Stress is a constant companion in a nursing job.
Plenty of research backs up the fact that when it comes to on-the-job stress, nurses carry a particularly heavy load. The many reasons are well known to nurses: the physical labor, the weighty workload, the long hours, the shiftwork, the emotional toll that patients’ care and suffering takes. And that’s not to mention interpersonal, interprofessional, or ethical conflicts; near constant change in the healthcare workplace; the risk of on-the-job physical assault; and lack of recognition and reward.
The multiple and persistent pressures of a nursing job show up in startling statistics:
- Nurses are consistently identified as experiencing the highest levels of on-the-job stress among all healthcare professionals.
- The prevalence of job-related compassion fatigue and burnout among nurses is as high as 40%.
- 14% of nurses across specialties demonstrate symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; among critical care nurses, the proportion jumps to 24%.
- An overwhelming majority of nurses (74%) report stress and heavy workloads as their top concerns.
All that pent-up stress contributes to worrisome health consequences for nurses. The American Nurses Association’s 2016 Health Risk Appraisal reported nurses are overweight (average BMI of 27.6); they don’t eat recommended amounts of daily fruits and vegetables (only 16% do); and they forgo exercise (less than half perform suggested muscle-strengthening activities). Alarmingly, 12% of nurses said at the time of the ANA’s survey that in the previous month they had nodded off while driving.
But the effect of consistently high levels of stress among nurses is troublesome for patient care and safety, too. Nurse burnout resulting from heavy workloads, for example, has been associated with increases in healthcare-associated infections. Nurses report that stress interferes with their ability to properly care for their patients and achieve positive outcomes.
What’s a Nurse to Do?
Linking nurses’ and patients’ wellness, the ANA launched its Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation initiative and declared 2017 as The Year of the Healthy Nurse.
“We feel that nurses are ideally positioned to be the best role models, educators, and advocates of health, safety, and wellness,” the organization says on its webpage, which offers resources, event information, surveys, and activities geared toward promoting the personal health of nurses and, as a consequence, the patients they serve.
Nurses are encouraged to share recipes, tips, and challenges through social media channels and participate in the Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation Grand Challenge to engage themselves and others in following a wellness-based lifestyle.
Yeah, But …
A healthy lifestyle relies on physical activity, a nutritious diet, and sleep — but you already knew that.
As a nurse, you understand the science behind exercise, a diet of healthy foods, and the importance of a good night’s rest. You encourage your patients to combat stress and illness by adopting healthy habits all the time.
Your challenge isn’t in what could be, but what is. The reality of a nursing job can stunt even the most health conscious nurses’ efforts to practice what they preach. Sure, you should substitute a nutritious lunch for a quick trip to the vending machine; but making time to eat a well-rounded meal isn’t likely when you’re called to a code or you’re behind on documentation. And exercise? Aren’t you getting enough of that lifting patients or dashing from one patient room to another?
Finding time in your busy shift for healthy habits is tough when you hardly have a moment to visit the bathroom. But wait, surely with a little ingenuity you can find five minutes a few times a week to take time for you. How about one minute — just 60 seconds — here and there?
The practice of mindfulness — what the Mayo Clinic describes as “the act of being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment without interpretation or judgment” — offers busy nurses a remedy for heaped-on stress in a manner of minutes. While mindfulness is not the sole solution for alleviating all stress (eating well, exercising, and sleeping well still count), it can contribute to less anxiety, reduced compassion fatigue, and decreased emotional exhaustion.
Try a Reboot
Mindfulness techniques put you in the here and now, consciously observing what is happening with your mind and body and feeling gratitude for who you are and what you have. Mindfulness acts like a stop sign for all the worries, to-do lists, and negative or random thoughts that race unabated through our brains like Ferraris on the Autobahn.
Practicing regular mindfulness, especially in high-stress situations, helps you reboot your brain and emotions. It can help you feel reflective, clearheaded, and calm.
Studies show Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs reliably reduce stress and burnout among nurses. Participants in such programs report improved levels of serenity, empathy, and compassion, as well as stronger interpersonal communication, raised self-awareness, better overall mood, and enhanced ability to cope with stress.
Nursing experts also say mindfulness practices minimize distraction among nurses in chaotic clinical settings. Mindfulness, they point out, prompts greater awareness that not only enhances nurses’ assessment skills, but also contributes to optimum performance of complex tasks, which ultimately can reduce the incidence of medical errors.
Cultivating mindfulness allows nurses to slow down, reset, and focus their attention on patients’ needs — in other words, to practice nursing in the way they’ve always wanted.
Take it from a colleague who knows. John Yuhas, BS, RN, a clinical nurse manager at Eisenhower Medical Center, applied his training as a certified yoga instructor to his practice as an emergency nurse. Yuhas finds that mindfulness frees practitioners of their own issues and anxieties so that they can fully concentrate on their patients.
“It’s humbling to work on myself so that I can start in a good place to help others,” Yuhas told his alma mater, Arizona State University, in January.
Patients benefit when nurses practice with a sense of their own well-being, Yuhas said.
“Taking the time as healthcare providers to be truly present with the patient may provide opportunities to reinforce a plan of care [and] teaching and compliance, leading to better outcomes,” Yuhas explained. “In those moments, as a nurse, you’re practicing nursing.”
Practicing mindfulness is a commitment, but you need not be a yoga devotee like Yuhas to perfect it — nor do mindfulness exercises need to be time-consuming.
Take a moment to visit Eisenhower Medical Center’s career webpage. You’ll learn of our commitment to the well-being of our employees, including free access to our state-of-the-art fitness center and wellness programs, and view our open positions.
Originally posted on 13/6/2017