Negative Effects of Stress: 3 Nurse Stress Management Tips for RNs

nurse stress managementBy Anne Lewis

The negative effects of stress are well-documented by healthcare organizations and the government.  

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that “routine stress may be the hardest type of stress to notice at first.”  

Many nurses work in high-pressure environments where the effects of stress can build up gradually and eventually lead to physical and psychological disorders.  

In your career, use these nurse stress management techniques to limit the side effects of stress in your life.

The Negative Effects of Stress on the Body

You may be familiar with some of the most common side effects of stress — sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety, depression and withdrawing from favorite people or activities — but the truth about stress is that it manifests differently in everybody. 

Try to evaluate yourself objectively and look for some lesser known stress responses, which can include “increased alcohol and other substance use,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.  

Sometimes, stress plays a role in acute episodes of certain ailments, including:

  • High blood pressure and heart-related problems
  • Diabetes
  • Arthritis
  • Skin conditions like eczema and acne

3 Nurse Stress Management Techniques

Fighting back against the negative effects of stress in your nursing career begins with putting yourself first.  

Make deliberate decisions to limit challenging situations, and surround yourself with healthy outlets during stressful times.  

Dr. Julie Gurner, a doctor of clinical psychology with experience in high-stress healthcare settings, urges nurses to remember that the most effective way of combating stress is to begin with a campaign of preventative measures. 

1. Have a Life Outside of Work 

Healthcare can be an all-consuming vocation. Many clinicians enter the field with a laser-guided focus on wanting to improve circumstances for their patients. However, this can lead to a work-life imbalance.  

The American Institute on Stress points to work-related stress as the third leading cause of stress in daily life, based on survey results from the American Psychological Association. A robust life outside of work can counteract these stressors. 

You don’t have to be busy 24/7 or chase certain hobbies to be fulfilled, but it's important to open yourself to experiences that bring joy to your life. Make time for activities like:

  • Working out
  • Reading a good book
  • Going to the movies
  • Joining a club based on personal interests
  • Getting involved with activities in your community
  • Adopting a pet, becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister, or volunteering for a favorite cause

2. Surround Yourself with Positive Interactions

Many of your daily interactions in healthcare will be difficult, heartbreaking, contentious or a mix of all three.  

Dr. Gurner says, “If the only interaction you have with people are your patients who are ill or in pain, it can really increase the amount of stress you carry in your day-to-day life.”  

While those interactions can be fulfilling because of the nature of your calling, you need positive interactions to balance out those difficult situations. 

Gurner believes that “spending time with friends, family, and others is absolutely essential.” These don’t have to be formal interactions or even planned gatherings.  

When your stress levels grow at work, take a few minutes to reach out to a favorite friend, plan a night out or schedule a break from your regular activities to just veg out with family. 

3. Establish your Support System 

When the negative effects of stress build up, a safe space combined with supportive people can promote stability in your life.  

Gurner notes that “having a supportive home setting can be really important.” When you get to choose the elements of your environment, you can turn your home into a haven for escaping work stress.  

Everything from the colors on your walls to the people you live with can help you build your armor against stress. 

On the flip side, it’s time to honestly evaluate your personal life to ferret out the problems that carry over into your work life.  

While some stressors are unavoidable — for instance, custody or financial issues — others are within your purview to limit.  

Remove toxic people and relationships from your life for an instant anti-stress boost. Streamline your routine to save time, and simplify your home to create a welcoming and calming environment. 

While the negative effects of stress can be a huge strain on your life, you can reduce the side effects of stress by focusing on what you love about nursing, making time for enjoyable pastimes and creating an environment that helps you relax more at home.  

Leave your stress behind at the end of the day to live your best life on and off the job.

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