The Mindful Nurse

Seven tips for decreasing your stress level

A crucial cornerstone in maintaining personal wellness is recognizing one’s stress level and performing daily stress management techniques. Some stress is good, like the adrenaline rush that kicks in when you’re hustling to meet a deadline. But chronic stress is harmful.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services Policy

Research shows that acute stressful events, such as being in a car accident or taking a test you’re not prepared for, don’t have the same physical long-lasting effects as day-to-day chronic stress. Chronic stress stems from getting stuck in daily traffic jams, worrying constantly about your weight, checking a long list of unread emails before going to bed and all those other things that cause tension. The everyday stress we carry around can lead to decreased immunity, higher risk of illness and even an increased risk of heart disease.

But what are you supposed to do as a nurse? Working in a hospital is stressful! You are holding patients’ lives in your hands. Acknowledging rather than ignoring stress is the first step. The second important step is learning how to manage your stress and become resilient.

A few years ago, I transitioned into the medical intensive care unit at Cleveland Clinic. Soon after, I realized I was underperforming because I was constantly on edge. I wondered if my patients were going to crash, and I felt overwhelmed trying to manage my critically ill patients. Oftentimes, my head was in six different places when I needed to focus on the task at hand. Then a peer recommended Cleveland Clinic’s six-week online program “Stress Free Now.” It offers weekly relaxation techniques, easy-to-understand educational material, daily tips and motivational messages.

Advertising Policy

At first, I was doubtful. How could meditation and deep breathing help me as I tried to care for very sick patients? I quickly learned the value in the practice. It transformed me into a more efficient, calm nurse. I performed better than ever because I was focused, alert and mentally “in the moment” instead of worrying about dozens of other tasks or trying to predict the unforeseen.

Seven stress management techniques

Knowing how to control your body’s reactions to stressful situations will make you a mindful nurse – one who can prioritize tasks and make sound medical decisions for patients. To get on the path to becoming a mindful nurse, consider these seven tips to reduce daily stress:

  1. Meditate – Calm your mind. Close your eyes for one minute, and count how many thoughts come into your mind. Now try for three minutes to “not think.” When a thought enters your mind, let it go and simply be present without distractions. Be aware of your breathing. To stay in the moment, I find it helpful to focus on one soothing word as I inhale and exhale, such as “calm” when I breathe in and “release” when I breathe out.
  2. Practice deep breathing – Have you ever counted your breaths? Try inhaling on a count of four and exhaling on a count of six. Repeat this five times when you need to slow down, relax and be present in a stressful situation. These deep breathing exercises on your commute to and from work can calm your body before your shift begins and help you de-stress on the car ride home.
  3. Use guided imagery – Think back to a peaceful moment on your last vacation. Maybe you were on a beach, enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing against the shore. How did it look, feel, smell and sound to be there? Or imagine yourself as a 5-year-old child, playing tag or rolling down a grassy hill. Go back to that beach or be that carefree kid in your mind for five to 10 minutes to calm your body and mind.
  4. Exercise – Working out releases those feel-good hormones (endorphins) and helps take your mind off the stressful events of the day. You don’t have to be a “workout queen.” For advice on simple exercise routines, read my May post.
  5. Do yoga or Tai Chi – You don’t need a mat and 60 minutes to reap the benefits. Chair yoga exercises are the next best thing for those of us stuck at a computer for most of our shift. Get started here with Cleveland Clinic’s quick demos!
  6. Eat nutritious food – Increasing foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, albacore tuna, walnuts and flaxseed, can help combat high cortisol levels that are released when we are stressed. (Check out my post on nutrition.)
  7. Consider spiritual practices – There is no right or wrong way to practice your spiritual beliefs. Whatever path you choose, prayer and spiritual practices help increase your self-worth and self-control.

There’s little downtime today with social media, smartphones and fast-paced productivity. But nurses must take at least 10 minutes a day for mindfulness. Get started by downloading Cleveland Clinic’s Stress Meditations app. Give back to your body, mind and soul!

Advertising Policy

Mallory Hatmaker, MSN, BSN, CNP, is a regular contributor to Consult QD—Nursing. She is an Adult/Gerontology Certified Nurse Practitioner who has been a staff nurse at Cleveland Clinic since 2009. She currently works in the Employee Wellness and Internal Medicine Departments at Cleveland Clinic, where she spearheads an initiative on Nursing Wellness.