There are very few jobs out there quite as stressful as a nursing career. Long hours of working demanding, unforgiving shifts have led to nursing being considered higher stress than even practicing medicine as a doctor, and the stress gap grows when compared to professionals in other fields.
It is especially ironic that the same healthcare professionals who are entrusted with taking care of others are rarely given any time to take care of themselves. That said, what can be done to reduce this imbalance and ensure that medical professionals continue to operate at the high-performance levels demanded of them?
Cut Back on the Caffeine
The hours that many nurses can end up working are, to put it frankly, quite ludicrous. Multiple twelve-hour shifts a week, with back-to-back “doubles,” are not uncommon in this industry. Because of this, many turn to energy drinks and coffee to get through their days. However, caffeine does not actually help as much as we think and it can even be detrimental.
Sure, the initial buzz might feel great and perk you right up after consumption, but inevitably there is a crash and you end up right back where you started – stressed out and low on energy. Instead of copious amounts of taurine and niacin and other chemical compounds intended to artificially stimulate you, try a little bit of light snacking throughout your shift.
Believe it or not, even something as simple as chewing a stick of sugar-free gum can help refocus your brain and prop up those drooping eyelids. Rather than reaching for another can of soda or that triple-shot espresso during the mid-shift slump, try sipping on a bottle of water, as dehydration can also lead to feelings of exhaustion and weariness.
Sleep Well Every Night
You can’t improve a home without first building a solid foundation, and you can’t be expected to excel at nursing without plenty of sleep before starting your shift. While sleep is always important no matter what you do, for nurses with their wild and unpredictable schedules, it is particularly important that you set aside enough time to rest each day.
That said, you do want to make sure you are getting the right kind of sleep at night, without fluctuations or disturbances, which is where a cortisol test can come in handy. Knowing what your “stress hormone” levels are throughout the day and learning your circadian rhythm cycle will help you plan out the best night’s sleep possible.
The importance of getting ample REM sleep can’t be overstated. Once you are getting enough sleep, you’ll feel your stress levels start to drop dramatically and your anxiety also start to go down. In turn, you’ll be able to pass on a better quality of care to those patients who are in your ward, allowing you to be a better nurse overall.
Set Reasonable Boundaries
You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Save one life and you’re a hero. Save a hundred lives, and you’re a nurse.” It’s no secret that the expectations placed upon nurses are some of the highest in any field, and unfortunately with those demands come ripe opportunities for people to try walking over you or abusing your professionalism to their advantage.
If the education requirements, excessive hours, crisis management skills, and attention to detail expectations weren’t enough, sometimes you may have to deal with bullying and harassment at work. You might face unfair comments about your work ethic, physique, or other obligations – on top of the already heavy load of duty that is expected from a nurse.
Many of us feel like not performing at least 110% every day would just cause more stress as work piles up and goals are not met. However, it is vital that you know your limits and stay within them to reduce your stress to avoid exhaustion and burnout. You are, after all, only human. Putting yourself first is not selfish, and it can actually help improve your work performance.
If this means calling out when sick, refusing to pick up a swing shift because you already have plans, or just refusing to talk about work issues and assignments while on your break, don’t be afraid to do so. As a nurse, it is important that you set your own reasonable standards and not relent on them. Your wellbeing, as well as the care you give your patients, depends upon it.
Remember That Self-Care Is Care
At the heart of nursing is the desire to care. How ironic is it then, that people who spend all day treating others, rarely remember to treat themselves with that same kindness and compassion? The nursing field is one that is centered around altruism, and nurses are often the main point of contact between patients and doctors. Yet, many nurses tend to be unrelenting with themselves.
Because of this, you need to take time for yourself. Whether it is a pamper day at your favorite local spa, finally following up on that doctor’s visit you’ve been putting off all year, or possibly even splurging on a two-week cruise (and throwing your work phone into the ocean before you depart!), make sure that at least some of the time, you’re putting your own needs and wants first.
Making Yourself a Priority
Taking time for yourself will not just help deal with immediate stress, but also help you set up a system to deal with future stress. Exploring local gyms and talking with meal planners won’t just help with today’s health goals, but will help you discover what actually works and what doesn’t contribute to your well-being, allowing you to drop stressful, pointless activities from your day.
Be the beacon of health and stress management that others look up to, rather than a flickering candle of exhaustion and burnout. You sacrifice a lot to do what you do, but that doesn’t mean that you should let stress rule your life. Yes, nursing is always going to be stressful, but exactly how stressful is ultimately up to you.