Mental RX for Nurses


Nursing is a demanding, stressful profession. Developing coping skills to minimize stress is the key to not just surviving but thriving in a high-stakes environment. 

Specializes in Psychiatry. Has 12 years experience.

Five Quick Ways to Improve Your Mood Today

Mental RX for Nurses

Nursing is a demanding, stressful profession and one that is not relatable unless a person has experience in the field.  The work can be sad and draining. The cultural environment of a hospital breeds negativity and complaints. The COVID pandemic has only increased the uncertain intensity of the atmosphere. Long-term stress has been well researched for its deleterious effects on the body. Developing coping skills to minimize stress is the key to not just surviving but thriving in a high-stakes environment.  Nurses are already overloaded with work and home commitments how can they possibly squeeze in one more thing?

Consider Five Quick Ways That One Can Relieve Stress Throughout the Day

1- Laughter is the Best Medicine: Turn Off the News

The 24-hour news cycle is full of negative stories. A continued diet of sensationalized news stories can depress the best of us. Instead, tune in to a fun show. Perhaps some episodes of Frazier or Seinfeld or a  Romantic comedy. View anything funny or lighthearted.   Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University led a research study to determine laughter's effect on the body.  His research concluded that uncontrollable laughter released endorphins into the body generating mild euphoria and also dulling pain.

2- B-R-E-A-T-H-E

Breathe? Sounds intuitive.  We teach our patients to slow down and breathe through pain, panic, joy, and sorrow.  The reality is busy nurses are stressed and overwhelmed during the day.  Stressed breathing is generally shallow breathing (defined as short, small breaths).  A Yale University study on the effects of breathing on our emotions revealed how various forms of breathing trigger different emotions.  Therefore, it is no longer just a trite phrase. Changing how we breathe will change how we feel.   For instance, when we feel joy, our breathing will be regular, deep, and slow. During anxious or angry times, breathing will be irregular, short, fast, and shallow. Hence, changing the rhythm of your breath can signal calm to your body, slowing your heart rate and stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system.  If you have trouble centering yourself at work enough to slow down and take those breaths; try adding a drop of essential oil that you find pleasing and breathe it in for a few breaths.  In a few short minutes, you will feel better.

3- Gratitude

It sounds hokey, but it works. A recently completed study by Glenn Fox at USC, department of neuroscience, proved a credible link between gratitude and its effects on our physical and mental health.  Mentally, gratitude affects the brain tied to "social bonding, reward and stress relief."  Physically, the study revealed that gratitude boosts health benefits such as improved sleep, increased generosity, and less depression. So make a daily habit of reciting or writing five things you are grateful for each day. 

4- Take a Walk

Should you happen to find yourself lucky enough to get a lunch on a certain day, don’t waste it in the employee lunchroom.  Take a walk outside around the building. This can be very calming, good for your cardiovascular health and will give you a short mental break.  This simple act can improve your mood. 

5- Chew a Stick of Gum

Believe it or not, chewing gum has been proven to be a stress reliever. A 2012 study carried out at Cardiff University proved that the simple act of chewing gum lowered stress both at work and outside of work. Other positive effects were reduced: depression, fatigue and anxiety.  The reason for the powerful effect on one’s mood is thought to stem from the increased blood flow to your brain from the act of chewing gum.

Even the busiest nursing professionals can find the time to incorporate one of these suggestions into their days.  So step away from negative coworkers or those that like to focus on the negative.  Instead, try to incorporate one of these simple ways to bring laughter, gratitude, and calm to the day.


Anxiety Often Causes Shallow Breathing

Study reveals laughter really is the best medicine

Practicing gratitude can have profound health benefits, USC experts say

Research: Why Breathing Is So Effective at Reducing Stress

Chewing gum, occupational stress, work performance and wellbeing. An intervention study

Michelle McBride is a healthcare content writer and journalist residing in Cincinnati, OH. Her work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner coupled with her Masters level education in marketing, provides a unique set of skills, rarely found. Working with Michelle is a breeze as she is clinically proficient while speaking your language of deadlines, fast revisions, and collaborative teamwork. Michelle’s primary goal is to make healthcare information relatable and useful to the reader, while catering to the very real business needs of the publisher. She dreams of days at the beach and delights in her grandchildren.

