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Handling the Stress of Nursing

Most people know of the physical demands of nursing – but are unaware of the mental and emotional toll it takes.  That’s right, I’m talking about STRESS.  The nursing profession is extremely stressful.  From the time you start your journey in nursing school up until the day you retire, you are dealing with a substantial amount of stress daily. 

I’m not trying to send you running for the hills – because we all know how truly rewarding our careers can be.  The positive impact nurses have on the community certainly outweighs dealing with the stress.  However, stress is something we must keep in the back of our minds. 

Stress can cause exhaustion, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, headaches, and a lack of focus – all of which can compromise the quality of patient care.  When stress is not properly dealt with and becomes a long-term problem, it can lead to more serious health concerns, including a number of cardiac issues.  The short-term effects are not good for you either! 

Stress is also known to weaken the immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and illness.  Why is this important?  Because we are nurses!  We spend most of our days caring for extremely sick patients in healthcare facilities – where bloodborne pathogens, viruses, airborne pathogens, and other bacteria are most prominent!  If our immune system isn’t firing on all cylinders then we are more prone to frequent infections due to the nature of the job.  That sounds awful, doesn’t it? 

Here’s the upside – there are plenty of ways to manage your stress levels and cope in a healthy way!  And no, I’m not going to tell you to just grab a stress ball and squeeze it.  Check out some suggestions we think will help you “chill out” a little bit:

Exercise

Sometimes you just need to get out of your own head – and exercising is the perfect thing to help you do that.  There’s nothing quite like a nice workout to boost your endorphins and make you feel more relaxed after a long, stressful day.  There’s a reason people say it’s a drag getting to the gym, but they feel fantastic when they leave!  All that tension built up from the days/weeks prior can be released with just 60 minutes of exercise.  Whether it’s walking, running, swimming, weight-lifting, playing sports – all release endorphins and will leave you feeling better.  Don’t believe me, check healthline’s article out!

Have you ever heard of “runner’s high?”  Not to get too technical, but it’s a euphoric release of endorphins resulting from strenuous exercise.  It is said to produce feelings of reduced anxiety, a lessened ability to feel pain, and an overall heightened sense of joy. 

I’m not trying to persuade you to go out there and pursue this.  You’ll get hurt if you over-exert yourself, so please DON’T.  I’m telling you so you can see the overall picture – people feel really good when they work out!  Please refer to one of our other articles, “Exercises to Make You a Stronger Nurse” (enter link for article when published) to kill two birds with one stone!

Day at the Spa

You deserve this!  You’ve been working your fingers to the bone lately and put everyone’s needs before your own.  Take a day to yourself and go to a local spa close by.  Don’t think that I’m only catering to the women here, either.  Yes gentlemen – I’m talking to you!  Don’t act like you don’t enjoy being pampered.  There are several body and cosmetic treatments to choose from, such as:

  • Massages 
  • Hot Springs
  • Aromatherapy
  • Mud Bath
  • Manicure/Pedicure
  • Hair Care
  • Body Wraps
  • Acupuncture

These are just some of the services offered by day spas, but each individual spa will vary in the services they provide.  Check out local spas near you with SpaFinder!

Talk to Someone

You can’t replicate the effect of having another person’s ear as you “let it all out.”  One thing about stress is that if we don’t find ways to release it, we keep it bottled up.  It festers until we find some release – kind of like an earthquake.  So pick up that phone of yours that weighs 10,000 lbs. and call your mom, dad, best friend, spouse, or even that crazy aunt of yours!  I’m sure they’d love to hear from you!

Find a Hobby

Some people say certain hobbies release stress better than others.  I don’t think that’s true.  I believe it’s all based on the individual.  If you have a hobby and find yourself truly happy when doing it – there will some sort of therapeutic effect.  Here’s a list of hobbies you might consider trying:

  • Knitting
  • Coloring
  • Journaling
  • Owning a Pet
  • Gardening
  • Playing a Musical Instrument
  • Reading
  • Yoga
  • Hiking
  • Baking

Get more details from Bustle’s article on stress-reducing hobbies.

Meditation

This is my personal favorite.  If you are unfamiliar, meditation is the practice of trying to get past the “thinking” mind, and into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness.  Let me be candid – meditation works better for me than any other way of releasing stress. 

Have you tried it before?  Maybe you’re like me and haven’t bothered with meditation because you assumed it was something that takes a lot of time, or something that’s extremely difficult.   Well, I’m here to tell you it takes 15-20 minutes tops and it is extremely easy.  Not a bad sacrifice to feel the most relaxed you’ve ever felt, huh?

The beautiful thing about meditation is you can do it from the comfort of your own home, for free, and without any equipment!  So how do you do it?  This may be the easiest five-step process you’ll ever learn:

  1. Make sure it’s night time, the lights are turned off, and the room is completely silent.
  2. Sit on the floor and cross your legs (Indian Style).  If you have a yoga mat, sit on that.
  3. Rest your hands gently on your inner thighs or knees.
  4. Close your eyes.
  5. Only think about your breathing.

Sounds easy, right?  It really is that simple – although you’ll find that you’ll get better over time with practice.  There are also variations that work for different people.  For example, if sitting on the floor is uncomfortable for you, you can sit upright in a chair.  Or, some people prefer some slight background noise rather than sitting in silence or prefer daytime meditation. 

Let me give you some hints I’ve picked up along the way:

  • First, don’t do this in your bed laying down, because you will fall asleep.  The goal is to have a “relaxed” mind, not a sleeping mind. 
  • Only focus on two things: breathing in and breathing out.
  • If you find your mind is still wandering, picture yourself sitting on a white floor and staring at a white wall in front of you – that’s it.
  • Your exhale should be 3 times longer than your inhale.  Remember to breathe slowly.
  • There are two tools I love using when I meditate: 
  • First is a Tibetan singing bowl which is a type of bell that vibrates and produces a deep, rich tone when played.  Check out this video to learn the proper way to use one!
  • Incense that you find relaxing, in my opinion, are also necessary.  For me, it’s Palo Santo wood from South America.  You can find some here.

The last thing I’ll mention – give yourself some time to relax your mind.  After about 8-10 minutes of sitting and only thinking about your breathing, you should feel some weightlessness to your body and start to meditate.  Continue this for approximately another ten minutes.  Remember, practice makes perfect! If you have an effective or unique way of ridding stress and you’d like to share, please leave a comment below!

ESP

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