Sure, nurses get burned out. But experts (in and out of the field) agree: You don’t have to let stress harm your health, ruin relationships or crash the career you love. When you’re at the end of your rope, here are eight tips on how to cope.
1. Write it off
Keeping a journal can take some of the weight off your shoulders. In a recent study, Linda Sliwoski, an oncology nurse in Rochester, N.Y., and coauthor of My Healing Companion: A Journal for the Healthcare Provider, found that after a six-week journaling course, nurses showed a substantial reduction in compassion fatigue and stress. “Just put pen to paper 15 minutes a day, three times a week. And don’t just write about the bad things—writing about the good in your life can help, too.”
2. Kick up your feet
To ease the wear and tear on your lower body and reduce your overall stress level, lie on the floor at home and extend your legs up the wall or over a chair. Stay put for a half hour if you can—read your mail, talk on the phone, watch TV, anything you would normally do sitting on the sofa.
3. Use good scents
When you get home, try a drop of lavender or clary sage on the inside of your forearm—it may help you calm down. A 2005 study conducted at Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, showed that 57 percent of nurses reported a decrease in stress after applying fragrant oils.
4. Try talk therapy
Borrow a page from nurses in Minnesota who get together for monthly talks. Marie Manthey, RN, an adjunct faculty member at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, founded the salon as a place for nurses to talk confidentially about everything from administrators’ foibles to patients who have died.
5. Get some shoeless mojo
Instead of bottling up the day’s aggravations, nurse Siobhan Frost works them out in an NIA class (nianow.com). Taught around the country, it combines martial arts, dance, yoga and healing modalities. Mostly, though, it’s about moving to music barefoot and expressing yourself.
6. Create liberating lists
It may sound sophomoric, but lists can be lifesavers. You won’t wonder what you forgot, and better yet, you’ll feel great crossing off things throughout the day.
7. Draw the line
Create an actual line of demarcation where you slip out of work mode and into home mode. Set a point that’s on your way home where you stop thinking about work. When you reach it, slip in a CD or turn on the radio to mark the separation. Do the same thing in reverse: If stress at home is taking its toll, use the same line on your way to work.
8. Hypnotize yourself
A quick self-hypnosis exercise can help calm you and clear your mind. Simply take a deep breath through your nose and, as you release it slowly from your mouth, close your eyes and count 1, 2, 3. As you hit 3, feel your body relax. Then repeat to yourself four times: I am relaxed and in control of my life. Try it during a bathroom break at work or just before you get out of the car at home.