Ask graduates of St. Paul’s School of Nursing why they went into the profession and most will tell you that they enjoy caring for people and that nursing is a rewarding career. In fact, New Yorkers often showed their appreciation during COVID by providing meals, flowers, and applauding nurses during shift changes.
It is not a job without challenges though. If you ask graduates about these challenges, though, they will likely share that nursing can be a stressful job. Long hours, physically demanding work, and potential life-or-death situations can take a toll, and learning how to manage your stress is critical. By finding ways to cope, you will not only be a better caregiver, but also be able to take better care of your own health.
Stress can manifest itself in many ways, and when you’re busy caring for others you may not notice the signs. You may find yourself short-tempered or less able to focus. You may notice a decrease or increase in your appetite. Sometimes, stress can sneak up on you, so it is important to become aware of the signs and develop some strategies that can help. When you’re working long hours, self-care can feel indulgent or even like one more thing on your to-do list, especially if you are caring for a family in addition to your work responsibilities. Fortunately, there are some things you can do on the job to help relieve stress.
Eat Healthy Meals and Snacks
The sugar rush you get from a vending machine snack or the breakroom doughnut may make you feel good in the moment, but poor dietary habits can actually worsen your feelings of anxiety. Instead, of choosing the morning pastry, try to eat healthy whole foods, like fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Not only will they help you feel full longer, these good foods can improve your energy and health.
On your break, slip in a few quick moments of meditation or mindfulness. These practices help quiet your mind and allow you to let negative thoughts go. It doesn’t have to be long; just five minutes can reduce stress. Find a quiet place and focus on your breathing. For example, take a deep breath and hold it to the count of four. Then exhale slowly, counting backwards -- four, three, two, one. You can also download a meditation app to your phone that will help you tune out the activity around you. You may even be able to slip in some mindful moments while you’re doing a “mindless” task, such a cleaning up your workstation or folding blankets.
Talk to Co-workers
Sharing your feelings with others can be therapeutic, and no one will understand your situation more than your colleagues. While venting can relieve stress, don’t dwell on negative emotions too long. Instead, find something positive in a situation that can help you reframe your feelings. For example, if you are dealing with a challenging patient or situation, talk to a fellow nurse about the root cause, they may have good suggestions or strategies that you had not considered.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Finding things to be thankful for can help you reduce your stress. While you’re probably grateful for your job, health, and family, don’t forget to pay attention to the smaller things that can brighten your day. Maybe you made all of the stoplights on your way to work or were able to grab a great parking spot? Or perhaps the cafeteria is serving your favorite lunch? Recognizing and writing down these small moments can help you focus on the positive.
If you need more help, there are many mental health resources available to nurses including several programs on the American Nursing Association’s website. And, if you are looking to get started on your nursing training, St. Paul’s School of Nursing can help by putting you on the path to a great education. Click here for more information or call us today at (855) 822-3018 and speak to one of our career counselors.