Nursing in scrubs meditating

There are so many rewards to nursing; administering life-saving treatments, caring for and educating patients, and providing emotional support are just some of them. The same parts of the job that are rewarding, though, can be stressful. A study conducted by the American Nurses Association found that many nurses don’t prioritize their mental and emotional health. Approximately 68 percent of surveyed nurses said they put their patients’ health, safety and wellness ahead of their own.

“We have to believe that our own well-being matters; that it isn’t a selfish or self-centered act to steward our personal resources in a way that allows us to serve others and remain whole,” said Cynda Hylton Rushton, PhD, RN, FAAN.

The same study identified stress as the biggest opponent of health and safety for nurses. Eighty-two percent of nurses surveyed said they were at a “significant level of risk for workplace stress.” Overcoming that stress calls for both lifestyle changes to prevent it and coping techniques to combat it.

Practices for Dealing with Moments of High Nursing Stress


Sometimes, it can be difficult to fix a problem while you’re in it. When you give yourself permission to step away from a stressful situation, you create an opportunity to find a new perspective. The S.T.O.P. technique is a great way to pull yourself out of a stressful situation.

  • S: Stop what you’re doing and clear your mind.
  • T: Take a few deep breaths to center yourself.
  • O: Observe what’s happening in your mind, what’s happening to your body.
  • P: Proceed with the original task but with a clear and focused mind.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Deep breathing activates your body’s natural relaxation responses. A common type of deep breathing known as diaphragmatic, originates in the belly and draws the diaphragm downward into the abdominal cavity. Typically, we breathe from the chest, so this is a technique you should practice daily. At first, it might be easier to practice this technique while lying down.

1. While sitting in a chair with your feet on the floor, place one hand on your stomach and one on your upper chest.

2. Concentrate on breathing using your diaphragm, not your chest; the stomach should rise as the lungs fill.

3. Breathe out by relaxing your diaphragm, and let your stomach fall naturally.

To strengthen your diaphragm, slowly add small weights on your stomach, such as a book, and run through the exercise again. Over time, you’ll be able to easily breathe using your diaphragm while standing.

Ongoing Nursing Stress Maintenance

Prioritize Sleep

The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night to avoid depression, errors at work, and a myriad of health problems. Many night shifts for nurses begin at 11 p.m. and finish at 7 a.m. Professionals on this shift may need to sleep when the sun is out. For better sleep, consider investing in room-darkening shades to block outside light, along with earplugs or a white-noise machine to muffle excess noises.

Take an occasional nap during your break time at work. Twenty minutes is the ideal nap length to ward off grogginess, improve alertness, and boost your mood.


One of the best ways to relieve stress immediately is to open up to someone you trust, keeping HIPAA laws in mind. Talking with a friend or co-worker about your feelings helps put them in perspective. It may help to talk about work – or it may help to talk about anything but work.

Try to break the home-work-home cycle as often as you can. Schedule dates with a loved one or outings with friends. Make these plans well in advance so you have something to look forward to. Maintaining as much work-life balance as you can minimizes stress.

Enhance Your Work Environment

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) released a report that said managing your work environment is one of the most direct ways to reduce nursing stress. Practice effective time management and avoid overloading yourself. Learn to say no when appropriate and delegate when you can. Prioritize your health by taking meal and other breaks.

Ask your employer about introducing a stress policy if one isn’t already in place. A successful policy should include access to counseling, measures to reduce and prevent stress, and stress-management classes or training.

Increase Your Knowledge

One of the best ways to stave off stress is to stay up-to-date on nursing best practices and techniques. Studies have shown there is a correlation between increased education and reduced stress at work. Reduce your stress and advance your career in nursing with the fully online RN-to-BSN degree program from Husson University. Our program allows you to enhance your skills, and you’ll be better prepared for leadership roles.