Nursing is a taxing profession that requires plenty of empathy and patience. There are times when disputes arrive or personalities conflict, that can lead to passive-aggressive behaviors. This is harmful to one's mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. If extreme enough, it can lead to substance abuse or violent behaviors that may result in job loss, legal repercussions affecting licensure, and worst of all, patient harm. As a fellow health care professional, I know how stressful our occupation can be, but please take time to de-stress and monitor your temper to prevent the toxic consequences that may follow from passive aggression.
What is Passive-Aggression?
The definition of passive aggression is “ …the unassertive expression of negative sentiments, feelings of anger, and resentfulness."1 It is like hiding upsetting feelings towards another individual with a smile, despite having inner feelings of displeasure. According to an article from Science Daily, "...losers were more aggressive than winners...Furthermore, the researchers also detected a correlation between aggression and levels of the stress hormone cortisol; the more aggressively a person behaved..."2 Basically, the article is explaining that the hormone cortisol is secreted when exhibiting truculent behaviors. Cortisol is a hormone that helps to regulate blood sugar, the immune system, appetite and it even affects the fight or flight response since adrenaline is commonly released with this hormone when under stress.3
The health effects caused by unresolved passive-aggressive behaviors are numerous. Constantly secreting the cortisol hormone when you are angry or irritated may have deleterious health effects like contributing to the development of Diabetes, abdominal obesity and Metabolic Syndrome.4,5 Even if one were to remain free from the physical health effects passive aggression, the bad feelings being harbored are enough to realize that it is not healthy. Mental health problems like mood swings and hostility that stem from passive aggressive behaviors can worsen if unresolved.
Positive Ways to Manage Passive-Aggression
Some mature and healthy ways to manage passive aggression (and stress in general) are to practice assertiveness, deep breathing, going for a walks when agitated and living a healthy life outside of work.6,7 This includes eating nutritious food, avoiding drugs, alcohol and tobacco products, avoiding unhealthy relationships, maintaining spirituality, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep. If all else fails, seek professional help. Contacting the supervisor about your concerns may be a solution and getting assistance from another professional source- like a psychiatrist for personal issues- is beneficial too.
If you encounter a patient or someone else who you notice signs of passive aggression in, kindly suggest that the individual seek professional help if he or she asks for assistance. If the person (s) is not a prodigious reader, you can offer practical reading material from resources like “kids health.org” or "stress management for dummies". As avid student nurses and professional nurses, I'm sure we all are aware that offering advice is a form of non-therapeutic communication. Only offer advice to those desiring so.
In conclusion, I want to reiterate the importance of monitoring for signs of passive aggression. Be sure to get a good handle on healthy ways to manage stress and hostility. After all, passive aggression associated with that younger, attractive, highly educated colleague nurse whom you interact with on a regular basis can harm you. That nurse may be oblivious to your concerns, therefore taking appropriate action is essential.
1. Diana Rodriguez and Lindsey Marcellin. Passive-Aggressive: What Does It Really Mean? Everyday Health Web site. Updated February 17, 2011. Accessed January 27, 2019.
2. Competitiveness, Aggression and Hormone Levels: How They Are Connected. Science Daily web site. Published August 15, 2017. Accessed January 27, 2019.
3. What Is Cortisol? Hormone Web site. Accessed January 27, 2019.
4. Paredes S, Ribeiro L. Cortisol: the villain in metabolic syndrome? Rev Assoc Med Bras (1992). 2014 Jan-Feb;60(1):84-92.
5. Dina Aronson. Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today's Dietician Magazine Web Published November 2009. Accessed January 27, 2019.
6. Mayoclinic Staff. Being Assertive: Reduce Stress, Communicate Better. Mayoclinic Web site. Published May 9, 2017. Accessed January 27, 2019.
7. Chronic Stress Puts Your Health At Risk. Mayoclinic Web site. Published April 21, 2016. Accessed January 27, 2019.
8. Mikail Duran. Image of Boy In Blue Shirt Sitting on A Dock. Unsplash Web site. Published April 6, 2018. Accessed January 27, 2019.