Nursing is hard. We enter the field with wide eyes and big dreams of helping people in distress and we’re met suddenly with staffing shortages, high expectations, and physical demands that we never imagined. While management struggles to improve conditions, and nurses struggle to keep up, patients continue to flood the floor at a constant rate. It’s a recipe for disaster and has led to high turnover rates, nurses leaving the field, and increasing suicide rates among workers.
If you’re a RN, LPN, CNA, NA, or the like, you’ve likely had moments, days, or weeks that felt like more than you could handle. The stress. The unrelenting needs of patients. The constant pressure to pick up more and more hours. Together these things can overwhelm and lead to anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms. It’s important to keep an eye on your health and watch for these signs that you’re in need of some support:
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Decreased interest in pleasure activities
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Unwarranted fatigue
- Sudden weight or appetite changes
- Angry outbursts
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Unexplained aches & pains
- Changes in sleep habits
- Reckless behaviors
- Racing thoughts
- Lack of empathy
- Thoughts of self-harm*
*If you have thoughts of self-harm or of harming others, it is important to seek help immediately. Call 911, head to the local Emergency Department, Fire Department, or Police Department or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
If you’re not in distress, but have noticed changes in your mood, habits, feelings or physical well-being, it may be time to reach out to some resources for assistance. A great place to start is within your own organization. Many companies offer mental wellness benefits through their Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that include free counseling sessions, assistance with locating counselors, or even time off for recovery.
Nervous about seeking assistance within the company? Fortunately there are many resources available outside of HR!
- Contact your health insurance provider to inquire about mental health coverage. Many plans cover counseling and can also be of assistance with locating a counselor.
- Locate a local support group. Peer or clinician led groups are available in most areas. To locate one near you, use the Mental Health America search tool, browse social media, or contact your local township/city/borough office.
- Churches often offer counseling free of charge or for a donation.
- Peer Advocacy for Impaired Nurses provides online support groups and other resources for nurses who struggle with substance abuse.
- The Crisis Text Line offers 24/7 access to a live person who will text or talk you through a difficult situation. Your 15 minute break could easily be spent de-stressing with this great service!
If you’re already seeking help and want to make sure you’re doing everything you can to reverse the effects of stress, consider these great tips:
- Drink plenty of water! Dehydration leads to higher cortisol levels, making you feel more stressed.
- Avoid drinking excessive caffeine. While you may be feeling sluggish, caffeine can lead to higher levels of anxiety and cause energy crashes mid-shift. A little is okay, but too much is detrimental.
- Exercise! While working in nursing may keep you moving, it’s important to exercise outside of work for increased health and to decreased stress, anxiety and depression.
- Get outside! Lack of sunshine can decrease your serotonin levels causing you to feel more sluggish and even leading to depression. Even on chilly days, get outside in the sun! Work night shift? Try to incorporate an outdoor walk after your shift!
- Consider a job change. No, I’m not suggesting that you jump up on the nurse’s station and scream, “I’m out of here!” However, a change in scenery can often boost mood and lower stress. Consider what you enjoy about your job and what is difficult for you to handle. Research positions in your area that would be more conducive to your needs and consider a change!
- Consider a shift change. As nurses, we often take on a shift we don’t care for in order to get our foot in the door. But, if that particular shift is too much for you, is causing additional stress in your home life, or just plain makes you miserable, it might be time for a change!
- Use your vacation time! Take time off, even if you can’t afford to run off to a faraway land for a week. Be willing to relax at home, enjoy time with family, and de-stress locally.
Nursing is a challenging field and will likely remain so for many years to come. If you’re planning on staying in the field long-term, it’s imperative that you perform self-care on a regular basis. If stress, burnout, anxiety or depression sneaks up on you, be sure to take a time-out and get help right away!