Everybody experiences workplace stress at one point in their life, but some careers generate more acute stress than others. Nurses have to deal with long working hours, multiple patients, high-pressure environments and, sometimes, genuine life-or-death circumstances. These workplace stressors can accumulate and cause nurses to take physical and psychological strain, resulting in what is commonly referred to as burnout. Burnout can prevent a nurse from performing their duties properly, and frequently leads to breakdowns in personal and professional life. To help our nurses avoid burnout and keep their physical and mental health in top condition, Adevia Health has curated a list of five effective tips for stress relief.
Tip 1: take a moment to breathe
It sounds extremely silly to tell an overworked nurse just to “take a breath”, but using targeted breathing practices has been proven to effectively reduce the physical symptoms of stress. When our bodies are stressed, our breathing rate goes up and our decision-making abilities are impaired. In work environments which require you to make critical decisions with speed and precision, this can be a big problem. Implementing a few minutes of conscious breathing into your workday can regulate your stress levels and clear your mind. For maximum benefit, we recommend using these techniques before you put on your PPE. Here are some breathing techniques that you can explore:
- 4-7-8 technique: breathe in through your nose while counting up to four, hold your breath for seven seconds, and then breathe out for another eight seconds. Repeat this sequence four times.
- Belly breathing: this is a breathing technique commonly used in yoga. Place your left hand over your heart and your right hand on your belly. Inhale through your nose, feeling your belly rise beneath your right hand while the hand over your chest stays still. Exhale through your mouth, feeling your belly move back down. Repeat until your heart rate has slowed down.
- Modified lion’s breath: breathe in normally through the nose and exhale through a wide open mouth, making a long “ha” sound with your breath (not your voice) as if you were a lion roaring in the savannah.
- Progressive muscle relaxation: this technique works by tensing up your entire body one muscle group at a time, and then releasing that tension in the same order. You might begin with tensing the muscles in your toes, calves, hamstrings, lower back…all the way up to the muscles in your face! Be sure to relax those muscles in the same order that you began tensing them up in. Breathe deeply through your nose and out your mouth throughout this process. This relaxation technique is especially useful to help you get to sleep, as it is best done when you are lying down.
- Guided meditation: this kind of meditation involves visualizing images or situations, coupled with deep breathing, which help you to relax. It is led by a meditation guide or teacher. While meditation teachers are not always easy to find in real life, there are many free and accessible guided meditations available on YouTube.
Tip 2: find an exercise routine which works for you
As healthcare professionals, nurses are well aware of the physical toll that stress can have on the body. High blood pressure, a compromised immune system, daytime fatigue, and poor cardiovascular health are all serious side-effects of stress. Fortunately, regular exercise is extremely effective in preventing these side-effects as well as relieving the psychological side-effects of stress. As a nurse, however, it can be extremely challenging to find time in your schedule for regular exercise. We recommend aiming for short, half-hour long exercise routines which can be easily accomplished before or after work.
- Walk to or from work: if you struggle to make time in your day for cardiovascular exercise, consider making it a part of your commute. If you can walk, cycle, or jog to work, do that instead of driving or taking public transport.
- Find free yoga classes on the internet: YouTubers like YogaWithAdriene post 15-20 minute long yoga classes which are free, and can often be done in the break room or even at your desk at work. Taking a small amount of time to stretch properly can relieve tension and prevent injury, especially for nurses who are literally on their feet all day.
- High-intensity interval training: high-intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) can be accomplished in less than half an hour, and has been proven to be extremely effective at raising fitness levels fast. Find free HIIT workouts on YouTube (see fitness instructors Chloe Ting and Blogilates) to do just before or after a shift.
Tip 3: take time to rest
You are already probably resting on your days off of work by catching up on some much-needed sleep – but rest is so much more than that! You can take restful breaks at work by taking three or four very short breaks between patients. When you have the opportunity, go outside to catch some fresh air and sunshine for two minutes before heading back into work. Take your lunch break to ensure that you are eating a well-balanced meal and drinking plenty of water. On your days off, be sure to get enough sleep, and also make sure that you are actively taking care of yourself in other ways. Take this time to exercise, to share a meal with a loved one, to practise a skill that you only do outside of work (like gardening or sewing). To maintain a healthy work/life balance, turn off your phone and put it away so that you are not drawn back into your work environment when you are supposed to be taking time off.
Tip 4: be mindful of what you are eating
When you are working a busy shift, it can be rare for nurses to be able to eat at all, let alone to eat healthily. Still, there are choices that you can make to manage your health as a nurse. When we are stressed, we naturally reach for food and drinks which we think are going to make us feel better – that’s completely understandable, and they’re fine in moderation. Still, when you consume too much alcohol, sugar, or caffeine, it can land up increasing the symptoms of physical stress in the body (like an increased heart rate and issues with falling or staying asleep). It helps a lot to bring your own meals and snacks with you to work. This will prevent you from buying something high in sugar and caffeine from a vendor every time you are hungry.
Tip 5: therapy
Therapy can be time-consuming and expensive, but it can also be extremely effective. We recommend it if you are feeling overwhelmed at work, and especially when other stress management techniques are not working for you. There are a few different kinds of therapy that you can engage in to help manage stress:
- Cognitive behaviour therapy: CBT is designed to assist in giving patients a fresh perspective on the thinking patterns which bring them stress and unhappiness, as well as a chance to re-work these patterns through talk therapy.
- Group therapy: group therapy often has the benefit of being cheaper than one-on-one therapy. These sessions are guided by a therapist who facilitates a discussion between a group of people who are in similar situations.
- Behaviour therapy: in this type of therapy, stressful situations are recreated by the therapist so that the patient can practice coping techniques in private.
We hope that these tips will prove helpful in managing workplace stress for our valued nurses. Stress is a part of nursing life – it’s not easy dealing with serious illness and mortality all day – so it’s very important to learn effective ways of managing tension before it affects our personal and professional lives.