How Stress In the Workplace Affects Nurses

Every workplace produces some amount of stress. However, research from occupational studies suggests nurses have one of the most stressful jobs in America. With such a stressful occupation, it is essential for nurses to learn strategies for managing nurse stress in the workplace.

How Stress In the Workplace Affects Nurses

A nurse who experiences stress in the workplace can be a serious cause for concern. For example, a nurse who is overwhelmed by stress may not be able to respond properly to patient needs, which could endanger the health of a patient. Nurses who are continually stressed may also have slower reflexes, unclear thinking, and difficulty coping with new stress in other areas of their life.

Physical Health

The physical symptoms of stress can often be disruptive. For example, a nurse may experience appetite loss, headaches, body aches, and other physical strains that can cause chronic pain.

The physical health of a nurse is essential, particularly because nurses spend a great deal of time on their feet and must have a healthy musculoskeletal system to promptly care for patients. Physical symptoms of stress, including minor injuries, can make it difficult for a nurse to perform their job.

Mental Health

The mental health symptoms of stress can include irritability, anger, anxiety, and depression. Often, nurses will experience burnout as well, which presents similar symptoms to depression. For example, lack of interest, fatigue, and social isolation can all be symptoms of nurse burnout and depression.

A nurse who is struggling with mental health may not be able to provide comfort to patients. Because nurses serve as the bridge between physician and patient, it’s important that nurses can maintain a calm and soothing presence. However, when a nurse is experiencing symptoms of stress, the nurse’s mental health symptoms can make it difficult to provide a comforting bedside manner.

Is Stress Why Some Nurses Leave Healthcare?

It’s not uncommon for some nurses to leave the healthcare field entirely because of stress and symptoms of nurse burnout. Nurses who have been working for several years may become frustrated by constant stress, or may even struggle with physical and mental symptoms of stress enough that leaving nursing is the best for their health.

However, because many nurses are so passionate about health care, it can be devastating to make the decision to leave the healthcare industry. When nursing is your calling, it can be heartbreaking to confront the fact that stress burnout has stolen your passion for your work.

Nurse Stress In Relation to COVID-19

Over the last two years, nurses have experienced a higher percentage of stress in relation to the COVID-19 virus. Not only are nurses concerned about contracting the virus themselves and spreading it to their families, but the sheer patient load from hospitalization has also made it difficult to cope in the workplace. Many nurses and other healthcare workers have left the healthcare field due to COVID-19-related stress.

Why Situational Coping May Not Always Be Effective

For many nurses, situational coping is the most realistic method of handling stress. Situational coping is essentially a way for an individual to adopt a coping response to meet the demands of a specific situation.

For many nurses, the instinctive situational coping method is to problem-solve for the patient first and then deal with their own stress afterward. However, situational coping may not be a good long-term solution for nurses. Because situational coping is reactive instead of proactive, it can ultimately make it more difficult to cope with ongoing stress in the long run.

The Benefits of Habitual Coping Strategies

Since situational coping may not be ideal, nurses may want to consider habitual coping strategies. Essentially, the best strategies for managing nurse stress in the workplace include adopting lifestyle practices that make it easier to manage stress day-to-day. Habitual coping strategies are more proactive and allow nurses to reduce stress continually, both at work and at home.

Strategies for Managing Nurse Stress in the Workplace

The best strategies for managing stress in the workplace can actually be done at home or during small breaks. Many studies show that taking five to 10 minutes a day to implement strategies for managing stress can be effective. Some of the best strategies for managing stress include:

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises are particularly effective for managing stress and anxiety. When the diaphragm is engaged with deep breathing, the physiological response to stress in the body allows cortisol levels to lower, which can calm anxiety, fatigue, irritability, and other symptoms of stress.

There are several techniques for deep breathing and even mobile apps that can guide nurses through deep breathing exercises. No matter what strategy you use, it’s important to remember that deep breathing is most effective when breaths are taken all the way through the belly to engage the diaphragm.


