The #1 stressful thing about being a nurse

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So, we all know there are a million things that ‘stress’ us out during our shifts. Do I really need to list them? Here are just a few that come to mind:


Causes of Stress

  • Inadequate staffing
  • Nurse-to-staff ratio overload (does the word unsafe come to mind)
  • Lack of teamwork
  • Lack of effective and fair management
  • Coworker strain
  • Paperwork
  • Endless charting – repeating information on multiple forms
  • Miscommunication or the lack of communication
  • Census overload and strain (revolving door of admissions and discharges)
  • No time to even use the bathroom

Seriously, this list is endless. I believe some of it is just part of the job and is ultimately our innate responsibility we have to accept. While others are things that just do not make for a pleasant shift. With all the ga-zillion things that can and do increase the stress level at work, what do you think is the #1 stressful thing about being a nurse?

What is the one thing we nurses pride ourselves on? Or better yet, what is the one characteristic of all nurses that is virtually required to survive and succeed in this profession?


We nurses need to be in control of the didactic (no matter what that is). When we lose that control our stress level skyrockets. We will frantically change the game and do everything possible to get that control back.

For instance, when the revolving door of admissions and discharges hits,  that ‘illusion’ of control goes out the door (so to speak). We will scurry around the unit prepping and intervening to make sure we gain some sense of control so that we can complete our day.

How much control do you think we attain when staffing is short?

It’s all about that time management thing we all love to hate. When we lose ‘control’ of time. I think that’s the key. If we can stay on top of and maintain some sense of control over our time and how it is used we can trudge through the rest. I mean we all know we start and end our day behind the 8-ball no matter how perfect the shift goes. Chasing our tail is not fun.

Maybe it’s just me, but even if I have the ‘illusion’ of being in control it reduces my stress level greatly.There ya go. Maybe I just need to start ‘believing’ that I’m in control? Although I just don’t think that will be enough sometimes.

Anyone else? What do you think is the #1 stressful thing about being a nurse? What trumps the loss of control in your opinion?

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22 Responses to The #1 stressful thing about being a nurse

  1. Debi

    Charge nurses that only want to do paperwork, and not help out on the floor during crunch times.

    • Sean Dent

      @ Debi yes, teamwork is a key ingredient we all need.

  2. Robert W

    fear is most stressful. The fear that if ANYTHING goes astray, be it real or perceived, the nursing board can be notified and I’m screwed. I’ve seen it happen. Nurses don’t have the AMA or an equivalent to get their back. We are COMPLETELY on our own.

    • Sean Dent

      @ Robert I can’t say I ever thought of it that way. Having the support we need is always important.

    • jjocelyn44

      You are right Robert, Patients who think they are at the Hilton, demanding family members who also think the nurse is there servant, and know if they complain administration will reprimand the nurse. We are never fast enough for there demands or don’t satisfy there demands!

  3. Barb Walster

    I always said I like it to be busy but not chaotic. You defined it so clearly. Chaos is loss of control.

    • Sean Dent

      @ Barb yes, I like ‘controlled’ chaos if at all possible.

  4. John

    Im a new grad……EVERYTHING is stressful!!!!

  5. You are right on the money!

  6. You are right on the money!

  7. TruHart

    @Robert: the true question is why DON’T we have a nurses version of the AMA to have our backs?! We do most of the work, we need the support!

  8. I think communication is “KEY” in lowering the stress load at work. If you don’t have good communication with co-workers it’s like being a ship without a sail.–no direction. And if you can’t communicate with your co-workers or even your boss, there’s a big problem. Then it’s time for communication class 101! I always ask questions or feedback if i’m unclear about anything (without feeling quilty) Acting as if you are “at peace with the world” and being positive helps too. And don’t be afraid to ask for help–remember, it’s everyones job! The Lord says–“don’t run faster than you’re able”.

    • Sean Dent

      @ Janice all wonderful tips that couldn’t be more true. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Your name

    We don’t have AMA equivalent because we are mostlt women and AMA is mostly men.

  10. As a Nursing Supervisor and a Humanistic Psychologist, on more times than I can count, I went against policy to help ‘my nurses” deal with the stress they are under. The expectations are beyond human capability. The attitude that you are being lazy or just deal with it, often from adminstration is unrealistic. What happened to caring, compassion, empathy, kindness to our own employees, nurses and aides from administration? Corporate mentality and nursing jobs do not mix. If floor (bedside) nurses felt supported by their managers, supervisors and Directors of Nursing (Nurse Executives), they would be happier. Stop the bullying as well!

  11. jacintaw

    This is my first year of being a nurse. So far I have been on Medical floor for 3 months, Cardiovascular unit for 1.5 months, and currently on progressive care Unit. I gained lot of good experience form all. I think that the most stressful time is patient/nurse ratio.

    • Sean Dent

      @Jacintaw I don’t think anyone would argue with your statement.

  12. AmandaRoseAdams

    I <3 nurses. One of my all time favorite nurses posted this on FB and I just wanted to say, THANK YOU for enduring the stress. My little boy has survived twelve heart surgeries and three near-death experiences and without nurses he wouldn't have survived the first. Without a very specific nurse, he wouldn't have survived the last. We are beyond blessed and we know it. Your profession is a huge part of it.

    Nurses are awesome and more important than the general public knows – until the general public becomes the knowing few whose lives are saved and made better by nurses. Thank you. You are amazing.

    <3 Amanda Rose Adams <3 author of Heart Warriors, A Family Faces Congenital Heart Disease

  13. Exquise

    I agree with the sources of stress. Also, Charges Nurses can do so much to help the staff. Sometimes, we are out of ration, it wouldn’t hurt for the Charge Nurse to take a patient. But some of them prefer to sit at the desk, gossiping with the house Supervisor. I do Charge Nurse and never the staff complain of the lack of help that I provide. I make sure, the patient ratio is respected and will take 1 or 2 patients if comes to it! By doing that, it prevent the staff to be exhausted, to do overtime and mostly to call sick the next day because they were exhausted.

  14. tedthetower080

    Probably one of the most stressful things about being a nurse is the fact that a lot of times there is so much to do, not enough hours in the shift to get it all done. A lot of times at the end of the day, you still feel inadequate like you are not doing enough, you are a failure, and you can’t manage your time when you know you are doing all you can. To make matters worse, even when you do give your all and best, you still have to worry about your managers busting your balls over why this and that was not done when you’ve had enough problems to deal with already.