How to Combat Stress as a Nurse

Anyone in the nursing profession will tell you that nursing can be as stressful as it is rewarding. For every patient recovery, it seems like another is lost, which burdens the spirit. Understaffing at many health care facilities keeps many nurses doing the work of two or more people, which burdens both the mind and body. These stressful situations, along with difficult patients, difficult co-workers, and irregular schedules, have driven many a nurse to the breaking point. To help keep you from falling victim to stress, we will discuss some ways of combating it.

First of all, realize that you are not superman or superwoman. All you can do is the best you can with the resources and staffing present at your health care facility. Don't beat yourself up when things go badly that are outside of your control. Accept the fact that, despite your best efforts, some patients are not going to recover and some lives will be lost. If a mistake you made had adverse consequences, learn from it and move on. Do not wallow in guilt, because it will negatively affect your health and it will not bring things back to the way they were.

Find the humor in your work and celebrate your successes. Sometimes the things patients say and the daily goings-on in a health care facility are downright funny. Sometimes patients recover tremendously and thank you profusely for the quality of your care for them. Let these moments center you and remember them when the next patient isn't quite so gracious.

Also, find time to exercise in your off-time. This is difficult because nurses spend so many hours on their feet. However, good aerobic exercise not only releases stress in the body, but it also releases key endorphins in the brain that help you maintain a positive attitude.

Above all, do not take your work home with you. Many nurses spend too many of their off hours thinking about work—what they could have done differently to save a patient's life, that mean comment by a certain cantankerous patient, that lazy staff nurse who got honored for her "contributions," etc. Whatever it is, don't let it enter your mind when you're in your home. Instead, release your stress through prayer, meditation, music or a hobby you enjoy. Journaling or blogging is especially useful in clearing the mind if you have trouble leaving work at work.