If you’ve been nursing for a while, you might accept stress as just a part of the profession. If you’re newer to the field of nursing, you’re probably finding out that sometimes it feels like you’re drowning– it’s almost inevitable. You may feel like Zach Braff has more medical knowledge than you just from memorizing his lines for Scrubs.

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Pretty much everything about our day is stressful- from the moment we clock in, the shit storm starts. I like planning out my day before each shift based on my patient’s medications, walks, chest physiotherapy, tests, neuro checks, etc. but there’s a saying in the Army, and I think it applies perfectly here– “plans don’t last two seconds in combat.”

Now hopefully we aren’t getting shot at on the floor (knock on wood), but when call bells start going off, or you have CT on the phone saying you need to bring your patient down right now and they have to be monitored on transport, it throws a wrench in your plans. Flexibility and resiliency can make or break you and being able to roll with the punches can be the difference in a good or bad day. Tip #1: Be prepared. Have a plan, but realize that you’ll likely need to deviate from it. Get to your shift a little early and look up your patient’s to get an idea of the day ahead of you.

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I found my first few months very stressful, and it was mostly because I took on too many responsibilities and wasn’t able to relax on my days off. On top of getting the hang of the whole nursing thing, I just started my DNP-FNP program, and recently commissioned into the Army. For the first 3 months or so, I don’t remember actually getting a day off. If I wasn’t at work, I was trying to forget about work while reading through pages of advanced pathophysiology or writing papers. Then, I’d have a drill weekend which was somehow always right before a big exam or paper was due. So here’s Tip #2: Take advantage of the time you have off work. Don’t sign yourself up for too many responsibilities so that when you do get those few days off you can de-stress– go to the park, walk your dog, write a blog… 

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The last shift I worked, I had a patient who was admitted a month prior with respiratory distress and ended up on ECMO. He was ultimately decannulated and trached, finding his way to me a few weeks later. This patient had a 1:1 sitter with a tech because he was delirious and already pulled out not one, but TWO, dialysis catheters. Between his NG tube, trach, and central line, I cringed every time he reached towards his face to scratch an itch. His UTI and HSV rash wasn’t helping either– the perfect storm of agitated patient.

Okay, to the point… at 0400 he pulls out his trach and is laying there sputtering through this hole in his neck. I called out the door for help as I made sure he was oxygenating adequately and tilted his head back to keep his tracheostomy patent. Another nurse came in to help me while our charge nurse paged respiratory therapy and the on-call resident. After a few attempts, a new cannula was inserted with only a little bleeding, and the patient spent the rest of the shift in wrist restraints and mittens. What’s my point? Tip #3, that’s my point… You can’t do it all on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help from other nurses, techs, and the secretaries. These people are your best friends for those 13 hours you spend at work and can make your day a whole lot less stressful. 

Here are a few other things I’ve found that work for me:

Tip #4: Exercise to help relieve some stress. Whether it’s hitting your local Planet Fitness after your shift, doing yoga in the park on your day off, or going for a hike and getting lost in the woods– find your thing and stick to it. I know this is one of those things we all know and might not do, but it really does help, and you’ll be a lot healthier than if you just go home and binge watch Netflix.

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Tip #5: Make time to hang out with your friends. I’m guilty of not making enough time for my friends ever since I started working as a nurse. We’re all busy, and it’s hard adulting with all these things going on, but friends and family are essential for your well-being. Plan something out ahead of time for one of your days off and go to a concert, get drinks, watch a game– whatever you’re into. It could be underwater basket weaving for all anyone cares.

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Tip #6: Talk to someone. No, not necessarily a therapist, but find another nurse or corner a student nurse and give them your life story. Everyone is stressed even if they don’t admit it and misery loves company. Whenever I talk to another nurse who started around the same time as me, it’s so relieving to know they’re experiencing the same problems as me whether it be doubt about yourself as a nurse or feeling burnt out.

Okay, I’ll stop there, but let me know what things you’ve found to be helpful with managing stress. Have any of these things worked or not worked for you?