Mindfulness, or staying present with your thoughts and physical grounding, can also be highly effective for mental stress. Mindfulness techniques can include anything from focusing on sensory information to simply taking a few moments to focus on your breath. The essential component of mindfulness is to keep your thoughts in the present moment, which means avoiding thoughts about upcoming tasks and previous events.

Cognitive-Behavioral Positive Thinking

Cognitive behavioral positive thinking can also be used for managing nurse stress in the workplace. For example, research shows that negative thinking can influence our mood and perpetuate negative thoughts. However, by recognizing negativity and consciously changing negative thoughts for positive thoughts, it can be easier to deal with stress.

One good strategy is to flip a negative thought around. For example, instead of a nurse worrying that they won’t have enough time to care for a patient, a nurse can reassure themselves that they are doing their best to care for all of their patients.


Meditation can also help nurses become more adaptive and peaceful in their day-to-day lives. Meditation teaches all kinds of techniques that can help nurses cope with stress. These techniques and exercises can be guided through mobile apps or can be learned through meditation books.

Emotional Freedom Techniques

Some nurses may benefit from emotional freedom techniques, such as tapping. The tapping emotional freedom technique engages easy acupressure points that help the body reset from stress to lower cortisol levels. This technique works best when it is paired with positive, self-accepting mantras. Emotional freedom techniques such as tapping should be implemented when a nurse recognizes symptoms of stress escalating.

Physical Activity

The old advice that physical activity can help manage stress is true. Research shows that physical activity can reset the stress response in the body, make the body fatigued enough for deep sleep, and clear the mind. The type of exercises nurses may consider can include dancing, yoga, and Tai Chi.


Aromatherapy can be a highly effective way to use sensory grounding techniques to reduce stress and anxiety. For example, breathing in the scent of lavender, an essential oil well known for inducing calm feelings, can lower stress levels.

Not only does breathing in an aromatic fragrance focus the mind on the pleasant scent, but it also reinforces deep breathing and physical activity. Nurses may consider implementing aromatherapy techniques with scents such as:

  • Lavender
  • Chamomile
  • Ylang ylang
  • Frankincense
  • Valerian
  • Jasmine

Hobbies and Activities

Regularly engaging in recreational hobbies and activities can also be beneficial for reducing stress. Workplace stress occurs because of demands on the job that make it difficult to cope and take breaks. Hobbies and other activities, on the other hand, can reduce stress by giving people opportunities to take their time and enjoy the moment. Hobbies can include crafting, cooking, reading, journaling, listening to music, and more.

Healthy Diet

Finally, a healthy diet can also help reduce stress. When people are experiencing stress and high levels of cortisol, the response in the body may be appetite reduction or a craving for carbohydrates, sugar, and salt. Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet can make it easier to cope with stress because the body is supplied with essential nutrients that are used to regulate the gut-brain connection.

Can Talking Help Reduce Stress?

Talking with friends, family members, and co-workers about stressors can also be another way for nurses to reduce stress. Sharing burdens through conversation can lighten the stress load a nurse is experiencing at work, or even help a nurse work through unique challenges and traumas. Many nurses even consider talking with a mental health professional.

When Should Nurses Seek Stress Support?

Living with stress for too long can be detrimental to mental and physical health. Nurses should consider seeking help for stress when they notice shifts in their mood, appetite, sleep, and energy. Implementing strategies for managing nurse stress in the workplace is most effective when nurses can seek prompt emotional support. Waiting too long to de-stress can cause burnout and other disturbing symptoms of high stress.

Nursing is one of the most stressful occupations in America, and many nurses end up leaving the healthcare field because of burnout and high stress. Fortunately, there are many strategies for managing nurse stress in the workplace that can help nurses create stress-reduction habits. Get in touch with Feyi Sangoleye at WaistedRN in Chicago, IL to learn what a nurse coach can offer and more strategies for managing nurse stress in the workplace.