Fast-paced, high-stakes and long, long hours: the circumstances of nursing are a sure recipe for stress. Between the increased adrenaline of a demanding career and the little stressors of the everyday as a healthcare practitioner, it’s easier than we’d like to think to let stress rule our lives. And if stress goes unchecked, it can lead to burnout, chronic exhaustion, adverse mental health, and even physical health problems.

The good news is that there are countless ways to prevent and mitigate stress and all of its negative side effects. In this article, we’re going to demonstrate what, exactly, stress is, and how you can address it: from exercise, to diet, to meditation and breathing exercises.

What is Stress?

We’ve all dealt with it. We all know what it feels like. But what exactly is going on inside of our bodies when we feel stressed out?

On a chemical level, stress is caused by a rush of adrenaline in our brains, which trigger reactions in our nervous systems. In short-term cases, it’s our fight-or-flight instincts responding to situations of perceived danger.

This reaction isn’t all bad. It helped keep us alive when we were still hunter/gatherers, when we needed to fight for our lives against wild animals and dangerous situations in nature. These days, when we’re late for work, or can’t find something we need at the grocery store, or stuck in traffic, our body still reacts as though we’re running from a hungry tiger.

In cases of chronic stress, perhaps caused by our jobs, we subject our nervous systems to too much adrenaline over time. This is what can lead to long-term physical and mental health problems if ignored. Chronic stress has even been linked to 6 major causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.

How To Manage Stress for Nurses

All this may sound scary, but fear not! You have the power to prevent stress with relative ease. Here we’ve listed some of our favorite tried-and-true techniques for keeping stress at bay.

  1. Make sure you’re in a job that you love. Nothing is worse for our nervous systems than feeling trapped in a job that we hate. Most of us identify with our job in some way – nurses especially – and it can be truly damaging if we feel helpless in a position that is unsatisfying. But you don’t have to settle for less. There are plenty of positions available in the world to suit all personality types and abilities. It’s possible for you to find a job as a nurse that makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning, and this is what you should strive for.
  2. Exercise regularly. We’re sure this is something you tell your patients all the time. Learn to take your own advice! Aside from being great for physical health and well-being, working out frequently and regularly releases endorphins, which make us feel happy, help us sleep, manages our appetite, and decreases stress and anxiety. And this isn’t something only the super-fit marathon runners and weightlifters can do. Low-impact body movement like yoga is just as effective as cardio and weight training, with the added benefit of incorporating mindfulness and breathing exercises.
  3. Meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises. Speaking of! These new age techniques are all the rage in corporate boardrooms, Hollywood studios, and even police stations for their ability to stop stress in its tracks. Meditation classes are available in many cities and towns across the country, but it’s easy to do on your own at home, or at work. In a really stressful situation, paying attention to your breath can help keep you calm and focused, and let your body know that no tigers are about to pounce.
  4. Eat a healthy diet.We’re not telling you to never indulge. In fact, having a sweet treat every now and again will release endorphins, like exercise, and help keep you in a good mood. However, foods that are high in sugars and other simplified carbohydrates like white bread can increase adrenaline levels in the body as well as blood pressure, and make stress worse over time. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates like whole-grain breads prompt the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, which is what causes us to feel happy. Other foods containing essential vitamins and minerals contribute to bodily equilibrium and in doing so mitigate the effects of stress.
  5. Take time for yourself.It can be hard to take off the scrubs after 24 hours at the hospital. But you work hard, and you deserve time to turn off the pager and put up your feet. Maintaining a life outside of work is essential for reducing stress in any career. No matter how much we love our jobs, we need to have fun and variety in our lives. Prioritize maintaining a social life away from your place of work, and learn to take breaks when you need them. It’s easier to do than you might think.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Relax, and remember that you have all the tools you need to manage stress: at home, at work, and everywhere in between.

Medely is a nurse staffing platform that takes the stress out of scheduling. To find out how Medely can make your life easier, click here to learn more.

Are you looking for a change of pace? Check out our other articles, How To Become a Travel Nurse, and Nurse Staffing Agencies By Location for advice and resources on shaking up your career with new sights and challenges.