Stress Relieving Strategies Nurses Can Do On the Job

Nurse stressed. MEDIjobs

Nurses are incredibly busy people. In-between taking care of multiple patients, speaking with caregivers and loved ones, participating in healthcare rounds, and managing staff, they may get a moment alone to check-in with their emotions and body.

However, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt our daily lives, nurses are stretching themselves even more as thousands of people are seeking medical care. It is important that all healthcare workers, especially nurses, take care of their mental health during this difficult time.

That is why it is critical to be able to incorporate stress-relieving strategies throughout the workday as shifts become longer and caseloads increase. Continue reading to find out what strategies are quick, discreet, and easy to start today.

Deep Breathing Exercises 

Stress and anxiety can take a hold of the body, causing us to tighten our muscles and engage in rapid breathing. When we experience stress, our bodies are ready to escape from the stressful situation or fight through it. However, as a nurse, staying calm under pressure is your key to managing your intense workload. Deep breathing is a highly effective stress-relieving strategy.

The following breathing exercises require deep inhalations so that you are breathing into your diagram, not your chest. You know you are breathing into your diagram when your stomach visibly pushes outwards and not your upper chest. 

When we focus on breathing into our diagram, we are reassuring our body that we are safe and therefore, our body can relax. Continue reading below for specific deep breathing exercises that help manage anxiety and stress. 

How to Do it: 

Place your non-dominant hand on your heart and your dominant hand on your stomach. As you breathe in deeply and slowly, send the air into your stomach. You know you are doing it correctly when the hand on your stomach moves slightly outwards.

The hand on your heart is intended to promote the mind-body connection and reassure you of the present moment. This mind-body connection is a power stress-relieving strategy. The hand on your stomach is to provide tactile cues as to where you want your breath to go. Complete this exercise as many times as needed.

If you find that having your hand placed on your heart is preventing you from pushing air into your stomach, complete a few deep breaths with just your hand on your stomach and then repeat with just your hand on your heart. The more you practice, the less cognitive effort it will take to coordinate your breathing!

When can you do this on the job?

  • When reviewing patient charts 
  • While on hold on the phone (we know it can sometimes take forever for people to pick up!)
  • With a patient who is also having difficulty managing their own anxiety or stress 

Progressive Muscle Relaxation 

Does shoulder tension or aches in your back sound familiar? Anxiety and stress cause the body to tense up, therefore causing pain or discomfort. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that allows your body to release its tension, therefore, allowing you to feel more at ease. 

How to Do it: 

First, decide on a muscle group you want to work on (ex: shoulders, feet, etc.). Then, as you breathe in deeply, simultaneously tense that muscle group. As you exhale, slowly relax your muscles. Repeat as necessary and try to practice this stress-relieving strategy with other parts of the body.  

When can you do this on the job?

  • When walking towards your patient’s room 
  • Waiting for the elevator or while taking the elevator

Laughing is Medicine 

We have all seen those videos or pictures of nurses going above and beyond to bring humor into their daily routine. However, as cases continue to soar and with the shortage of protective medical equipment, it can be difficult to find the humor in the daily grind. It is important to continue to bring joy into your day. 

The old saying that laughing is medicine has some truth behind it. When we are able to laugh with those around us, our sense of community, perseverance, and hope shine through.

How to Do it:

There isn’t one right way to incorporate humor into your daily work schedule. However, one tip that can come in handy is doing a quick internet search on silly jokes during your commute or downtime at work or home. This way, you can crack a joke whenever a co-worker is in need of a laugh. Being able to make someone smile will instantly improve your mood, as well. 

When can you do this on the job?

  • This can happen any time throughout the day, as long as it doesn’t distract someone from engaging in their responsibilities

Quick Stretch

Just like breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, stretching is a quick and effective strategy that releases the tension that our bodies are holding. However, stretching is also essential to make sure that you are physically capable of completing your work demands. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses have been working longer shifts, therefore putting their bodies through more stress. 

How to Do it:

Your arms, feet, and neck are all body parts that can easily be stretched discretely and while completing other tasks. You can use the “rolling” technique where you move your body part in a clockwise and then counterclockwise motion.

If you need a more intense stretch, try tucking your chin downwards towards your chest, interlocking your fingers, and then placing your hands on the back of your head. This allows you to put slight pressure to your head which will directly stretch your neck muscles. With all stretches, the key is to perform them slowly and carefully.

When can you do this on the job?

  • In-between reviewing patient’s charts 
  • While engaging in tabletop tasks like writing, talking on the phone, etc. 
  • During patient care team meetings

Incorporating these strategies throughout the day can help with stress management. However, no strategy is more effective than asking for helping. Here is a pro tip: throughout the day, rate your stress level from a 1-10 scale (1 being no stress and 10 being high levels of stress). If you see that your number is on the high end, engage in these stress-reducing strategies to try to bring your number down. If you are consistently rating your stress level with a high number and cannot manage your stress or anxiety on your own, seek help by talking to someone. Seeking help might look like speaking to your supervisor or talking with a mental health professional.  Although the coronavirus does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon, mental health is important. An effective nurse is a nurse who is able to take care of others because they can take care of themselves first. 

Have an effective stress-relieving strategy that can be done on the job? Comment below!

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About the author

Kristie Cabrera

Kristie is an occupational therapist, mental health advocate, and amateur urban farmer. Her experience with taking care of others in the healthcare setting and taking care of the land are both important pieces that make up who she is. As a life-long learner and creative, she hopes to create content that is centered around wellness and healing.

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