Stress is a constant in daily life, encompassing internal and external factors that affect our mental and physical well-being. External stress factors are found in the physical environment and may include job, family, relationships and other challenges. Internal stress factors include an individual’s health, nutrition and emotional state; those influence the body’s ability to respond to and cope with external stressors.
Although stress is typically thought of as a negative force, it can also be neutral or positive depending on the individual and the specific situation. Eustress is defined as the positive stress that allows an individual to remain productive even when their external environment is changing.
As nurses cope with staffing shortages, rapid changes in patient condition and technological advances, higher stress levels may be evident in their work environment. This can interfere with productivity and negatively affect the level of care provided to the patient.
Coping with Stress at Work
In some cases, nurses who experience high levels of stress at work can become physically ill or experience emotional burnout. In order to combat such problems, nurses can consider taking a variety of steps to cope with stress, including:
- Breathe: Slow, deep and easy breathing is among the best stress reducers. It is one of several rhythmic activities, along with walking and laughing, that causes a release of endorphins that make a person feel calmer. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly and deeply from the abdomen.
- Be organized: Allowing extra time to complete a morning routine can mean a stress-free start to the day. Awaken a few minutes early and leave home a few minutes earlier than usual to arrive at work in a better frame of mind.
- Nutrition: Maintain a healthy diet with regularly scheduled meals whenever possible; stay hydrated. Taking care of nutrition can boost stamina, efficiency and patience levels.
- Exercise: Stay in good physical condition by using a wellness and fitness center if available or by simply taking a walk or using the stairs during a break.
- Sleep: Stress and worry can interrupt sleep cycles, leading to fatigue and more stress. Establish a solid sleep schedule and stick to it.
- Laugh: Laughter cuts tension, lifts spirits and bonds people together. In the work environment, use humor when appropriate to lighten the mood.
- Think positive: Set high expectations and work toward them. Avoid negative people when possible and spread a positive outlook to colleagues and patients. Try to change negatives into positives.
- Talk: Choose a positive-thinking friend, family member or co-worker with whom to share concerns. Talking about a problem can help put it in perspective and reduce feelings of stress.
- Take a break: Although leaving patients and job responsibilities for a few minutes during the work shift may seem difficult, it is a good strategy for dealing with a stressful environment. Nurses who take a break can return to their duties more relaxed and better prepared to provide quality patient care.
Nurses may face many situations each day that are out of their control, such as policy changes and staffing difficulties. By maintaining a positive outlook, staying healthy and sharing concerns with trusted colleagues, nurses can better cope with potential stressors, leading to better patient care, and increased job and personal satisfaction.