Must-Know Tips To Stay Emotionally Healthy As A Nurse
Written By: Courtney Sladek
You know the feeling. Whether you’re a student nurse or have practiced for more than a few decades, once you step into the world of nursing you encounter emotional distress on a daily basis, and we’re not talking only about your patients.
For many nurses, a little anxiety is a good thing. I had that little sense of unease, not just the first time, but every time, I set foot in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) to report to work. It’s what made me excel at my job.
Even apart from the life-and-death scenarios of an ICU, nursing can be stressful. Dealing with patients, their families, and other staff members, all with unique personalities and quirks is not easy to cope with on a daily basis.
Anxiety may help us perform well, but to stay emotionally healthy, it’s important to learn how to manage the stress of a high-pressure career.
After working for a few years as a staff nurse and now as a traveling nurse, I’ve found a few ways to cope with emotional stress. Maybe these suggestions will work for you, too.
Venting And Breathing
Find your “best friend at work”
In any job, especially nursing, it’s easier to cope with emotional stress when you have a “best friend at work” to help you enjoy your shifts and the work environment.
Your “best friend at work”:
- Lets you vent, without fearing you’ve “finally lost it”
- Lets you describe a wound, over a meal
- Shares the frustrations, but also the joys of being a nurse
If you haven’t found your best friend at work yet, don’t worry, you will.
Find your “safe place at work”
Friends take time off, change shifts, or get new jobs or maybe you haven’t found a work best friend yet. For these times, it’s good to have a safe place at work where you can go to have a few minutes to yourself. To deep breathe, to cry, or to sit with your eyes closed for a second or two.
I have to admit that for me, this place was usually the bathroom and no one has ever questioned me about being in there for ten minutes or so! Although, an empty patient room or a staff break room are also great places to get quiet and regroup.
Never underestimate the power of deep breathing. I’ve told many patients to use the technique while inserting a nasogastric tube, and while it isn't’ always effective for them, it does help relieve emotional stress and anxiety on the job.
You can practice deep breathing anywhere. The steps are simple:
- Find a place at your hospital, clinic, or wherever you work
- Sit down, relax, shrug your shoulders a few times
- Close your eyes
- Breathe in deeply and count to five slowly as you inhale
- Breathe out slowly, counting to five as you exhale
- Repeat taking slow deep breaths five times
As hard as it may be, you have to learn to let go of things you can’t control. Accept the fact that nursing is a 24-hour job.
Take a big breath in, big breath out and then go do your job.
Get an app
Meditation apps for your phone are a handy way to practice breathing for relaxation at home.
These apps tell you when to inhale and exhale, so you don’t even have to count the seconds in your breathing!
Use Essential Oils
Some of the stressors I faced while working as a staff nurse in the ICU included:
- Navigating the unit politics
- Giving report to the oncoming shift, in the midst of tension between shifts
- Being a baby nurse in an intensive care setting
Thankfully, it was while working in the ICU that I discovered essential oils.
I started off with eucalyptus and lavender body wash. It was so good! Soon after, I had lavender and eucalyptus everything. I fell in love!
Now I have my own essential oils kit and diffuser and I use them all the time. If I’m feeling stressed, I just drip, drip, drop some lavender into the diffuser, kick back, relax, and all is right in the world for a while.
When I have patients who have essential oils in their room, I automatically start calming down and feel peaceful - even if it’s just for the split second as I pass by the door. It’s true!
Go Outside And Get Some Vitamin D
You don’t have to be outside long enough to get a sunburn to snag the amount of Vitamin D you need, but once you get out there you’ll want to stay for a while.
There are tons of stress-relieving activities outside, and lots of these can help you burn off stress, too. You can try walking, running, or the most recent activity craze, hunting and playing Pokémon Go.
If you’re not up for an activity, you can also just grab a book and read.
There are so many benefits to getting your daily dose of Vitamin D; not only is it healthy for your bones, blood pressure, and immune system, it’s also great for boosting your mood.
Talk About It With A Professional
Deep breathing, essential oils, sunshine, and exercising are all ways to decrease anxiety, lower stress, and improve your mood. But sometimes they may not be enough to help you through a rough time.
Nursing can be intense. We have people’s lives in our hands every day. That is why being able to talk to someone about your emotions and get professional feedback is extremely beneficial - especially if you’re feeling like a scented body wash just isn’t enough.
Finding a provider is relatively easy. There are websites (www.psychologytoday.com) you can search by a provider and then filter by specialty and insurance or you can go through your insurance’s website to get connected.
This can help ensure you find the professional that’s right for you.
Find Your Happy Place
As nurses, we know it’s important to take care of our bodies physically, but it is just as important to take care of our emotional health.
I know life is busy, but it’s worth the time it takes to find out what you need to find your happy place, your inner peace. Take some time out of your usual schedule and ask yourself, “What do I need?” or “What will put me at peace?”
You’ve heard it before, but I know it to be true: You can’t take great care of others until you take great care of yourself.