Every nurse is familiar with stress. In small doses, it pushes you just that little bit further. It can help you work faster and be better at your job – but only in small doses. Chronically stress can cause several health issues. It can hurt your career. It can even compromise the quality of care that a patient experiences.
Those who work as carers are at increased risk of chronic stress due to compassion fatigue. Compassion fatigue is a unique type of stress that arises from continuously caring for the health and wellbeing of others, especially if there isn’t a healthy balance. As a nurse, you have the chance to shut it out once you leave work, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop caring.
Regardless of why you feel stressed, this guide can help you better manage how you feel and actually enjoy a better work/life balance as a whole.
Health Risks of Stress
Stress is a silent killer, one that continues to take and take and in chronic doses never gives anything back. If you are a nurse, chances are you experience chronic stress, compassion fatigue, or even both.
There are many health risks associated with stress, both in the short term and in the long term.
Stress can cause tension headaches, which can be incredibly frustrating, particularly if you are on the job and working underneath fluorescent lights. It can also cause heartburn, hyperventilating, the “pounding heart” sensation, issues with your fertility, high blood pressure, stomach pains, can weaken your immune system, can cause insomnia, and of course, will increase your risk of a heart attack.
All that, and it’s just the start of what stress can wreak on your body. You often feel more irritable and frustrated, and over time these symptoms can cause cardiovascular and other health conditions (even exacerbate Alzheimer’s).
Stress is not something we should consistently feel, and if you feel constantly stressed as a nurse, then chances are you are headed straight into burnout.
What is a Burnout?
Burnout is a stress condition that, in simplest terms, results in us breaking down. Our ability to work is compromised, our ability to emotionally and physically regulate ourselves is broken, and you may be experiencing comorbid conditions like depression or anxiety.
It is important to know how to spot burnout and to also mitigate your stress so that you move away from a potential burnout and never get back into that space.
There are risk factors, of course, that will make it more likely that you will experience burnout. From a heavy workload to an unbalanced work/life schedule to compassion fatigue. All three of these can be common to the life of a nurse, but with this guide, you will be able to better manage your stress and take back that essential control:
How to Manage Stress as a Nurse
Managing stress and compassion fatigue are two soft skills that need to be mastered by every nurse. Without managing these skills, you run the risk of burnout, but the good news is that you can learn them and adapt them to suit your specific needs and goals at any time.
Managing stress is something that is universally important for all of us. You could learn how to personally manage your own stress and impart that wisdom to your own patients or their families and help everyone both medically and holistically that much better.
Nurses have already given so much, so take a moment to give back to yourself as well by using these top tips to help you manage your stress better as a nurse.
Continue Your Career Progression
One of the key risk factors that contribute to burnout is a lack of control. Feeling like you are being swept up without your say-so can and does take its toll. One of the best ways to put that control back into your hands, and to also position yourself into a better role that helps you manage a healthier work/life balance for yourself, is to continue progressing through your career.
There is good news and bad news when it comes to career progression as a nurse. The good news is that the shortage of nurses and physicians, and also the ever-expanding number of roles available to nurses, means that you have so many job options and opportunities ahead of you.
The bad news is that it can be daunting to choose the right path for you, and before you can make that change, you also need to commit to a long, often expensive degree.
Considering most APRNs earn six-figure salaries, especially after a few years of working in that role, the money it takes to further your qualifications with an MSN are more than worthwhile.
Before you get excited, however, you are going to want to explore your options and interests. Shadow other nurses, try to work in different departments, read medical journals and publications, and so on.
The role that you want needs to cover the type of work you find most enjoyable and also the area of medicine you find most interesting. If you like working in preventative health rather than in acute care, then working as a family nurse practitioner can be the right route for you.
In this example, your next step (assuming you hold a BSN and have been working as an RN for at least one year) is to find the right MSN-FNP degree. Technically you can go further with your education and earn a DNP, but this doesn’t need to be done right away, and you can often benefit from waiting before progressing through your doctorate.
