Nurses have some of the toughest jobs, with both physical and emotional demands. From constantly being on their feet to the emotional burden of caring for the sick and dying, there’s no denying that nursing can be a taxing profession.
With long shifts that leave you exhausted, you may not have the time you need to fully unwind and relax before you’re back at work. However, if you do not adequately take care of yourself and manage the stress of nursing, you may experience nursing burnout or compassion fatigue.
To help you avoid growing tired and losing your passion, we asked real nurses to reveal their natural tips and tricks for dealing with nursing stress. Keep these in mind so you don’t become the next victim of burnout.
9 natural activities to keep nursing stress at bay
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed from a hard day on the floor, try one of these methods to relax and recharge.
1. Engage in exercise
Exercising has long been proven to reduce stress. But for nurses who are on their feet for 12 hours a day, going for a run after work may not sound very appealing.
That said, stress-relieving exercise doesn’t have to be a big production. Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC and career coach, points out you can keep those endorphins flowing with simple exercises that can be done from the comfort of your own home.
One of the best exercises for stress-relief is yoga. Yoga has been proven to improve cardio and circulatory health, manage weight and boost energy levels. A quick daily routine can help you focus yourself and blow off steam accumulated from a long workweek.
2. Center yourself with meditation
Meditation comes in all forms, from mantra meditation to Tai Chi to guided meditation, there is a relaxation method for almost everyone.
According to the Mayo Clinic, meditation provides many benefits. Emotionally, it helps you manage your stress, get rid of negativity and increases your self-awareness. Physically, it allows you to manage anxiety, pain, depression and heart disease, among other issues.
The best part of meditation is that it can be done at work or at home. If you’re having a stressful day at work, find a quiet place and take five minutes to close your eyes and clear your mind. You may find that some of your stress ebbs away, allowing you to continue your day with a little more energy.
3. Do an activity you love
It’s easy to put aside things you love doing in favor of sitting on the couch and vegging out after a hard day’s work. However, making time for an activity you enjoy, whether it be gardening, painting, reading or playing a sport, can reduce stress.
“Most veteran nurses who I’ve worked with all seem to have found a hobby of some sort that brings them pleasure on their days off,” says Nicholas McGowan, BSN He recalls fellow nurses taking part in activities ranging from raising chickens and growing a vegetable garden to knitting scarves to brewing beer. “These nurses have found a way to cultivate something that brings meaning and purpose to a rich life waiting to be experienced outside of the hospital,” he explains.
Another popular stress-relieving hobby that’s recently grown in popularity is adult coloring books. Sarah Frances Robbins, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, says that they are a great way to disconnect from the troubles of the world.
“The flow and ease as you color on your page is well, magical,” she says. “If only for five minutes, it provides me with value and helps me push ahead.”
4. Take a mental health day
If you’re really feeling the stress, in some cases the best move is to simply take a day off. It may feel a little strange to take time off if you’re not sick and don’t have a vacation planned, but the occasional recharge day can go a long way.
Carlson recommends taking a mental health day if you’re feeling anxious, depressed or you feel unsatisfied and uninspired by your work. Taking a day off can clear your mind and help you refocus. Spending your day doing simple, calming things such as sleeping in, getting a massage or treating yourself to something you’ve put off can do wonders for your mental health.
Once you’re feeling rejuvenated, you can return to work the next day prepared to provide the best possible care for your patients.
5. Spend time with friends
Whether your friends are fellow nurses or not, carving out time to hang out with those you love can help brighten your mood. Studies have shown that spending time with family and friends reduces risk of depression and high blood pressure.
Find time to schedule even a quick coffee break with a close friend who will listen to you and sympathize with you. Sometimes all you need is that extra encouragement to remind you why becoming a nurse was worth it.
6. Try aromatherapy
Aromatherapy comes in many forms such as oils, candles and bath salts. With a wide range of scents, each with its own "healing" properties, aromatherapy is an accessible and fairly inexpensive remedy.
“Pure essential oils and aromatherapy can be very helpful, even while on the job,” Carlson says. “Oils of lavender, rose, chamomile, frankincense, vetiver and sandalwood can have highly relaxing effects.” He goes on to explain that once you find a few oils that work wonders for you, you can keep a small ‘essential oil first aid kit’ in the pocket of her scrubs.
If you do plan to utilize aromatherapy or other strong scents in the workplace, be sure to clear it with your employer—some may have allergies or sensitivities to these scents.
7. Eat healthy
While this is not an overnight solution, changing your diet to incorporate healthier foods can have a long-term impact on your overall mood and energy levels. Diets rich in processed foods and high in refined sugars are linked to an increase in mood disorders such as depression.
“Nutrition is important,” says Nick Angelis, CRNA, MSN. “The peaks and troughs in energy levels from coffee, donuts and free pizza—as a pitiful excuse for not getting a lunch break—contributes to stress and burnout.”
Don’t have time to spend meal prepping or sit down for a proper lunch? Try stocking up on mood-boosting foods such as bananas, dark chocolate, unsalted almonds or unbuttered popcorn. As the saying goes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so starting off with a healthy meal can help when you find yourself pressed for time on your lunch break.
8. Get more sleep
Whether you work the night shift or push through 12-hour shifts, chances are you are not getting the recommended amount of sleep. With a job as physically taxing as nursing, it is important to let your body rest in between shifts. Research suggests sleep deprivation is linked to a lowered immune system, increased risk of obesity and heart disease.
The benefits outweigh anything else: Getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night will help you feel energized and refreshed. Try blocking out that much time each night to get a solid night’s rest. If you work at night, try black-out shades for day sleeping. Melatonin can also help you adjust your sleep cycle.
9. Learn breathing exercises
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or overstressed at work and don’t know what to do, breathing exercises may help. Quick and easy to do, learning how to control your breathing and center yourself may be the key to getting you through your day.
“Nurses can choose to learn these techniques from a yoga or meditation teacher, but there are thousands of free online videos providing excellent instruction in diaphragmatic breathing and other simple strategies,” Carlson suggests. “Nurses can then pass this knowledge on to anxious patients and colleagues, so it's a win-win all around.”
Go forth and chill
Nursing stress can happen to anyone in this field. Do what you can to recognize when you’re overwhelmed and try your hand at a few of these relaxing remedies. Returning to work with a clear, refreshed mind will not only benefit you, but also your patients.
Do you have suggestions or strategies for dealing with nursing stress? Leave a comment below to share your advice!
Clearly nursing can be a stressful job, but there are plenty of good reasons to stick it out through the tough days. Read our article, “The Best Day on the Job: 4 Nursing Stories that Prove It’s All Worth It” for some inspiring examples of why nurses keep coming back for their next shift.
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