health. Consider bringing high energy, nourishing snacks that are known to combat stress.  Things like:

  • Black Tea
  • Dried fruits
  • Dark greens
  • Avocado
  • Oranges
  • Salmon
  • Oatmeal

Many of these can be pre-made, or eaten straight from the bag, and can be consumed quickly in between job duties.  Technically "eating on the go" is not conducive to relaxation but healthy food is better than no food, right?

2) The Fatigue of Being Compassionate

There is a fine line in nursing jobs between being compassionate from an emotional distance and diving right in.  The stress of caring for the elderly, the sick, and the dying can take its physical, emotional, and psychological toll on those in the healing professions. Do you have someone to talk to about the sadness, the pain, and the grief that nursing jobs present on a day-to-day basis?  Did you know there are groups dedicated to relieving this stress for caregivers?

A study published in May 2012 by The Archives of Internal Medicine, explains the toll that "compassionate fatigue" has played in the lives of Oncologists. Substance abuse, depression, and an inability to successfully communicate with patients and their families were just some of the side effects of the job.  Nursing jobs bring the same levels of stress and anxiety.  Make sure that you have an outlet for the suffering you experience from the direct contact with your patients.  See if your hospital or employer has any groups or workshops that you can attend and if they don't, perhaps you can advocate for starting one.  Recognize the signs of depression and substance abuse so that you know if you are beginning to demonstrate signs of secondary trauma. Seek professional help if you need it.

3) Breathe In - Breathe Out

One of the most effective methods to combat stress presented by nursing jobs is the simplest: Just Breathe.  As you rush around feeling stress, your brain is a chemical powerhouse, flooding you with adrenaline and maintaining the constant state of the "Fight or Flight" survival mechanism.  Breathing can reset your body's rhythm and return your mind to a clear and stress free place.  

Begin paying attention to your body's reaction to stress.  When you feel yourself becoming tense, breathing rapidly, feeling agitated, or making small mistakes on the job, begin to focus on your breath.

  1. Take 3 deep breaths and allow the air to completely fill your lungs and abdominal cavity.
  2. Exhale and try to imagine the stress leaving your body.
  3. Then take 5 more steady breaths, not as deep as the first 3 but deeper than your unconscious breaths.

Repeat this practice as often as you need to. You will begin to notice an instant difference and your mind will appreciate the ability to re-set, oxygenate, and get ready for the tasks ahead.

It's important that you learn to combat the stress that nursing jobs can trigger.  Paying attention to your health will benefit the health of your patients.

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