Nurse Wellness: Positive Stress-Management Strategies

American Sentinel is supporting the ANA’s designation of 2017 as the “Year of the Healthy Nurse” with a new, four-part series about Nurse Wellness that will unfold over the next month. Read the other parts of this series here. This is part two.

In case you’ve missed it, the ANA “Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation” initiative is a reminder for nurses to take care of themselves, in order to better care for their patients, as well as contribute to overall public health. When nurses are healthy, well rested, and safe on the job, they have more life- and job-satisfaction overall—which, in turn, has an impact on patient outcomes and quality of care. An ANA-sponsored risk appraisal survey from 2016 found that nurses report levels of workplace stress far above the national average for adults. Another study found that 17 percent of nurses working within hospitals suffered from depression, in contrast to the national rate of only nine percent.

Let’s face it, nursing comes with substantial amounts of pressure. When nurses ignore high levels of stress, the effects accumulate—and turn into problems like depression, burnout, and physical symptoms. When you are under stress, self-care becomes more important than ever. This means actively choosing behaviors that can counteract the effects of stress: getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods, caring for your body by stretching and getting some exercise, and using self-calming activities that work for you as an individual. To help you do this, the American Holistic Nurses Association (AHNA) has published an online stress management toolkit and list of resources. It is full of tips, techniques, and examples of ways to combat stress.

Breaks during the workday are important for stress reduction, self-calming, and a chance to chat with a colleague. It’s important to take breaks whenever you can, yet the reality is that nurses often feel they can’t step away without putting patients at risk. If you can, find a way to enjoy a few minutes in the breakroom while maintaining peace of mind that you can respond to a crisis quickly if you’re needed.

Getting at least seven hours per day of restful, restorative sleep can also combat stress levels. Well rested nurses benefit from elevated mood, more energy, heightened alertness, more stamina, and better focus and judgment. Fatigued nurses are not only more prone to burnout and stress, but can put patients at risk as well.

Self-calming activities can give you a quick break when you don’t have time for a real break, allow you de-stress after work, or help you to remain centered during a stressful situation at work or home. These can be deeply personal and what works for you might not work for another nurse. Some methods to try:

  • Deep breathing from the diaphragm – often helpful in the midst of a crisis.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – an exercise to relieve muscle tension by consciously relaxing one limb or muscle group at a time, starting with the toes and moving upward through the body.
  • Movement or exercise – whatever works best for you, whether long walks, yoga, dance, gym workouts, or stretching to relieve tight muscles.
  • Visualization – a mental exercise of picturing each step in a challenge and seeing yourself overcome them to reach a goal. Or, a relaxation technique of visualizing yourself walking in a peaceful forest or along a beautiful beach. Guided imagery is available through CDs and podcasts.
  • Meditation – an internal exercise with the goal of self-regulating the mind in some way, either for relaxation or to facilitate awareness.
  • Mindfulness – focusing one’s attention on the experiences of the present moment.
  • Affirmations – repeating a positive thought or phrase aloud or in one’s mind.
  • Gratitude journals – a daily or weekly record of the things for which one is grateful; kept for the purpose of countering negative or stressful thoughts.
  • Massage, hot baths, etc. – ways to reduce mental stress by loosening up tight muscles.

Do you see yourself as a healthy nurse? Our wellness series was conceived to help nurses actively focus on balancing all aspects of well-being: physical, mental, emotional, social, personal, spiritual, intellectual, and professional. Please join us for the next two weeks!