5-minute Stress Relievers for Nurses on the Job
By Jennifer Larson, contributor
Working as a clinician, physician or other healthcare provider can be very rewarding as a career. It can also be a very stressful job at times—especially now.
Healthcare professionals are facing new challenges, uncertainties and pressures on a daily basis, as the nation rallies to respond to the coronavirus epidemic.
So what can you do to avoid getting overwhelmed?
First, acknowledge to yourself the hard work that you’re doing as a nurse, said Jennifer Wegmann, PhD, lecturer in the Decker School of Nursing, Department of Health and Wellness Studies, at Binghamton University, State University of New York. Validate your own feelings and the contributions that you are making.
“That is not something to be taken lightly, and nurses should be giving themselves credit for that,” Wegmann said.
You will have to be intentional about finding ways to relieve your stress, noted Cindy Cain, DNP, RN, CNS, a clinical practice specialist with the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN).
“Recognize that there will almost never be a ‘convenient’ time to slow down,” she said. “You will need to make the time to take care of you.”
So, be proactive, and try these proven self-care techniques.
8 quick ways nurses can relieve stress on the job
1. Take every break. “Take all of your allowed breaks,” said Robert L. Trestman, PhD, MD, chair, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. Don’t let one disappear when you can take the opportunity to do something that makes you feel better. For example, head for the stairwell and climb stairs for a few minutes and get your heart pumping.
“Doing so can be very reinvigorating, and it can you get you focused on your body in the immediacy of the moment, rather than worry about what will happen in an hour,” said Trestman.
2. Breathe deeply. A few minutes of deep breathing exercises can work wonders in calming yourself down and slowing your racing heart rate. Plus, you can do breathing exercises anywhere, and it doesn’t require any equipment or advanced planning. You can even do it during a lull at work, if you can’t get away from the floor or the nurses’ station.
3. Meditate or pray. If you can snatch five minutes away from the heat of the moment to refocus yourself, do it. “Take a few minutes to focus on what is meaningful to you, such as prayer or mindfulness exercises,” said Cain. “There are some great apps for this purpose, such as Calm, Insight Timer, Abide and Pray, or the Veteran’s Administration’s Mindfulness Coach, which is free.”
4. Phone a friend. Call, Skype, or Facetime a friend or family member. “Research shows that, in times of stress, one of the best things that we can do—one of the most adaptive coping mechanisms that we have—is social connection,” says Wegmann.
During the current coronavirus pandemic, isolation is recommended to keep people from spreading the disease, making people long for connection that much more. If you can’t call someone else, use social media to make a connection.
5. Call the EAP. AMN Healthcare has an EAP program for its travelers and team members under the employer-sponsored benefits program. In addition, your healthcare facility may also have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) available to you. Call and ask to speak to someone for a few minutes or schedule a call for later so you’ll have an appointment to look forward to, said Trestman. “It’s an important to have an outlet,” he said. Travel nurses can often take advantage of their agency’s support staff or clinical liaison. AMN Healthcare has a Care Line set up to provide support and assistance to its healthcare professionals on assignment. Call (800) 887-1456.
6. Walk it out. Sometimes you need to just physically get away from it all, even just for a little while. Move your body while you do it. “Take a walk in a quiet place, such as a staff hallway that is not accessible by the public,” said Cain. If you can head outside for a short walk, some fresh air may do you some good, too.
7. Give your brain a break. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, or some other puzzle can give your brain a few minutes away from the stress of the job. Many such apps are available for your phone.
8. Practice gratitude. Research shows that feeling grateful and expressing your gratitude is good for your mental health. Take a moment or two to think of something or someone you’re grateful for. Or consider being grateful for the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, even if that person doesn’t acknowledge it directly to you. “Nurses are living out their purpose,” said Wegmann.
You may have other coping strategies that work for you, and that’s fine, too. Even without a pandemic, it’s good to have some tried-and-true stress relievers available. The more tools nurses have for self-care, the better. Especially now.
“Without a doubt, this is a marathon,” said Trestman. “It’s not going to be over in two weeks, so we need to be able to prepare ourselves to cope with these stresses for months ahead, realistically. So, we all need to come up with procedures, protocols, habits that will give us the resilience that each of us needs—not just to make it through, but to feel resilient.”
Visit the University of Michigan Stress Management Breathing Guide.
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