5 Tips to Handle Stressful Times as a Nurse

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    We already know that caring for patients comes with a tremendous amount of stress. Nurses are regularly charged to be the calm face in the room with patients, family members, and even doctors. Who among us hasn’t had to remain steady and focused when faced with a daunting task or emergency event that would cause a non-nurse to curl up in a ball on the floor?

    5 Tips to Handle Stressful Times as a Nurse

    We already know that caring for patients comes with a tremendous amount of stress.

    Nurses are regularly charged to be the calm face in the room with patients, family members, and even doctors. Who among us hasn't had to remain steady and focused when faced with a daunting task or emergency event that would cause a non-nurse to curl up in a ball on the floor?

    So how do nurses remain that tower of strength in stressful situations? Is it built-up callousness because we've seen so much? Perhaps for some, but others may use something deeper, more meaningful so patients and family members feel they can put their faith in the nursing staff -- the staff who remain so strong when others feel their worlds crumbling down around them.

    From my own experience and that of nurse friends and colleagues, I've pulled together a list of tips and techniques for nurses to use in those moments where high anxiety may threaten our resolve, but where we must keep ourselves together.

    Call on your spirituality

    One of the strongest tools, no matter our belief system, is our spirituality. This belief that there is a force bigger than ourselves that connects us to our fellow humans can help us lower our stress levels in moments of great crisis in nursing. Our spirituality gives us hope, which we can then pass on to patients and family members through calming words and presence.


    Keep a talisman in your pocket

    One of my nurse friends had a "worry stone", a polished stone with a slight groove in the middle of it, that she holds in her hand when she has to have a difficult talk with a patient or family member. She says the cool, smooth surface of the stone helps ground her and no one ever sees how nervous she may be.


    Use essential oils


    In one Planetree Hospital where a nurse colleague works, the nurses use a few drops of lavender essential oil on cotton balls placed around the room instead of always using Ativan to calm patients. The same can work for nurses with a few drops of lavender on the inside of a scrub top or on a cotton ball pinned to the inside of the scrub. Body heat will naturally carry the scent upward. Any essential oil with a pleasing scent that calms can be used discreetly. There are also beautiful aromatherapy necklaces, bracelets and earrings that allow the scent to rise, but not mushroom around you so others will not inhale the fumes.


    Build your support team


    Have you ever worked with a fellow nurse who appeared not to have one friend on the nursing team? That's a tough way to practice nursing. Your support team will not only step in to help you with a patient when needed, but also be there to build you up and stay strong during stressful times. A cardiac care nurse I know says she thanks the heavens for her team when there is a code blue because she's nervous every time. She knows she can lock eyes with one of her nurse friends on the unit enabling her to keep herself together and focused during the code. Knowing which people are going to have your back, not simply to assist with tasks, but also give you that emotional support when needed, gives nurses a sense of security in knowing they are not alone.


    Focus on the joy and privilege of nursing


    This isn't always easy, especially when nurses are in an active code, in the middle of a surgery that's not going well, or in any other life and death situation, but focusing on the amazing privilege we have to affect someone's life... to touch so many lives in a meaningful and deep way, can help us call upon that part of us that patients and families look up to for help. Not everyone can do what we do. Not everyone has the dedication to learn ALL that we must learn AND keep learning in order to care for patients. Not everyone has the resolve to keep caring, day after day, year after year. But we have that. We have those incredible gifts. And they are not small gifts. Sometimes knowing how much we are needed and that we have these things to share with our fellow human beings that could change their world helps us build our own resolve in this incredibly stressful and rewarding career.



