I have always been a person who stresses, and have struggled a lot with stress surrounding work since I started my nursing career. I often find myself imagining potential scenarios that could go wrong (which in some ways is part of the job), wondering if I could have done things better or differently after a shift or just generally stressing about what people (patients, families and other staff members) thought of me. As you can imagine this led to a lot of wasted time and energy where I would put a lot of effort into imagining and creating scenarios that hadn’t happened, and were most likely not going to happen and if they did happen…who cares! They could be dealt with at that time.
Over the past few years I have found different ways to manage stress, and these have helped immensely with improving my mental and physical health.
The first one will come as no surprise to those who have been reading my posts…but
Eat well and exercise – I find that one of the best thing for stress is nourishing and moving your body. I used to live off diet coke, swing by McDonalds and drink a bottle of wine with my housemate after a shift and eat a packet of chips and a chocolate bar for morning tea. And I would never exercise because I was ‘too tired’. Unsurprisingly, my energy was low, my sleep patterns were terrible and my coping skills at work were not great. Since improving my diet and adding 3-4 gym sessions and walks to my week I have a healthy foundation that I can rely on to support me through a stressful day at work.
Breathe – deep breathing helps to ground me, when I feel out of control or overwhelmed at work I stop and take some long deep breaths, breathing in for four seconds, holding for four, breathing out for four and holding for four, and repeat. This helps to calm my mind, and release tension, and has been found to elicit the ‘relaxation response’, activating the PNS and lowering heart rate, blood pressure and respiratory rate.
Be mindful and live in the moment – sometimes when we are stressing about all we have to do, we get overwhelmed and panic. In this instance I like to focus on the task I am doing at that moment, and only that task. Whether it is talking to a patient and their family, drawing up medications or checking vital signs I focus all my attention on that job, performing it mindfully.
Ban yourself from hypotheticals – stressing about the past doesn’t change it, and stressing about the future doesn’t help create it in a positive way. I make a conceited effort to live in the present moment, and always try and leave what happened at work in the workplace. ‘What if’ is not going to help you feel calm and relaxed. It’s better to not even bother because often you are creating a scenario in your head that didn’t happen, and most likely won’t happen. Deal with issues as they come.
Stop comparing yourself – I have a terrible habit of comparing myself to people, especially those with years more experience than I have. This year, my resolution was to stop comparing myself to other people, which has definitely helped to decrease my stress levels. As a graduate nurse I often compared myself to people with five, ten or even twenty years more experience in nursing than I had. Looking back now I can see how ridiculous this was, and what a waste of my time and energy. Everyone has their own strengths in the workplace, and everyone started out as a beginner once.
Don’t worry about what other people think – in healthcare we often meet people on one of the worst days of their lives, and try to help them through this day as best as we can. The hospital is a stressful environment for staff and patients alike. While it may seem like someone was angry at you, they may just be having a bad day themselves. They may have things going on at home, or they may have just gotten some terrible news, or they may be exhausted…it could be anything! There have been many times where I have thought someone ‘hated me’, when really it was just my interpretation of the situation. (And sorry to my Mum and my friends, who probably had to hear about it for the next 6 months!) I now work very hard on not taking things personally, and using empathy to see things from another person’s point of view.
Rest and relax – take time to rest on your days off. Work can be extremely exhausting and you have to take care of yourself in order to take care of others. It’s nice to be productive and tick things off your to do list, but it’s also important to ensure that you return to work feeling recharged. After a run of shifts you may need a day to lay around and do nothing, and this is absolutely fine. Listen to your body, and stop punishing yourself for being tired.
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