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6 Comment(s)

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 28 years experience.

Or do as I did, get out of nursing!


Specializes in Psychiatry. Has 12 years experience.

Thank you for your reply! I applaud you for following your inner voice. Of course we need nurses, fire people, police officers in society; but if your heart was telling you that your talents were going in another direction; then it was good you recognized that.  Too often people don't follow their inner voice which leads to unhappiness.  Good Luck to you!  

Emergent, RN

Specializes in ER. Has 28 years experience.

My inner voice became an anguished cry; it was impossible to ignore. 

Elizabeth Hanes, BSN, RN

Specializes in Freelance Writer, 'the nurse who knows content'. Has 13 years experience.

I love these easy, practical tips for mental health self-care. I get tired of reading self-care articles that make me feel overburdened with yet one more thing to do. LOL  But "breathe"? I definitely can remember to do that! Thank you!

brandy1017, ASN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

On 11/13/2021 at 8:00 PM, Emergent said:

My inner voice became an anguished cry; it was impossible to ignore. 

I wish you peace and joy in your new life.  Early retirement has been wonderful for my physical and mental health, but especially cut my toxic stress from 100% to basically zero.  Also having more time to spend with my pet Buster, every day is a good day now!

brandy1017, ASN, RN

Specializes in Critical Care.

On 11/12/2021 at 8:05 PM, Emergent said:

Or do as I did, get out of nursing!

I wanted to tell you I too have trouble with masks.  The simple masks I can tolerate, but the TB masks I feel like I'm suffocating.  I have always felt that way, maybe because I have asthma.  Before covid I just suffered with it as I only occasionally had to wear a TB mask for a r/o TB patient.  But when covid hit I was also dealing with an asthma flare up and I knew there was no way I could wear the TB masks. 

The first weekend they had a r/o covid patient and and my coworker had them.  I felt I should volunteer as she had kids, but my breathing was bad already at the time.  In the end I was glad I didn't have the patient because they crashed and there were no beds in the ICU so she literally was in the room with the patient for several hours it took to stabilize the patient.  I knew there was no way I could have managed hours in a room with a TB mask.  In the end the patient was OK and didn't have covid. 

Afterwards I went to employee health to get permission to use the PAPR.  I could hear them in the back complaining about all the nurses asking for PAPRS.  They were not friendly, but after I filled out my medical hx re asthma and all the meds I took for it, they approved me.  But they only gave me a hood, not the actual machine.  I would have to ask for it from central supply if needed.  Not being given the machine was anxiety provoking as well, wondering if it would actually be there when I needed it.  Ironically it took two nurses being hospitalized with covid before they brought out the PAPRS from the basement for the nurses to wear!  But RT had been given PAPRS from the very beginning.

In the end they decided if you were 55 and had lung problems you didn't work the covid floor so I never had to use it.  But I was still exposed to covid patients as they didn't test everyone and got sick again after taking care of two unknown covid patients, one on a bipap, that didn't speak english and couldn't use the urinal without help.  At the same time there was a code of a patient that turned out to have covid and a dozen staff were exposed.  After that they mandated a TB mask for bipaps and codes etc and I knew I couldn't do that.  I would have had to go to the covid wing to find a actual PAPR machine for my hood and I felt that was not going to work well.  I could breathe fine in a PAPR but it is hard to hear patients with the oxygen machine blowing and it just didn't seem practical to have to run to the covid wing.  It wasn't the main reason I quit, but it certainly was an influencing factor.

I know you have said you have claustrophobia from the masks, but I wonder if it is also from simply feeling suffocated wearing the TB masks.  The ER staff were wearing them for the whole 12 hour shift.  I have no idea how they were able to do that and still breathe.  To me it is like breathing through a straw.  In the beginning they were reusing the paper TB masks for days and even having them sterilized and reused!  Ugh, gross!  Toward the end of 2020 they finally purchased the plastic ones that are used in construction etc.  I'm sure they weren't comfortable, but probably more reliable than the paper TB masks that were reused.