The stresses of Nursing aren’t a secret to anyone. There are long hours, lack of resources, loss and grief, and family-life balance. Each of these can weigh heavily on a healthcare provider like a nurse, or CNA (Certified Nurse Aide). And sometimes these stressors can be difficult to deal with – especially during busy or stressful times.
While the rewards in nursing are great (increase in jobs, higher salaries, flexible hours), it’s hard to enjoy those benefits while addressing mental health needs.
According to Nursing 2021 Journal, there is a stigma associated with mental health issues in healthcare. Nursing has created a culture of perfectionism in the workplace, and nurses struggle to live up to the expectations. And little research exists on the topic, but what can be found are decades of research stating that nursing is psychologically demanding and can contribute to poor mental health in a variety of ways, such as depression, anxiety, secondary trauma, compassion fatigue, and burnout.
Lisia McLean, BSN, RN, Director of Sovereign School of Nursing explains it like this: “If you have a physical ailment, everyone can see and easily understand a broken limb or an adaptive device. Because mental health issues don’t show on the surface, many go unaddressed. Talking is one of the best ways to relieve some of the stressors nurses feel from their jobs.”
So what’s a loving, caring nurse to do?
Here are six non-medical suggestions that you might be able to implement on your own, in addition to professional advice from your physician. Some ways to reduce stress, anxiety, and grief include:
- Breathing – There’s no denying oxygen is good for the body. In times of stress or emotional upheaval though, our body may go into a fight or flight mode. That physiological reaction causes our blood pressure to elevate, our pupils to dilate, and our heartbeat and respiration to increase. Relaxation or deep breathing techniques have been shown to help. The best known one asks you to sit comfortably with your hands in your lap, eyes closed. Then to a slow count, breathe in through your nose for a count of 8; hold your breath for a count of 4; breathe slowly out your mouth to a count of 8. Repeat this three times, slowly, then open your eyes for a fresh, bright look at your surroundings. You can repeat the process as needed.
- Exercise – I know, I know, it’s so old-school, but it’s true! Exercise not only burns calories (up to 500 in an hour of pickleball) it also invigorates your body and you muscles by providing increased oxygen flow. The accelerated heart rate you achieve with brisk walking or other exertions helps to build stamina so the next time it won’t feel as difficult. Finally, muscle mass is one of the side benefits of most any exercise. And muscle mass is a valuable tool to have when you’re tasked with holding up patients and other weighty chores.
- Support Groups – Workplace stress is a very private thing for many people. There’s that stigma again! But it shouldn’t be. Especially when nurses across the globe are experiencing the same emotions, stress, successes, and losses. Why aren’t we talking to each other more? Both local and national nursing organizations offer networking and mentoring and many healthcare jobs now provide employee assistance programs (EAP) or telehealth for mental health. Find like-minded nurses on social media groups or locally through educational and networking activities. Ask questions. Share your story to perhaps help others.
- Journaling – writing down your daily hopes, dreams, experiences, challenges, and achievements can accomplish a couple of things. First, it can serve to unload your brain for the day (or night) of all the minute details every nurse carris around in his or her head. Second, journaling gives you a place to express what is known in “polite society” as “negative emotions.” These can differ by gender, but, in general, they include anger, fear, disgust, and sadness, with each being an emotion nurses often are forced to suppress. Finally, journaling is a record of achievements for you to look back on as you grow. Be sure to include your accomplishments in journaling – research shows reading good things about yourself will potentially help you actually feel better.
- Self-Soothing Techniques – You can’t very well leave every situation that causes you emotional unease, so there is a technique you can use, mostly not noticeable, called self-soothing behaviors. Self-soothing behaviors can address any of the senses including sight, taste, sound, smell, and touch. You might find comfort from lightly pinching the webbing between your thumb and index finger slightly – a slow massaging motion. Someone else might touch the tips of the middle finger and thumb together with or without pressure. Still others might twirl or stroke their hair or fiddle with clothing. Many of those small gestures provide an amount of comfort to the personal performing them. And, they are nearly undetectable in a group setting.
- Distraction – If none of the suggestions above feel just right for you, maybe you need a healthy distraction from your feelings. For some people, that’s binge watching every episode of “House” on Hulu. For others, it’s crafting beautiful greeting cards to send to friends. For still others, a distraction might be as simple as sitting outside in nature. When you distract yourself – even if momentarily – from your troubles, you give your brain a rest from turning the problems over and over. Sure, they can come back, but in the meantime, you’ve had the pleasure of accomplishing something quite pleasant.
Being a loving, caring, giving nurse each day can take a lot out of a person. So many people depend on you throughout the day that there’s often little time for yourself. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, seek professional help and practice some of the soothing techniques here. They might just help a little.