Journal of Aesthetic Nursing: What are the most helpful strategies for managing work-related stress?

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With recent survey findings revealing that 66% of those working in the UK health-care sector are suffering from significant levels of work-related stress, it is important for health professionals to start prioritising their wellbeing. To mark Stress Awareness Month, Neil Shah suggests five stress-busting strategies for nurses to adopt when they are feeling overwhelmed with pressures in the workplace

Work-related stress, depression and anxiety accounted for half of all working days lost in 2016–2017, equating to around 12.5 million days (Health and Safety Executive, 2017). This is the highest figure reported in almost a decade, a trend which has steadily increased over the past 9 years.

Back in 1960, Menzies revealed four common causes of stress for nurses: patient care, decision-making, taking responsibility and change (Menzies, 1960). Although these factors were identified over 50 years ago, workplace stress within the health-care sector has not improved much since then.

With the most recent causes of stress for nurses cited as emotional and physical demands, management issues, lack of resources, and difficulty balancing home and work responsibilities (American Holistic Nurses Association, 2018), it is often hard for individuals to manage their levels of stress. However, managing workplace stress is likely to have a positive impact on productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, meeting targets, and health and safety, as well as budget (ERS Research and Consultancy, 2016).

Learn to say no

Nurses can do anything, but not everything! Saying yes all of the time can leave people feeling tired, stressed and overstretched, which often results in individuals becoming run down and more susceptible to illness. Stress negatively impacts how well people can fight off bacteria, germs and viruses. Saying no does not mean you are being selfish; when you say no to a new task, you are honouring your existing commitments and ensuring that you can devote quality time to them. Focus on existing tasks to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

Eat well and exercise

The food one consumes can increase their energy levels and calm their mood. Being in stressful environments can act as a trigger to eat greater amounts of comfort foods. Although this is quick and easy, eating these types of foods can make people feel lethargic and less able to deal with stress. It is best to aim to eat low-fat, high-fibre and carbohydrate-rich meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with plenty of fruits and vegetables. Health foods slowly release energy throughout the day and supply the body with the nutrients it needs to boost the immune system.

Get a good night’s sleep

It is impossible to be in good health and not have enough quality sleep. Lack of sleep has been said to impact health as much as, if not equally to, not eating, drinking nor breathing (Mental Health Foundation, 2011). The physical effects of stress on the human body are well documented; sleeping both allows the body to repair, and enables the brain to consolidate and process information.

When the mind is not functioning optimally, or is plagued by negative thoughts and emotions, eventually the body will suffer the consequences. Common problems that arise due to poor sleep include weakened immune systems and increased mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression (NHS Choices, 2015).

Meditation and breathing

Meditating or learning to breathe properly will allow people to identify your stressors and reflect. Try this technique—it can be done anywhere and at virtually any time:

  • Sit or stand in a comfortable, relaxed position with the spine erect

  • Inhale slowly through the nose to the count of five. Imagine a ball or balloon in the stomach inflating

  • Hold the breath in the ball or balloon in the stomach for 5–10 seconds.

  • Count slowly to eight while exhaling

  • Repeat this technique several times.

Positive thinking

It can sometimes be incredibly hard to stay positive in difficult situations, and often a bad hour can turn into a bad day, which can easily turn in to a bad week. Try to get out in nature as often as possible—exposure to natural environments has been found to reduce blood pressure, enhance feelings of connection and relieve stress (Li et al, 2011). Try going for walks on days off or step outside during breaks at work.

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