The best way to pursue this MSN-FNP is to find a quality, part-time option that allows you to continue working. Marymount University online for example, designed its program with working RNs in mind. Now is not the time for RNs to be taking time off work to pursue a degree, and many professional adults have too many personal responsibilities to have them all covered by a student loan.
By working while you study, you can also put what you learn to good use and can even learn both in-person and online by being relocated to work as an RN in the department you are studying in.
In some cases, it will even be essential to work alongside professionals in the field you want to specialize in. This may be a family clinic, or it may be under a certified nurse-midwife. Who you work under will depend on your goals and passions. One thing remains the same, though. Regardless of whether you need to work under someone to qualify for the degree or not, working and learning from a mentor and your degree is the best way to learn and fortify the knowledge in your head.
Explore the Workplace Options Near You
Another universal tip that will help you substantially improve in terms of stress management is to change jobs. You can work as a nurse in so many fields (both within and outside of healthcare) that you are doing yourself and the people around you a disservice by staying in an environment that causes undue stress.
To provide the best quality of care for your patients, you need to be healthy. You need your mind to be strong and fortified. You also need to quite simply like your job. If you hate where you work if you find yourself always stressed and like you are on your last tether, then get out.
With so many places you can work as a nurse, you can easily find the work/life balance that you personally need to thrive. For some, this will be a fast-paced workplace that is never boring and keeps things interesting. For others, routine is essential.
Some thrive when they help others. Others will find themselves providing research or working behind the scenes to improve patient care without caring for individual patients themselves.
There are more than enough roles and opportunities available to you as a nurse, and every reason to explore and listen to what you need. Not listening to your needs is a huge mistake and can result in burnout to the point where you may not even want to work as a nurse at all, despite the fact that there are plenty of options (especially now that telehealth is being integrated).
You could move to a more rural location. You can move to a smaller clinic or practice. You can work privately. If you have a multi-state license, then you could even relocate or work as a travel nurse and explore the country and combine your passions.
In fact, combining your passions is a great way to stay thrilled with your job. When you love what you do, work doesn’t seem to take as much effort. Nursing, of course, will always be more stressful than other jobs – when someone else’s health and life are in your hands, there is no alternative – but being interested and finding the right pace can prop you up for success.
Improve Your Diet Without the Added Effort
You could be in the perfect job role, in the perfect working environment, and yet still suffer because you aren’t fueling your body well enough. As a nurse, you should know exactly what you need to eat, but actually preparing the food so that you like it and regularly enough so that you can benefit from it are two entirely different things.
If you have the budget, don’t be afraid to look for outside help. Meal kits and plans are becoming very popular because they help busy professionals eat well and eat healthy all at once. They don’t often work out to be all that much more than what you would pay for your grocery bill either, especially if you find you throw a lot of food waste out because you couldn’t prepare it on time.
Other ways to eat better while staying on budget is to go to bulk food stores and to prep foods yourself. From trail mixes to creating your own protein bars or meal prep for the week, there are so many ways that you can take the effort out of the equation during your working days and make it easier to get the vitamins and nutrients that you personally need to thrive.
How to Get a Better Night’s Rest
Sleep is also essential, but many today find it incredibly difficult to get a consistent night’s sleep. The good news is that reducing stress at work and eating better can both be a good way to get started.
From there you will want to improve your bedroom. This could mean investing in blackout curtains if you work the night shift so that the sun or daylight doesn’t interrupt your sleep. It could also mean buying better sheets if you find yourself overheating or too cold during the nights.
The right temperature, the right material, and the right lighting ambiance can all make a huge difference, but where you’ll really find results is in routine.
If you have inconsistent schedules due to your work, then use the same actions to tell your body when to sleep. Otherwise, go to bed at the same time, and wake up at the same time, and over the days or weeks, you’ll start to notice you naturally get tired at the right time and wake up at the right time even without your alarm.
Every nurse should have a support network. Part of this network should include mental health professionals. Checking in with a therapist for a few weeks a year can help you understand yourself better and what your mental health needs. You should also look into nurse support groups, which may exist as an in-person community near you, or at least online. Finding others who understand what you are going through and the unique difficulties facing nurses can help so much. Not feeling alone, especially if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your issues with your coworkers, can make all the difference.