Stress at work

We all know that nursing can be a stressful job. We’re used to spending emotional and physical energy caring for others. Alongside calculating and administering medication, it’s part of the role to support patients and their families as they turn to us for help. In most cases, feeling that we’re making a difference is what leads to job satisfaction. But when it all feels too much, it can leave us feeling emotionally drained.

On top of this, many nurses work long, irregular hours. And shift work can take its toll both physically and mentally by disrupting the body’s natural wake-sleep pattern that regulates the way the body functions.

Always on the go, it can be difficult for nurses to switch off. On top of this, the job can be physically demanding, causing aches and pains, including back pain, which is also linked to feeling stressed.

Work-related stress and anxiety is the most common cause of ill-health and sickness absence in Britain. It’s been estimated that it causes more than half of all working days lost to ill health. And a report by the Nursing Times suggested that more than 60% of nurses have experienced problems associated with work-related stress.

What’s the difference between pressure and stress?

Pressure can be a positive force that keeps us energised. But when we’re doing more than we can cope with, this positivity turns to negative stress which can cause illness and poor decision making.

What causes work-related stress?

Along with the usual pressures of working to tight deadlines, there are some other everyday stressors such as working in a situation where there are limited resources. It’s also important to feel you’re getting support from colleagues and understand how the ward is being run. Bullying at work can also be a significant cause of stress.

Who is most affected?

Everyone is different. So your idea of a stressful situation may feel normal to someone else. The way you experience a situation can be affected by your own background and culture, as well as your age, skills, experience and personality. And you’re more likely to be affected by work-related stress if you have other health problems, or additional issues to deal with at home.

It’s OK to admit you’re feeling stressed

As nurses, we’re used to coping. We often put pressure on ourselves to ‘just get on with it’. It can be hard to admit that we need to take time out. But it’s OK to admit you’re struggling. It shows that you’ve recognised your limitations and it’s the first step to managing a difficult situation so that you can move forward.

Top tips for managing stress at work

  • Try to keep a work-life balance
  • Use your free time to exercise, socialise and rest
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it
  • Ask yourself what you can/can’t control. If you can’t make a change to something, can you live with it?
  • Try to have a healthy diet and cut back on stimulants including coffee and alcohol
  • If you’re a smoker, try to cut down or – even better – quit altogether

It can be challenging to take time to think about ourselves. But it’s essential if we’re going to stay healthy, both mentally and physically. And, if you can identify exactly what’s making you feel stressed, you’ve taken the first step to change things for the better. But if you’ve already tried self-help and it’s not working, please contact the Cavell Nurses’ Trust who’ll be able to help.

There’s more about managing stress at work in the Royal College of Nursing’s guide, Stress and You: a guide for nursing staff that’s available to download from their website here.

AFSCME , NHS UK , HSE , Nursing Times , HSE NI

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