9 Keys to Managing Nurse Stress in the Early Stages

Most people go into nursing because they are enthusiastic about helping others and they have a passion for the job. Unfortunately, they soon find out that this profession is extremely taxing because it often includes long shifts, challenging patients, and difficult relationships with coworkers. Nurse burnout is a significant risk that could put an end to your career. That’s why learning nurse stress management techniques early on is crucial.

So, how can you keep stress at bay even if your job is challenging? To stay healthy, it’s best to employ a range of techniques, including eating a healthy diet, exercising, pursuing outside hobbies, speaking to trusted colleagues and friends, getting enough sleep, and using relaxation techniques. Nurses on the brink of burnout could also consider lower-stress positions, at least temporarily.

Nurse Stress Management: 9 Keys to Managing Stress and Nurse Burnout in the Early Stages

1. Pay Attention to Your Diet 

When you have to juggle long shifts with your personal commitments and your need for sleep, cooking a healthy meal might be out of the question. Instead, you’re likely to reach for sugary snacks and caffeine to keep you going. But while this might feel good at the moment, it isn’t a long-term solution, and your body will feel even more burned out over time. Additionally, you’re putting yourself at risk of many diseases, including heart problems and diabetes. 

Luckily, there are many ways of eating a healthy diet without having to spend hours in the kitchen each day. Some nurses plan and cook their meals ahead of time, for example, once a week. That way, they can simply take a ready-made portion out of the freezer whenever needed. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, getting groceries delivered is much easier, so nurses who don’t have a lot of time can skip the trip to the supermarket.

2. Get as Much Sleep as Possible 

Getting enough sleep can be a huge challenge. Shifts are often longer than they should be, and the switch between nighttime and daytime work can cause problems with the body’s circadian rhythm. Despite this, there are several things nurses can do to improve the quality of their sleep. Start by preparing an optimal environment that is dark, quiet, and not too warm. 

You can also come up with a bedtime ritual, which calms your body down and gets you in the right mindset for sleep. Some good activities include reading, having some tea or a light snack, listening to calming music, stretching, or practicing meditation. Leave your devices alone for at least an hour before bedtime because the blue light can restrict your melatonin production.

3. Move Your Body 

People struggling with the symptoms of high stress and burnout might start to feel sluggish. After a long day at work, you won’t want to do heavy exercise. Instead, you’d rather lounge in front of the TV, watch your favorite show, and eat some snacks. While relaxing with enjoyable activities is important and can be beneficial for mental health, don’t forget to move your body every day. 

This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours exercising or lift heavy weights at the gym. A short run, cycle, or swim can be enough to get your muscles moving and release endorphins. If you don’t have a lot of time, consider incorporating exercise in your everyday life. Walk all the way or part of the way to work, take the stairs instead of the elevator, cycle to the supermarket, or meet your friends for a stroll in the park instead of for a sit-down meal.

4. Speak to Trusted Friends or Counselors 

A big part of nurse stress management is speaking about your problems and having your feelings understood by other people. Don’t hold it all in because this will just make the problem worse. Instead, speak to family members or friends who are likely to understand your situation and might even be able to lighten your load, for example by taking care of some of your household chores. 

If you don’t have anyone to talk to or you are concerned about nurse burnout, consider speaking to a counselor who has experience with this problem. They can help you articulate and figure out your feelings so you can come up with a solution that fits your lifestyle and goals. In addition to helping you implement the tips in this article, a good counselor will consider your individual situation and help you access resources in your community.

5. Pursue Hobbies Outside of Work 

When you first start nursing, you might be tempted to spend all your time and energy on work. After all, helping patients is what you’ve been trained to do, and it is your passion. But over time, you’re likely to start experiencing compassion fatigue and burnout if you don’t live a balanced lifestyle. For this reason, most experts advise nurses to develop hobbies and interests outside of work, which can take their minds off the job after a stressful day. 

Some great activities include painting and other types of crafts, attending an exercise or meditation class, gardening, cooking or trying new healthy foods at restaurants, and spending time with animals, either through volunteering or by getting a pet. There are countless options out there, some of which might be unique to your area. Why not explore a few things to find out what you enjoy the most?

6. Leave the Gadget at Home 

In the last few decades, mobile phones, tablets, and other gadgets have taken over our lives. Because we carry our phones wherever we go, we can be contacted by our friends as well as our coworkers all day and night. This isn’t healthy for our mental health, and it can make it hard for us to relax, even on our days off. 

To give yourself a break, consider building gadget-free times into your day. Don’t take your phone with you when you exercise, spend time with friends, or pursue your hobbies, and turn it off several hours before you go to bed. That way, you can spend quality time with your loved ones or indulge in your self-care routine without having to worry about receiving notifications or answering text messages.

7. Speak to Superiors and Peers 

Sometimes, nurses experience burnout due to reasons outside of anyone’s control. For instance, you might feel stressed and fatigued because you’re dealing with particularly challenging patients, you’ve experienced a lot of traumatic situations, or your body is having trouble adjusting to night shifts. However, stressful situations are sometimes caused by superiors and peers. 

Nurses often feel that doctors don’t listen to them or don’t treat them with respect. If the atmosphere is negative in your workplace, consider speaking to your superiors about the problem. They might be able to organize a motivational speech or a training course that can improve the situation, or they could transfer you to a different department.

8. Use Deep Breathing or Meditation Techniques 

For millennia, humans have used breathing techniques to improve their mental health. Nurses who work long shifts and experience a lot of stress are often stuck in fight-or-flight mode because their bodies can no longer calm themselves down. There are many techniques, including belly breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, the 4-7-8 technique, and equal-time breathing, all of which can help.

Similarly, meditation can be a great technique for people who would like to clear their minds and calm their bodies. Again, there are many methods to choose from, including guided meditation, Tai Chi, and Yoga. You can experiment with different techniques by buying books, downloading apps, or attending in-person courses in your area. While it might take some trial and error, most people find a breathing or meditation style that works for them.

9. Switch Jobs If Necessary 

Not all nursing jobs are equally stressful. If you believe that you are about to burn out, consider switching to a different position for the time being. There are many options, and the one that suits you best depends on the reason why you are feeling stressed. If the long night shifts are causing you problems, consider working for a doctor’s office or a school instead of a hospital, since you’ll have set hours and no nighttime work. 
On the other hand, nurses who are struggling with patient-facing work could consider a role in administration or, if they have been working for a long time, in nurse education. Some other roles could include home health nurse, public health nurse, occupational health nurse, and clinic nurse. A good way to find out more about low-stress jobs is to speak to a counselor or motivational speaker who has experience working with nurses that are feeling burned out. 

Nurse burnout is a common problem, affecting up to 95% of nurses at some point in their careers. Taking good care of your body and mind is an important first step, but it might not be enough. Additionally, you will have to speak about your experiences, discuss your situation with your employer, or even change to a less stressful position. Contact Dr. Feyi at WaistedRN to find out more about nurse stress management or to book a motivational speech.