Three Ways to Really Recover from Work-Related Stress

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Mental and physical stress are common in nursing leading to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Here are three common and unhealthy ways nurses deal with stress and what to do instead.

by Amy Whetstone Amy Whetstone, BSN, RN, EMT-P (New)

Specializes in Emergency. Has 10 years experience.

Healthy Ways to Recover from Long Shifts

Three Ways to Really Recover from Work-Related Stress

Long shifts, heavy patient loads, and a relentless pace are common recipes for both mental and physical fatigue in nursing. In an effort to cope with increasing demands in the workplace, it is tempting to turn to unhealthy habits. These ways of coping may feel good in the short term, but don’t give us the means to build a resilient life outside of work.  Effectively using days off for recovery is crucial for our well-being.  Here are three unhealthy (and common) ways we cope with job stress and what to try instead. 

1- Alcohol

There’s nothing wrong with a glass of pinot every once in a while, but if you are viewing alcohol as the “light at the end of the tunnel” on every shift, you may be using it as a coping mechanism. A few drinks may make you feel relaxed and soften the rough edges of a hard day, but, in the long run, alcohol does little to alleviate stress and exhaustion. Although alcohol may induce sleep faster, studies have shown that it disrupts our restorative REM sleep later in the night. Alcohol is also a mild diuretic. This causes dehydration that leads to that hung-over feeling the next day. 

Exercise

Making time for physical activity can go a long way towards stress reduction.  You don’t have to run a 5K every day to get the benefits either. A 20-minute walk around your neighborhood or a short Youtube yoga video will do the trick. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise boosts feel-good endorphins and reduces the negative effects of stress. Exercise also improves physical well-being by strengthening muscles, improving cardiovascular fitness, and heightening immunity, all of which help you better cope with stress. 

2- Tuning Out

I get it, you talk to people all day long at work. Whether it’s patient care, updating family members, or discussing care plans with colleagues, at the end of a shift you’ve given all you have to give and you’re all talked out. This type of one-way interaction can be emotionally exhausting and it may feel as though isolation is the best remedy. While it is tempting to lock yourself in a room with a good book on your day off,  totally removing yourself from society can be counterproductive.   

Be Social

We are designed to be social creatures. Having a strong (not necessarily large) social circle has a positive impact on our well-being. While our interactions at work tend to be outward-focused, friendships are a two-way street that allows us to be on both the giving and receiving end of support.   Lunch with a friend, shopping with your favorite aunt, or a short visit with a neighbor can go a long way to restoring you psychologically.  Engaging in social interaction causes a physiologic response in our bodies that helps us better deal with stress. 

 3- Binge-Watching

The latest season of your fave show has just come out and you plan to spend your day off glued to the screen. There’s no problem with the occasional show marathon. It gives your mind an escape, a chance to focus on someone else's problems for a change (even if that someone is fictional). But if you find yourself spending every day off staring at a screen, you may need to rethink how you engage your mind in your downtime. 

Get a Hobby

Hobbies give you a chance to learn and improve your skills at something unrelated to work. They can bolster confidence and give you a sense of accomplishment that watching 12 hours of Netflix cannot. They allow you to see yourself as more than your career. Some hobbies even open you to a new social circle and give you a connection with a group of people outside of your profession. Most importantly they give you a work-free slice of time to engage your mind in a positive way.

Workplace stress is a common complaint amongst healthcare workers. It can leave you feeling tired, depressed, and downright isolated. Coping with stress is a learned skill. It involves making the right choices about how we spend our downtime. It may take some trial and error to determine which activities work best for you, but healthy coping skills can make a tremendous difference in your work-life balance. 

References/Resources

Alcohol and a Good Night's Sleep Don't Mix

Exercise and stress: Get moving to manage stress

Socialization and Altruistic Acts as Stress Relief

The Importance of Hobbies for Stress Relief

Amy Whetstone, MS, BSN, RN, CEN is a nurse specializing in emergency care. With 17 years experience, she has worked as a paramedic, a critical care nurse, and an ER and Urgent Care nurse. Prior to healthcare, Amy achieved a Master's Degree in Comparative Medicine with a research focus on epidemiogy.

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1 Comment(s)

John2018

Specializes in Occupational Health Nursing. Has 4 years experience. 102 Posts

Agree with instead of binge watching, get a hobby..something that would be really interesting that you could learn a skill.