By Sarah Wengert
April is Stress Awareness Month, which is a great time for nurses everywhere to check in and evaluate their personal stress level. By nature, nursing is an incredibly stressful gig and there’s really no controlling that. You’ve trained to be there in the some of the toughest times in your patients’ lives and considering that and the environment itself, stress will hit you hard. What you can control is how you react and how you manage your stress — which can have serious long-term effects on your brain and overall physical and mental health. Healer, heal thyself!
OK, we’ve all heard this piece of advice a million times — but only because it’s such a good one! Whether it’s during a quick break (we know nurses only really get quick ones!), before a shift, or after you clock out, breathing exercises can really help you center yourself and regain control of your stress level. Even if you can only steal literally two minutes to yourself, dedicate it to taking several slow, deep breaths. You can also add in elements of yoga and/or meditation when time allows. Close your eyes and focus on a happy or calming image. Repeat a mantra in your head while you slowly inhale and exhale. It can be anything you want, as simple as “I am strong, I am calm,” for example.
Communication is always key, and whether that means you need to tell someone important information to change an important outcome at work or you’re simply in need of a serious vent sesh, be sure to communicate early and often. Getting your message across, regardless of the outcome, will alone alleviate stress. So, be sure to talk with your charge nurse, colleagues, recruiter, clinical support team, BFF, or whomever you need to communicate with as much as needed. Speaking of talking, many nurses find help in seeking therapy to manage stress and other issues — so be sure to make time for that kind of talk as well if that appeals to you.
Sure, you get plenty of steps in at work as it is, but a good, free-minded sweat session is a great way to combat stress. Isn’t it amazing how mental and physical health interact? Keep in mind that exercise can mean something different for everyone, and you should find the activity that best suits your lifestyle, fitness level, and overall preferences. Some suggestions to consider: slow and steady dog walk, vigorous hike, recreational sand volleyball, yoga, spin class, run or walk along the beach, biking, squats and crunches, and weight training. Whatever you do, you’ll be glad you did!
Even in dark, stressful times it is crucial to your overall stress level to stay as positive as possible. When even the worst happens, we still have control over how we react. It might not always be easy and no one is asking you not to feel and process your true feelings, but try to train yourself to look on the bright side of life. Even the worst problem in life can be helped by trying to find the most attainable and positive steps forward. So, focus on the bright side and focus on solutions whenever possible. A daily gratitude practice can also help you remember and embrace all the good things in your life. If all else fails, pull out your phone and look at pictures of your friends and family, the last awesome vacation you took, your adorable pet — anything that will cheer you up just on sight!
Whether you’re currently on assignment or not, we hope you are able to take some time this month and beyond to focus on your personal health and stress management.