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Job stress can be one of the most challenging and difficult conditions to deal with, especially when it occurs during working hours. Nurses are known to work in emotionally draining environments with long hours and heavy workloads. So it comes as no surprise that members of this profession can end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out on a daily basis.

However as a buildup of stress can negatively affect mood and work performance, nurses need to be aware of techniques which they can use to cope and resume work with a healthy mind-set, especially as their well-being can have a direct impact on their patients.

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Prevention of workplace stress should be considered a priority for all employees and employers as it is negatively affecting the economy. In Australia alone, workplace stress is the second most common compensated illness (1).

What is stress?

Recognising stress is the first step towards learning how to cope. Stress is not an easy emotion to define as we all have different understandings and thresholds of the feeling. Essentially however, stress is an emotional, mental, and physical response which someone experiences when they are placed in demanding circumstances (2).


Nurses will usually encounter external stresses on the job as a result of their environment, psychosocial, or social situations. A recent research study found the following factors have all been directly related to the cause of nursing stress;

  • Conflicts in the workplace
  • Difficulties in handling different management styles
  • A heavy workload
  • Long working hours
  • The emotional impact of nursing work itself

Too much stress can influence or cause psychological medical conditions such as depression or anxiety, and physiological problems such as high blood pressure and even irritable bowel syndrome. In addition, if nurses are unable to cope with their job stress, they may find that feelings of exhaustion, job dissatisfaction, and burnout will prevail, which can negatively affect relationships with patients and fellow healthcare providers.

Signs and symptoms of stress

Stress can present with a wide range of signs and symptoms in different people. A similar situation could be perceived as mildly or highly challenging depending on the circumstances and the person’s perception of how well they could deal with the situation.

Some of the signs and symptoms of stress are listed below in increasing intensity (2):

  • Loss of sense of humour
  • Worry, anxiety
  • Moodiness and feeling upset
  • Irritability, impatience
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Exhaustion
  • Nausea
  • Disruption of regular sleep patterns
  • Changes in appetite
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • Increased use of and reliance on alcohol or cigarettes

The longer stress is allowed to build up, the more intense and serious stress-related problems can occur. Therefore it is important to be able to recognise and manage symptoms early, before detrimental effects on wellbeing take over.

Tips for coping with stress

Although unavoidable, stress can be managed and is vital for a healthy and strong wellbeing. The following tips and intervention methods can help in coping with and reducing stress (1):

Communicate – direct and clear communication with patients and doctors allows for the plan of care to be completely clear. This increases patient trust in their care providers and allows nurses to correctly and confidently carry out their work. Any increased knowledge can help to get rid of fears and clear up misconceptions.

Stay organised – having an organised workplace allows nurses to have easy access to the tools and equipment required for them to effectively complete their tasks. Keeping a checklist of the jobs which need to be completed allows work to be done on a priority basis and in a timely manner.

Set realistic goals – although multiple patients and doctors will rely on nurses for day to day care and cooperation, taking on only how much work and responsibility one nurse can handle helps to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and burnt out.

Practise relaxation techniques – everyone has different preferences for what can calm them down. Colouring, spending time with family and friends, and listening to music are all methods some people use to calm down. The right relaxation routine can help prevent a build-up of stress.

Exercise regularly – multiple research studies have clearly shown that regular exercise can uplift a person’s mood and decrease feelings of stress

Find a mentor – nurses tend to build up feelings, emotions, and concerns due to the hectic nature of their job. Enlisting the help of a mentor offers a reliable go-to person who can listen and guide at overwhelming times. Mentors can not only increase personal development and aid in achieving long term career goals, they can also indirectly improve patient outcomes.

However, if coping strategies and techniques are failing to work and there are still feelings of being overworked, anxious or over-stressed, extra help should be sought out before long term stress and health problems ensue. Prescription medications are available for dealing with anxiety and depression and employers need to be made aware in case time off work is required.


  1. Nurse CPD Online 
  2. NSW Health


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