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Stress Management for Nurses

News  |  By Post Acute Advisor  
   November 06, 2017

Study published in Nursing Research and Practice shows that 92% of nurses experience moderate-to-very high stress levels.

Stress can have a huge impact on nurses’ health and lead to burnout in both their professional and personal lives. This huge sense of being overwhelmed causes an overall change in a person’s attitude, with strong feelings of being tired, worried about the future, and uninterested in activities or a job.

It is easy for nurses to get caught up in life and forget to take care of their own needs, especially when caregiving is their profession. To remain healthy, nurses must not look at caring for themselves as a luxury or something to do occasionally. It is a necessity, and something that must be practiced routinely.

What is stress?

Stress is a psychological and bodily response to events that create an imbalance or sense of personal uneasiness.

Stress even causes “wear and tear” on the body. When faced with a stressful situation, from being late for an appointment or being overwhelmed with paperwork, to caring for a sick resident, the body’s defenses naturally kick into high gear in a rapid, automatic process known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This response results in increased heart and breathing rates, muscles tightening, and essentially pushing every sense into alert mode. The response is called fight-or-flight because the person faces a decision regarding staying and dealing with the problem or trying to get away from it.

Coping mechanisms for reducing stress

Leave the situation. The simplest way to reduce stress is to briefly walk away from or end the activity that is causing the stress. Simple ways to leave a stressful situation include ending a conversation if you feel stressed or excusing yourself from a meeting if you feel overwhelmed. If you can’t physically get away, try counting to 10 before responding in any way.

Breathe properly. Stressful situations cause breathing to become shallow and fast. You can teach yourself to breathe easily, which in turn lowers your stress level and helps you regain control over the effects of stress. Abdominal breathing has a soothing effect on you because it forces you to slow down and take deep, efficient breaths. These deep breaths bring a good supply of oxygen to your brain.

Tips for effective breathing:

  • Determine your breathing pattern. Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. If you’re breathing correctly, or performing abdominal breathing, you’ll see the hand on your stomach move while the other hand does not.
  • Ensure abdominal breathing. To make sure you are breathing from your abdomen, inhale deeply, then exhale completely. Let your lungs fill with air again naturally, while your stomach expands.
  • Practice breathing. Practice this “belly breathing” whenever you can, such as while standing in line at the grocery store, sitting through a meeting, etc.
  • Use abdominal breathing. Whenever you are stressed, worried, or tense, use your breathing to calm yourself. Take a deep breath and let it out completely. Next, let your abdomen expand as the air comes back into your lungs. Continue this for three to five breaths.

How to relax

Our society is one that values productivity and achievement. Therefore, it is often difficult to slow down and relax. It takes a conscious effort to learn to turn off the drive to achieve and simply find satisfaction out of just “being.” The secret to relaxing is to find activities that give you pleasure and that add to your mental and physical wellbeing. Perhaps it’s music, art, physical exercise, or even a warm bath. Relaxation, however, must remain the goal, not achievement.

Here are some activities that many people find relaxing:

  • Try something new. Take a class or join a group in your community. There are various local activities available through recreation departments, adult education programs, volunteer work opportunities, and college courses.
  • Exercise. Exercise doesn’t have to mean time in the gym. It can be something as simple as walking around your neighborhood, taking a bike ride to the park, playing golf with friends, swimming, or gardening.
  • Be creative. Creative activities such as painting, playing or listening to music, making jewelry, carpentry, knitting, and cooking, can give you a sense of accomplishment through peaceful relaxation.
  • Once you discover your favorite relaxation activity, devote at least half an hour each day to it or relaxation time. Include it in your daily schedule, and don’t allow obligations to interfere. This is an important time for you.


Post-Acute Advisor is a free, weekly e-newsletter focused on delivering information, education, and guidance on complex topics such as MDS and care planning to help long-term care administrators and managers, reimbursement professionals, and clinical staff members break down confusing regulations into easy-to-understand processes and procedures.

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