Being a nurse is a physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding occupation. Nurses struggle with unusually high stress levels, compared to many other common white-collar occupations. Work stress in nursing was first explored as early as the 1960s, when four key contributors to anxiety among nurses were delineated: patient care, making decisions, responsibility, and change. Working long hours and inconsistent shifts, nurses are particularly susceptible to work stress and burnout. It’s essentially an occupational hazard.
Nurses can help each other cope with the inevitable stress of our occupation. These tips can help you figure out how to aid your fellow nurses in reducing their overall stress levels, whether it’s through distributing workloads more evenly, or by sharing psychological mechanisms for coping with the adverse emotional states caused by stress.
Picking Up on Subtle Signs of Stress
In many cases, people who are super-stressed and burned out aren’t openly saying so, or giving off any obvious overt cues. As nurses, we often feel pressured to be everyone’s rock of stability. After all, we deal with patients who are coping with serious health issues, and our role is that of healers. But what happens when the healers need some healing themselves?
The fact is, occupational stress contributes to symptoms of mood disorders like major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. Even in people who are not prone to serious mood disorders, it’s still both physically and mentally damaging. Because most of us pick up on the emotional states of others, often through visual and other cues we’re not always completely aware of, one person’s stress can influence the stress levels of others.
The biggest warning signs of pathological levels of stress are generally behavioral. A person’s work patterns can change, and they may show up late or perform tasks less quickly than usual. Others can try to compensate by overworking themselves. The person’s demeanor can also change noticeably. They may seem irritable or may become increasingly withdrawn.
Helping Your Co-Workers Handle Stress
There are steps you can take to help other nurses on your team better deal with the occupational stress they’re experiencing.
Listen and be empathetic
People can benefit from talking about what they’re going through to someone else. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be everyone’s therapist. A lot of people, especially women, often feel the need to provide emotional support for those around them. This can become emotionally draining, and it’s okay to have boundaries. This is especially true if the person works beneath you. Getting too involved with your subordinates outside of work could open you up to liability. But at the same time, people appreciate being heard and understood.
Help them find the source of the problem
If you can help your coworker understand the source of their stress, you may be able to help them find solutions. It could be that their shift schedule is too irregular, and is taking its toll on their sleep schedule. It could also be that they feel like people around them aren’t carrying their fair share of the workload. Having too much to do is a common cause of occupational stress, as is interpersonal conflict.
Some of the most common source of work stress include:
- Too much to do. This can be a symptom of understaffing, which can happen in healthcare settings due to budget considerations. It’s possible that you might be able to help them offload some of their tasks to you or to another coworker, lessening their burden. It’s also possible that there’s a serious understaffing problem. This is particularly important in a healthcare setting, where understaffing could potentially interfere with the quality of patient care.
- Uncertainty. Sometimes lack of confidence or “imposter syndrome” is the reason for a person’s work stress. They may need some reassurance.
- Interpersonal conflict. Strain between coworkers is another key driver of workplace stress. If you’re distant from the situation, you may be able to offer valuable impartial advice for them.
Helping Your Coworkers Deal With Stress
Nurses are more stress-prone than workers in a variety of other occupations for several reasons. As a nurse, it’s important to help your coworkers cope with their everyday work stress. Being an active listener, being empathetic, and helping them find actionable solutions can do a world of good. Nursing will never be a stress-free job, but we can do what we can do help each other through it.