“You know, you really should watch your blood pressure. My nephew Izzy just keeled over mid-mango. Stress, it’s a killer, sir. And he was a fruit bat. No meat. No blood even.” — Bartok in “Anastasia”
Nurses, sometimes the stress at work becomes overwhelming — when you feel like you’re in the weeds and can’t possibly get it all done, for example. Or when you’re dealing with a string of challenging patients, or when everyone at work lately seems absolutely miserable. We don’t want you to keel over mid-mango. Your best bet is to cool down and release some of that escalating stress before you burst.
Give these tips a try.
Stop fighting your feelings
Your feelings are valid and real. They don’t need justification. Often, when we try to escape our feelings or berate ourselves for experiencing them, our already difficult emotions become compounded by judgment and guilt. All emotions pass in a natural wave. Trust that this one will, too. Allow yourself to feel it without feeling bad about it.
It might seem odd, but smiling during periods of stress, even when you have to force it, can actually have a positive impact on your stress level. The subjects in this study who smiled during a stressful task were found to have lower heart rates and less of a decrease in positive affect during a stressful task. So fake that smile until it does the trick.
Do a brief imagery exercise
Feel like too many problems are coming your way? Try this brief exercise suggested by Cherilyn Veland, MSW, LCSW, a social worker who has extensive experience working with nurses. Imagine a container and place all of your worries, fears, and anxieties into it. Seal it up and visualize it floating away down a river, or shooting it like a rocket into outer space, or throwing it into a fire. This exercise can help you let go of your attachment to a situation so that you can approach it from a healthier perspective.
The breath is an instantaneous way to reconnect. Even a few deep breaths can help you take the stress level down a notch. Thich Naht Hanh recommends simple phrases on the inhale and exhale, such as “Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I smile.” Practicing this while charting or even in the restroom can help soothe your nervous system and bring you back to a more even baseline.
Ask for help
We nurses tend to want to take it all on. We have a hard time saying, “I can’t do it all.” Too often, we don’t verbalize what we need. But if you’re drowning in work or need a minute to regroup, asking a co-worker or your charge nurse to help you out is the best way to let go of some of your self-imposed responsibilities. You can pay them back by returning the favor some day.
Separate out your thoughts
You find yourself in an overwhelming assignment, caring for too many patients with too many needs. Or you’re unable to reach a doctor that you need to speak with and one of your patients is late getting down to radiology. Not only are you stressed about this, but you’re beginning to think about how difficult this job is and how much you need to do at home and whether or not the weather is going to impact your commute home. Identify each thought — just recognizing them can help you sort out the myriad stressors that may be swarming your mind without you even realizing it and can help you prioritize what needs to get urgently done and what can wait.
Do any of these tips work for you? What techniques have you found helpful to cool down when things get overwhelmingly stressful?