Stress has become more widely recognized over the past decade and the workforce, especially the nursing profession, is known to be prone to experience it either directly or indirectly. The Health and Safety Executive (2008) defines stress as “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them”. It is significant to understand the impact thereof in all roles, including nursing positions, as it can have many negative effects including psychological and mental harm, distress, physical ailments, and it can impact the need and want to attend work.
Nurses in particular, through tradition and training, are mostly capable of spending a lot of time and energy caring for others that can lead to neglecting their own well-being by not caring for themselves as well. Stress responses, such as physical, mental, emotional, and behavioural responses are signals to show us that there has either been a build-up of stress-related events or a series of rapid events, or even a combination of the two.
While stress is not considered an illness, it can lead to a variety of physical and mental ill health conditions and it’s important to address the cause of stress to prevent illness that could arise as a result thereof. According to the Royal College of Nursing, signs and symptoms may vary and different people react to different treatments- that is why we’ve outlined as many as possible so that you can recognise them and apply management techniques that are applicable to you as an individual.
Signs and symptoms
It is important to recognise and acknowledge how your body and mind are telling you that you’re undergoing stress, so that you can begin to act on stress relief techniques to prevent further harm. These include:
- Physical signs: A pounding heart, elevated blood pressure, sweaty palms, tightness in your chest, aches in your neck, jaw, and back muscles, headache, abdominal cramps, nausea, trembling, sleep disturbance, tiredness, susceptibility to minor illnesses, itching, forgetfulness, and being easily startled.
- Thoughts: Mind is racing or going blank, the inability to ‘switch off’, lack of attention to detail, plummeting self-esteem and confidence, disorganised thoughts, a diminished sense of meaning in life, a lack of control or the need for too much control, negative self-statements and negative evaluation of the self, difficulty in making decisions, and a loss of perspective.
- Behaviours: Becoming withdrawn and not wanting to socialize, increasing your intake of alcohol, nicotine, or drugs, under or overeating, becoming prone to accidents, being careless, becoming impatient, aggressive or compulsive, fidgeting, swearing, blaming, throwing things, working longer hours without taking breaks and procrastinating with important projects, and no longer having time for leisurely activities.
- Feelings: Irritability, anger, depression, jealousy, restlessness, anxious, hyper alert, unnecessarily guilty, panic, crying easily, and undergoing mood swings.
Reducing and managing stress
You need to remain alert to any pressure that you may be feeling and this would vary across individuals as we all respond to stress differently. If you’re able to identify one or several symptoms, you’ll be able to find a quicker response to how to manage or reduce stress by, for example, implementing one of the tactics below.
- Manage your lifestyle: Maintain a balance between work and play, use leisure time to recharge, exercise regularly, socialize in person, maintain a healthy diet, reduce your intake of stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine, plan regular holidays, and build and maintain your support networks.
- Become an expert of yourself: Take time out to reflect on your life, identify the main sources of your stress (anticipate stressful periods and plan accordingly), assess how/whether your current coping techniques work and adjust them if needed, ask yourself what is within and outside of your control, and how you can accept certain aspects.
- Manage your personal work environment: Take time to review and plan (learn how you can improve your time management skills), plan regular breaks, negotiate and delegate tasks when possible, learn to recognize your own needs and be assertive, seek out new challenges to stimulate yourself if you’re feeling a lack of motivation, make adjustments when you feel the current adjustments aren’t working for you, and get career advice if you’re feeling stressed with your career development.
- Reflect on your thinking skills: Be mindful of unhelpful thinking habits (for example setting yourself up for failure by trying to be perfect at all times) and find realistic thinking (for example telling yourself that you’re doing the best that you can), avoid jumping to conclusions, generalizing, and catastrophising, challenge the pressures that you put on yourself by turning ‘musts’, ‘oughts’, and ‘shoulds’ into likes and preferences, learn to identify what you can and can’t control, and acknowledge the things that can’t be avoided.
- Find physical and creative outlets: Exercise burns excess adrenaline and releases endorphins (‘feel good’ hormones) and if you’ve fallen out of the habit try to start with small easy steps like taking regular walks, do some gardening (even putting together small potted plants helps), DIY activities, walking the dog, and creative outlets such as cooking, baking, sewing, painting, singing or playing an instrument.
- Find emotional outlets: Talk about your feelings with friends, family, and/or colleagues who are supportive, cry to express the pain/hurt, allow yourself to feel the anger and express it in a way that is safe, access counselling if there’s no one else that you can turn to, and/or write your feelings down in a diary or letters, or try to paint/draw to express your feelings.
If you experience stress to a level where it affects your health, it is of significant importance to address it and take action. However, even though prevention is always better than cure, stress might not be avoidable, so it would be wise to take measures like those outlined above to learn how to manage your stress in order to handle it in a way that doesn’t lead to negative health outcomes.
At Cromwell Medical, we care about health and well-being which is why we have resources in place to help you manage your well-being. If you’d like to join a team that cares, take a look at the jobs we have available and let us know if you find something of interest. You can also request a call back with or contact us directly- we look forward to hearing from you!