Warning Nurses! Holding It All In Can Kill You!

Have you ever wondered what the stress of nursing is doing to you? Nurses Stress 101 Article

Warning Nurses!  Holding It All In Can Kill You!

We know that stress causes cortisol levels to rise which raise our blood pressure, raise our blood sugar levels, increase our lipids, etc. Blah, Blah, Blah. The point of this article is not to teach you something you already learned in pathophysiology class.

We know that high stress levels can cause weight gain and we know that obesity complicates every disease there is. Obesity has been linked to higher cases of breast cancer, etc. As nurses, we KNOW all this stuff.

Let's not go there right now. Instead the message of this article is to talk about the emotional price of high nursing-related stress in your life. Nursing stress is so unique. It's practically impossible to explain to non-nurses...that's for sure!

How do you explain what it feels like to have your pager go off for two different patients at the same time? One is in severe pain and one is throwing up. Add to that scenario "a transport tech" arriving on the floor asking if your pre-surgical patient is ready to go to surgery because the anesthesiologist and surgeon are waiting downstairs. Yikes! You didn't get the checklist done yet! Multiply that scenario several times an hour for 12+ hours at a time and you've got nursing stress.

Nursing stress mounts so quickly that it leaves you speechless with friends and family. The thought of describing what you go through during your work day becomes so exhausting that you just don't do it. You don't tell your friends. You don't tell your family. You may find yourself becoming emotionally shut down to a certain extent because you start to hold stuff in.

Have you ever wondered, "Am I depressed and I don't even know it?" You may find the answer to that question by examining what you do on your days off. After a brutally stressful day at work, it is not uncommon to hear a nurse describe her day off like this, "All morning, I could still hear my pager going off and the monitors too. I stayed in my pajamas until the afternoon. All I had energy to do was zone out on TV and eat."

It's a matter of life and death to find healthy outlets for the nursing stress in your life!

When the thought of picking up the phone and talking to a dear trusted friend to "relieve some pressure" becomes too much for you to handle, there may be a problem. Perhaps you used to refer to it as a "mental health" day, but when all your days off look like this, there may be a problem.

In general, isolation (not talking, stuffing with food, not socializing) can be warning signs of too much nursing stress in your life. Beware of "shut down" mode.

Conscious separation is a problem. Conscious unity is an answer.

Here are some of the things that can work to combat nursing stress:

  1. Talk about it. Talk to your fellow nurses, your charge nurse, your department director, your friends, your family, your mentors. If you don't want to talk about details, at least talk about your feelings and what you plan on doing to change your circumstances.
  2. Utilize mentors in your life. (spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, entrepreneurial)
  3. Walk/hike with your spouse or friend regularly each week.
  4. Participate in groups with similar interests as your. (Don't just attend. Talk!) The power of a group cannot be underestimated.
  5. Take advantage of nutritional vitamins and supplements.
  6. Eat healthy snacks (remember low carbs/high fiber/high protein).
  7. Watch your sugar intake (there are alternatives to high sugar coffee drinks!).
  8. Blog on different subjects.
  9. Join Online Nursing Forums and participate.
  10. Write and journal.
  11. Share your writing and journaling with people you trust.
  12. Go on a 30 day Mental Cleanse (be extremely selective with what you "take in" mentally).

A very wise woman once gave a speech to a group. She said that she had come to a turning point in her life and wanted to make a change. The single most important thing she did to change her life around was this: She started to "LIVE OUTLOUD". She ended her silence.

Nurses, if you do nothing else, start living outloud!


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Specializes in Family-Centered Care Nursing.

This makes me feel better when I write with solutions...

Thank you,

violet888 :redbeathe

Fantastic article on a needed subject! Thanks so much!

Specializes in Mixed Level-1 ICU.

Thank you for your thoughts.

But I feel compelled to respond

You only suggest being reactive to the these unyielding stressors. And, yes, we need to process our lives and anxieties.

But that does nothing to help the nurse reduce or control her environment. And without changes she condemns herself, and those who follow her, to the same incredible stress.

A few concrete and courageous suggestions to take some control:

Take Your Breaks

If your unit always seems to be in "emergency" mode, and sacrificing breaks and lunches is the only way for you and your coworkers to keep from drowning is a sea of work, your system may be broken.Skipping breaks and lunches affects patient care, condemns new nurses to the same unhealthy pressures and results in incredible stress.

