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7 Tips for Stressed Nurses

Is there too much going on in your life? If you are experiencing stress, you are not alone. People everywhere are experiencing high levels of stress due to the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty it entails. Nursing itself is a stressful profession, and the pandemic has made it drastically more so. When surveyed, 92% of nurses reported moderate to very high stress levels in 2016, and in another study, nearly half said they have considered leaving nursing, even before the pandemic hit.

Unrelenting stress can leave one feeling overwhelmed, emotionally drained, dissatisfied and physically exhausted — all signs of burnout. Stress results from too much and too many pressures, whereas burnout is not enough energy or motivation as a result of exhaustion and prolonged stress.

Burnout is a gradual process that does not happen overnight. Develop a plan to protect yourself from burnout. Try these seven simple tips to better cope with stress and build resilience.

  1. Try to Breathe

Taking just a few deep abdominal breaths can reduce anxiety and stress. Deep breathing promotes a state of calmness by increasing oxygen supply to the brain and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Five minutes, four times a day, even while doing the dishes or using the bathroom, can help you feel calmer and more in control. Inhale for five seconds, hold for five and exhale for five.

  1. Improve Nutrition

Good eating habits are hard to maintain on long workdays when you may barely even have time to go to the restroom. Yet, poor nutrition correlates with depression, anxiety and irritability and may contribute to higher nurse burnout rates. Start small with these three simple ways to eat healthier: plan and pack your food, limit treats and track what you eat.

  1. Drink More Water

Dehydration contributes to depression and anxiety and increases stress in your body. Boost your water intake to improve your mental health. Carry water to work. Add fruit to your diet like the combination of frozen blueberries and orange slices. Log your water intake, aiming for about two liters a day.

  1. Get Fresh Air

Working inside all day can have a detrimental effect on mental health. Sunshine and nature can help you relax and feel relieved. As little as 10 minutes outside with nature can help you feel happier and lessen the physical and mental effects of stress.

  1. Increase Sleep

Sleep and stress have a circular relationship. If you are stressed or worried, you cannot unwind at night. If you do not get enough sleep, you cannot manage a stressful situation. Consistently getting a good night's sleep improves your physical and mental health. Log your sleep so you can figure out how many hours you need to feel your best.

Some simple tips on getting more sleep are going to bed at a consistent time each day, limiting screen time before bed and being smart about napping.

  1. Set Boundaries

Boundaries are the borders around your care that mark the line between a therapeutic relationship and a non-professional relationship.

Setting boundaries for your personal and professional life can have positive effects on your patients' well-being, too. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing said it best: "Professional boundaries are the spaces between the professional's power and the patient's vulnerability."

Nurses often walk a fine line between compassion and overinvolvement. When you cross a boundary, it can be harmful to your well-being and lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, moral distress and even mental health issues.

  1. Find Help

It is okay to seek professional help. Finding help now, instead of waiting, is essential to your emotional well-being. Check out the resources your organization offers. Happy, 7 Cups, Talkspace and BetterHelp are four of many apps where you can receive support and encouragement at any time of the day.

You are most vulnerable to stress when you are not taking care of yourself. Make sure you are maintaining a healthy balance with clear lines between your professional and personal life. Take an inventory of your personal health to refuel, restore and re-engage. When nurses care for their own health, they can better care for patients.

Learn more about Northwest Missouri State University's online RN to BSN program.


7 Cups of Tea

Becker's Hospital Review: Study: 92% of Nurses Report Moderate-to-Very High Stress Levels


Happy the App

Harvard Health Publishing: Diet and Depression Spend Time in Nature to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

HelpGuide: Burnout Prevention and Treatment

Help Guide: How to Sleep Better

NCSBN: A Nurse's Guide to Professional Boundaries Nurse Burnout

Registered How to Manage Your Stress as a Nurse

Solara Mental Health: Water, Depression, and Anxiety


The American Institute of Stress: Take a Deep Breath

The Online Journal of Issues in Nursing: Healthy Eating for Healthy Nurses: Nutrition Basics to Promote Health for Nurses and Patients

U.S. National Library of Medicine: Nurses and Health-Promoting Behaviors: Knowledge May Not Translate Into Self-Care 

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