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Clinical Systems Leadership

Nurse Stress and How to Relieve It

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Both mental and physical stress are growing problems among nurses. As Health Affairs magazine reported in 2012, eight-hour workdays were disappearing among most nurses in favor of 12-hour shifts, which allowed for a three-day workweek and more time with their families. However, many of these 12-hour shifts can run closer to 13, and nurses are experiencing the symptoms of stress harder than ever before.

The stress nurses face
In addition to longer shifts, a growing demand for healthcare as the population becomes larger, older and more insured can overload nurses at facilities that don’t have the personnel to meet the new needs. For example, in the U.K., where longer shifts and growing demand for health care are also major concerns, the number of nurses taking time off work for stress-related issues recently has skyrocketed, according to the Guardian.

Longer hours and more demand can amplify the stress that has always been part of this difficult and important job. Nurses often feel stress related to caring for difficult patients, tough diagnoses, staff limitation, budget restrictions, overzealous oversight and interpersonal conflicts.

This stress can manifest itself through sleep trouble, depression, anxiety, irritability, low self-esteem, loss of compassion, uncharacteristic absenteeism, emotional exhaustion and burnout, where nurses often can no longer continue with their careers. Nurses rank among the highest of all careers when it comes to burnout and emotional fatigue, Medscape explained. There can also be secondary stress-related conditions such as obesity.

In addition to the emotional and mental stress that nursing can put on a person, it can take a toll on the human body. As NPR recently explained, nurses are hurting their backs even when they lift patients using proper techniques.

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Addressing stress head-on
Although nurses face a greater level of physical, mental and emotional stress than those in other careers, it doesn’t mean that every nurse will end up burnt out. Just like the skills your learn while earning your Master of Science in Nursing, there are ways that you can learn to cope with the stress that you should expect as a nurse.

One of the most successful ways that nurses can reduce stress and avoid its consequences is to take part in an integrated stress prevention program, according to Medscape. This type of program combines a person-focused stress management program, which can be helpful but generic, with an organization-focused SMP, which addresses the specific stressors of a hospital or facility.

An integrated program can help make nurses aware of the stresses in the environment, what cost they could have and how to avoid them. It also involves management by eliminating and addressing stressors. Often, stress consultants are used, Medscape noted. These types of programs give nurses resources to track and address stress head on before it evolves into a larger problem.

If you’re not interested in using an official program to address stress, NurseTogether suggested several more personal approaches. Building a support circle with fellow nurses can help you alleviate stress with people who actually understand what you’re going through. Writing and finding a medium to express your feelings, identifying your emotions, making time for rest and relaxation, and using spirituality can all be useful tools for coping with stress.

Additionally, NurseTogether recommended that nurses enhance their nursing skills to prevent stress at work. The better someone can do their job, the less stress they’ll feel about it.

This particularly applies to nurses in management positions, like many people who have master’s degrees in the field. Managers may face additional or different stress and should work on specific skills to address those. Managing nurses can also work to help their nurses face and identify stress together.

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