Nursing can be a stressful job, even under normal conditions. And even though there can be some pretty cool benefits of working holiday shifts, part of that stress does come from having to work at a time when so many folks don’t have to. With that in mind, here are a few stress management tips for nurses, to help get you through the busy holiday season ahead.
9 Holiday Season Stress Management Tips for Nurses
According to researchers, nursing is among the jobs with the most work-related mental health issues, even more so than doctors and other clinical jobs. And as we’ve pointed out here before at the CareerStaff Clinician Life Blog, that stress can have a big impact on your health, your personal life, and your work performance — especially during the holidays!
Yes, protecting your physical and mental health should always be a top priority. But it can also be hard to know how, when, or where to do so. Especially during this hectic time of year, practicing these stress management tips for nurses could make the difference between burning out and getting through the holiday season safely.
> Related: How Nurses Can Deal with Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
#1: Know the Signs of Stress
In the day-to-day hustle and bustle of what’s already a fast-paced job, it isn’t always easy to know if you’re actually suffering from stress, or just having a rough day. The effects can creep up on your without realizing them. And that can be dangerous! So, step one in stress management for nurses is to know the warning signs.
According to the American Holistic Nurses Association, some of the biggest signs of stress are physical, like sore shoulders from pushing gurneys, lower back pain from lifting patients, or feelings of sensory overload from alarms, sirens and the other noises of a busy healthcare facility. If this soreness or pain seems to never go away — or if it does go away, only to always come back again — it’s a clear sign that your body is feeling stressed.
Other signs that you may be experiencing high levels of stress may be less obvious. According to AdventHealth University, these symptoms can include unusual irritation or short temper; sleeplessness and nightmares; difficulty concentrating; loss of appetite, energy or confidence; and abuse of substances like alcohol, tobacco or recreational drugs.
#2: Set a Daily Routine, and Take It Seriously
Especially if you’re experiencing the symptoms noted above, the first step in stress management for nurses is to set a daily routine. Writing at NurseJournal, Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN points out that this can help you manage anxiety by keeping yourself organized and structured: “Even if you don’t typically thrive on a strict routine, it can give you a sense of control, improve your focus, and increase productivity,” she writes.
Sticking to your daily schedule is a good way to cope with day-to-day stress as well as the extra anxiety that comes during the holiday season. “If you set a schedule and stick with it for three weeks, you’ll slowly see a reduction in anxiety and burnout,” Morris explains.
#3: Set a Healthy Diet, and Stick with It
Hand-in-hand with managing stress and successfully sticking to a healthy agenda is making sure that you’re getting the proper nutrition. But this has always been a challenge for busy nurses. After all, who wants to finish an overtime shift only to come home and prepare a healthy meal, when it’s so much easier to just hit up the drive thru?
Make no mistake, though: Healthy eating is an essential part of stress management. Nurses who are short on time should set aside one part of the day or week to prepare some healthy meals in advance. Bringing healthy snacks to work, and having a healthy meal waiting for you when you get home, means you’ll have less temptation to eat sugary foods or junk foods to maintain your energy.
#4: Make Sleep a Priority
“It would be best if you were spending one-third of your life asleep,” Morris writes. “Research shows that sleep helps you relax, destress, and can reduce your risk of dementia. Symptoms of deprivation include slowed thinking, poor memory, lack of attention or focus, and inefficient decision-making.”
Of course, most of us already know the importance of getting enough sleep, but we don’t always have control over how much we can get. That’s why it’s important to put some effort into managing your schedule to make sure that you do get that sleep. If that means going to bed a little earlier than normal, it’s probably worth a try. You’ll likely get used to it in a hurry, and your body will appreciate the added rest.
#5: Don’t Skip Out on Exercise
Again, most nurses probably know that they’re not getting the physical exercise they need. But at the same time, they simply don’t feel like they have the time. Like sleep, though, exercise is essential — it can lower your stress hormones, for starters, as Morris points out. It can also provide you with energy and strength to better cope with the physical causes of stress, as we discussed in tip #1.
Whether it’s before or after work, or even during a break, taking the time for physical exercise is essential. And all the hours you spend on your feet don’t count, unfortunately. For best results, exercise should be separated from work, and treated as a time to disconnect. That means hitting the gym, or, better yet, an outdoor trail, if that’s an option, since spending time in nature is another way to lower stress hormones.
#6: Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing is a great way to take a mental time out and recuperate your energy. It “can be an effective way to reduce stress and anxiety” and “can also improve lung function, blood pressure, and other elements of health,” according to Regis College.
And, unlike sleep or exercise, it doesn’t have to be scheduled, but can be done at work, all throughout the day. The Regis article recommends practicing them from five to 15 minutes at a time, ideally at a set time each day. You will need to find a place that’s quiet and comfortable, which could be the biggest challenge of this stress management tip, depending on the facility where you work.
“Deep breathing involves taking extended breaths all the way into the belly, avoiding the short, shallow chest breaths that can trigger anxiety and fatigue,” the Regis article adds. “Deep breathing for stress management typically involves breathing through the nose instead of the mouth and often uses counting techniques.” Check out the full guide from Regis College for more detailed instructions on deep breathing for nurses.
#7: Talk with Someone
Talking through your anxieties is one of the most doable stress management tools for nurses. And so is just talking in general. Because staying isolated can make things worse, it’s important to take the time to connect with a friend, family or loved one each day. And if you don’t have someone like that in your life — or if they’re not always available when you are — consider speaking to a therapist instead.
#8: Practice Self Care
Today, most experts agree that self-care is a reliable way to preserve mental health. But it also seems kind of vague. What does it mean to practice self-care, exactly, and how can nurses integrate this important stress management tool into their everyday lives?
The good news is that self-care is not as intimidating as it might seem! It includes many easy, small and enjoyable tasks that can be done throughout the day, like taking up a new hobby, writing a daily journal, practicing yoga or meditation, and more. There are so many options that nurses shouldn’t have any trouble finding one that works for them. For more details, check out our recent guide to self-care for nurses and clinicians.
> Don’t Miss: 17 Self-Care Tips for Nurses & Clinicians
#9: Sign Up for a CareerStaff Holiday Bonus
Finally, one way to help relieve stress during this busy holiday season is with the comfort of some extra cash in your pocket! With the 2022 CareerStaff holiday bonus program, all nurses who are currently on travel assignments with us are eligible — as long as you’re willing to volunteer for a holiday shift (or two)!
Qualified nurses can earn $1,000+ by working shifts on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve or Day and/or New Year’s Eve or Day. Click here to get all the details.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Of all the stress management tips for nurses, the most important may be having a great job in the first place. If it’s time to find a new career opportunity, we’ve got you covered. With thousands of nursing jobs available across the United States each and every day, in a wide range of specialties, chances are good that we’ve got an assignment that’s right up your alley.