    Let's hear from you! What would you add to the list above? What's one thing you can share with everyone reading, as another tip for dealing with stressful situations? Leave your comment below, and as always, thanks for reading!
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 14, '18
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    11 Comments

  3. by   kclady
    But seriously: Keep notes so nothing is forgotten, shun workplaces that have a toxic environment or where you would be given such heavy assignments that it's unsafe, set limits on your boss calling you at home when you're off duty, prioritize patient care by giving the patients with the most emergent situations your attention first, delegate, delegate, delegate.
  4. by   roboblazer
    Can you please give some examples of delegating during your shift? I am a one year nurse and and doing my best to delegate on a general surgery med surg. floor. Thank you!
  5. by   Xmarishka
    If you all delegate who is going to work?! How about to work at work?
  6. by   Knotanoonurse
    Nursing in terms of caring for patients is stressful. I signed up for it and I can handle it. Same thing in jobs I have had away from the bedside, I can perform the job under stress. I expect stress.

    What I find hard to tolerate is gossiping and two faced coworkers and managers. This causes me more stress than a patient or family member acting out.

    I had a job I loved, but left because it was Peyton Place! The patients were great. The location was close. Most of my coworkers were awesome. A new manager came onboard and brought a little posse of her own... Gossiping and running to her about every little thing. You would go into her office and she would ask what is the latest gossip on the unit.

    At another facility where I worked a little clique would sit across from each other texting comments about whomever just walked in! This kind of thing is ridiculous. It impacts morale and patient safety. People do not concentrate on work and select who they will and won't help.

    I have ave also been spoiled to have had some awesome helpful cohesive coworkers. Having experienced great work groups, it makes the bad ones seem worse!
  7. by   thelmaM
    Use the "mindfulness" technique
  8. by   kclady
    Thank you for your question. I have been thinking of examples and jotting them down, but have also been busy getting ready for the holiday, so don't have the response quite ready yet. Will try to nget it posted tomorrow evening : )
  9. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from kclady
    But seriously: Keep notes so nothing is forgotten, shun workplaces that have a toxic environment or where you would be given such heavy assignments that it's unsafe, set limits on your boss calling you at home when you're off duty, prioritize patient care by giving the patients with the most emergent situations your attention first, delegate, delegate, delegate.
    Awesome additional strategies, thank you for sharing!
  10. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from thelmaM
    Use the "mindfulness" technique
    Great one, I love this technique!
  11. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from Knotanoonurse
    Nursing in terms of caring for patients is stressful. I signed up for it and I can handle it. Same thing in jobs I have had away from the bedside, I can perform the job under stress. I expect stress.

    What I find hard to tolerate is gossiping and two faced coworkers and managers. This causes me more stress than a patient or family member acting out.

    I had a job I loved, but left because it was Peyton Place! The patients were great. The location was close. Most of my coworkers were awesome. A new manager came onboard and brought a little posse of her own... Gossiping and running to her about every little thing. You would go into her office and she would ask what is the latest gossip on the unit.

    At another facility where I worked a little clique would sit across from each other texting comments about whomever just walked in! This kind of thing is ridiculous. It impacts morale and patient safety. People do not concentrate on work and select who they will and won't help.

    I have ave also been spoiled to have had some awesome helpful cohesive coworkers. Having experienced great work groups, it makes the bad ones seem worse!
    I totally agree. These are great points. Work is work and there will be stress. Although, it should not be so stressful that it is unbearable.

    And good to hear that you have experienced both the pros and cons when it comes to coworkers. These experiences will help you as you relate to others in the workplace. And also help you know where you do not want to work and why!!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Appreciate it!
  12. by   ElizabethScala1
    Quote from roboblazer
    Can you please give some examples of delegating during your shift? I am a one year nurse and and doing my best to delegate on a general surgery med surg. floor. Thank you!
    Great question. So, you can delegate what is appropriate to unlicensed professional staff. For example, asking them to help a patient get out of bed. Or taking a blood pressure reading. It does depend on where you work and what people are able to do in their scope of practice. I would check with your nurse educator, nurse manager, or preceptor for examples of specific delegation in your practice area.
  13. by   Rchr64
    I didn't see "go to the bathroom and cry" lol

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