Strategies Nurses Can Use to Cope with Stress

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Life-and-death issues confront nurses constantly, so stress is part of the job.

Dealing with death is especially stressful, especially if the nurse feels at fault. But even a daily onslaught of long shifts, difficult patients, difficult co-workers and bureaucratic red tape makes nursing an emotionally taxing profession.

That doesn’t mean nurses are routinely taught how to deal with stress.

Nurses aren’t even routinely taught how to deal with death. According to, nursing students are taught to deal with others’ feelings, but not their own. As for professionals,  research “is scarce and mostly anecdotal. But what studies there are suggest nurses go through a unique grieving process when patients die, and how they manage this process is important to their well-being.”

Maintaining feelings of well-being is a challenge when wide-ranging shift schedules compromise sleeping and eating patterns. There are days when a nurse might have time to take a lunch or dinner break, and there are days when there are too many IVs to adjust, medications to give out, doctors to call and forms to fill out to even think about taking the time to eat a warm, well-balanced meal. Many nurses take better care of their patients than they do themselves.

The ANA Code of Ethics

Managing stress is, however, an obligation, says the American Nursing Association. The ANA’s Code of Ethics has nine tenets. The Fifth Tenet states: “The nurse owes the same duties to self as to others, including the responsibility to preserve integrity and safety, to maintain competence, and to continue personal and professional growth.”

“In order for nurses to preserve their integrity and safety,” the ANA explains, “they are going to have to find techniques that will help them cope with stress.”

The ANA provides three sets of guidelines:

  1. It recommends paying close attention to personal exercise and diet routines, although acknowledging that it is difficult for nurses to find time for diligence. The ANA recommends working out either at home or at a gym to minimize moodiness and weight gain. It also advises against reliance on takeout and fast food.
  2. The ANA recommends trying not to think about work during off-hours, and to minimize discussion, as a means of avoiding fatigue and burnout. It points out that keeping work talk to a minimum at home not only reduces stress but also maintains confidentiality.
  3. Hobbies, other recreation and community involvement will reduce stress, the ANA advises. Making time for social activities with friends and family can make a big difference. Some of these activities should take place during the weekly work schedule, but the ANA also advises nurses to take vacations and take advantage of other designated days off.

Confronting stress for good

According to, nurses deal with death better if they allow themselves a grieving process. Those who try to soldier on stoically are the ones who develop physical and emotional problems.

Stress can be a positive force. Some people who can’t avoid feeling stress can make it work in their favor. Nurses can counter upsetting everyday situations with a positive or cheerful approach. That, good health, and good relationships with colleagues can keep stress from overwhelming a nurse.

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