7 Stress Management Techniques for Nurses

Written by Miranda Pennington

Stress is an ever-present buzzword in pretty much every industry, but it takes on especially sharp significance for those in the medical and nursing professions. Daryn Eller at Scrubs Mag has compiled some strategies for nurses to help them manage stress without feeling overwhelmed.

The consequences for losing the ability to manage stress are severe: burning out and leaving the industry, substance abuse, chronic illness, neglecting self care, or even making fatal errors. Be proactive about advocating for yourself, beginning with these basic approaches:

1. Take Control

Start by observing your daily routine objectively. What gives you energy, and what saps it? Can you structure your day or your approach to tasks to emphasize the ones that build you up, or at least balance them more effectively with the draining moments? Talk to your supervisor and your colleagues and see if you have a counterpart you might be able to trade with—this step helps rebuild your sense of agency, which alleviates that helpless, scrambling feeling.


2. Keep Perspective

Stress in the field of nursing is unavoidable—even if you try to stay detached, there are people’s lives at stake! So don’t bottle up your emotions at work—breathe and talk and even write through them. This strategy may even be more useful for your life outside of work; when you remember what the stakes at work are, interpersonal conflict or household issues seem lighter by comparison.


3. Lighten Up

Whether you burst into song like Julie Andrews or make inappropriate jokes to alleviate the tension, it’s important to let levity in when you can. Learn from your mistakes, and then let them roll off your shoulders. Carrying around guilt or shame will not make your job easier.


4. Don’t be a Hero (when it comes to overtime)

While the opportunity to double your usual wages might be appealing, it’s crucial to remember that nursing is exhausting physically and emotionally. There are legal maximums for a reason. Don’t feel like you always have to be the one stepping up for extra shifts, and remember to compartmentalize and sign off at the end of the day or night.


5. Take Breaks

Many nurses don’t take breaks—unless they’re smokers, which seems totally counterintuitive. Whether you treat yourself to a 15 minute non-smoking smoke break or just pause to close your eyes for a long slow breath between patient rooms, make sure you find moments to refresh yourself during the day. If you can manage even short workouts before or after work, even better.


6. Live in the Moment

Ambition can take us to exciting places, and nostalgia is always a bittersweet mental journey. But during your daily life, make sure you know right when and where you are. Don’t be racing to the next thing or brooding on the last one—let go of past and future stress and work with what’s facing you right there in that moment.


7. Be Ready to Make Changes

If you get to a point where you have to constantly reach for these coping strategies and more, it may be a sign you’re in the wrong specialty, the wrong hospital, or the wrong doctor’s office. Be strategic about planning a move. Think about the kinds of places you’d really want to work, and don’t just restrict yourself to reading job postings or want ads. For other nurses, involving their families in their work—or even just bringing them to the hospital to get a sense of what their daily experience is—can help build a more supportive family dynamic.


The consistent thread in these tips is to know yourself, know what you need, and be empowered to advocate for yourself in large and small moments when you feel like you’re overstressed. It will only help your work to have a revitalized version of you at work every day.

About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.