Take a stand and let them know things need to change!

Let it Ring

Nursing units are usually the communications interface between you and the rest of the world.

Consequently, phones ring constantly. If you're free answer the phone. You'll get no gold stars for answering 47 phone calls during your shift. If you're involved with your patient, let it ring.

When You're Sick, You're Sick

There is nothing noble or satisfying about working while sick. Yet, many nurses feel guilty about staying home knowing their coworkers may have to share the extra load.

Remember, nurses arenot responsible for implementing rational staffing policies.

Stay home, get better.

Never Rush

Some errors occur because of carelessness, but most occur because we are rushing or feel "stressed" by an overload of responsibilities. When we try to squeeze too many tasks into too short a period we breech the walls of safety.

Never, never apologize for not being able to do the work of two people.

If you fail to act in a prioritized manner, or fail to ask for help when you need it, you alone will be responsible should the outcome sour.

Everyone wants a piece of you, right?

But why shouldn't they? You've been complying to everyone's every need for so long. You've been swallowing the anger. Except when you transfer it to your coworkers and you end up being a stress-out unhappy nurse.

You've got to be able to prioritize and tell people, "No, I can't come down now until I stabilize my patients here."

You can choose to be respected or you can choose to be the harried nurse who is practicing by the seat of her pants.

Take control of your environemnt and watch your stress levels plummet.

Stop allowing yourself to be pulled from 10 different directions.

Stop being your own worst enemy.

Stop enabling...Be courageous...Take control!

Specializes in Med surg, Telemetry.

thanks thats helped me a great deal because i always find myself in these situations that you have mentioned.

thank you for putting this out there... however, may i add that you should definately have the utmost trust for the people you vent to. things can get misconstrued and back to the wrong people. this can result in losing your job and being labeled as a "disgruntled employee". this happened to me very recently. i loved my job.... absolutely LOVED it, but there were a few things that we vented about. this got back to the wrong people in the wrong context and now i do not have my position any longer. so while venting is good and definately necessary, just be very careful.

Specializes in Mixed Level-1 ICU.

"Vent" regarding vital issues of safety. Make it specific,

concisely, and make sure it is relevant.

But, a big but, if you do not intend on directing it to those in charge, drop it!

Venting becomes whining if you never have the guts to direct it to those who--if the problem gets worse--will be accountable for the

Go over managers head if she doesn't care.

"Yeah, but she'll make my job hell."

Maybe. But if your issue is a safety issue you will have done the right thing.

You cannot have it both ways. Just keep the issue clean and direct and your delivery neutral. It's not about you or them, it's about the patient.

If a place is deaf to everything, no matter how relevant, I would get out. Because when it hits the fan, you will be hung out to dry.

I have gone over my managers head. Yes, I am still working there and, no, she is not my sister.

Bit I am capable of working elsewhere should they decide to be stupid.

Specializes in Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep..

Nurses, if you do nothing else, start living outloud!

My excuse for shutting down and shutting out was always, "But I have to talk to and be around people ALL DAY LONG! in the most intimate ways imaginable! YUCK!"

I do a lot better now by some of the ways you described. I'm glad you wrote the article, you write very well! :)

good writing you guys


Specializes in cardiac, diabetes, OB/GYN.

Absolutely on point and thank you so much for a great article.....


Thanks a lot for reminding we nurses to adequately nurse our selfs .We are always on the move to care for others but ourselfs.

Thanks :nurse:

Holding it in may be the best idea if you want to keep your job. I reported my nurse manager to HR sending innappropriate emails that to me, as well as other questionable behavior--they put him through "additional " training, which stopped the behavior. However, now I am being treated like some kind of criminal, by the manager and the director of nursing--He talks bad about me behind my back-yes it always gets back to me. And leaves me out of just about everything UNLESS their is something he wants to reprimand me for. Now he intimidates me and is so assumptive about everything. He never listens to staff-he answers questions and makes assumptions before he even knows the problem. Should I be looking for another job? I love the job I have, but he has turned other staff against me as well and Iam afraid it will just get worse.