By Joan Monchak Lorenz, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC
Nursing is known as the caring profession. Nurses are known as caring individuals. Caring and anticipating needs are strengths of those in nursing. They are our best assets, and the assets most recognized by others.
But our greatest assets can also be our worst liabilities. In other words, caring has two sides to it: Caring for others is noble and fulfilling, but caring too much, or using up all of our energy caring without caring for ourselves, can leave us tired and drained.
In order to take care of challenging patients, we need to make time to take care of ourselves. Nurses who do not take care of their own health needs are often the ones most likely to have problems caring for challenging patients. We need to face up to the reality that spending our work life caring for others is a heavy burden, and we must take some time to recharge, and refill our cupboards. We need to address the emotional toll our work takes on us.
Stress can be emotional, physical, or spiritual. The first step in handling stress is to make sure that we understand how we cope with stress.
As nurses, we can make the assumption that our personal life and our work life cause us stress. There is really no need to make a list of our stressors—this might cause us more stress. But it’s safe to assume that we have stress. We have all developed methods to handle our stress: Sometimes we develop adaptive ways and other times we use maladaptive methods. Start by listing some coping methods and separating them into those that help and those that hinder you. Then do more of what helps, and systematically eliminate or change those that hinder.
Sometimes the way we look at things causes us increased stress. Here are some ways of thinking that add to stress. Do any of these ring true for you?
Extreme thinking: Sometimes we see things with no middle ground or no gray. It is all black and white, all or nothing, good or bad.
Overgeneralizing/blowing things out of proportion: Everything is a crisis. “No one here knows what he or she is doing.” “I never get a good assignment.”
Mind reading/fortune-telling: You predict the future in a negative way: “This is going to be another rotten day.”
Jumping to conclusions without enough evidence or guessing about what other people are thinking about us: “They don’t know what it is like to work on the floor. This is just one more thing they thought up to make our days difficult.”
Personalizing: Jumping to a conclusion that something is directly connected to you: “Everyone knows I’ve been off work because I can’t cope.”
One way to reduce your stress is to change the way you look at things. Try these alternatives and see how they work for you:
Change extreme thinking into reality thinking. Look for the gray between the black and white.
Stop overgeneralizing and recognize that what is happening now is only what is happening now. Nothing lasts forever. Look for times when good things happen to you, such as when you do get a good assignment.
Stop mind reading. Ask for clarification and details. Check out the facts. What does the policy say? What does the procedure mandate?
Gather your data before making a conclusion. We all know we need to make a comprehensive patient assessment before a diagnosis can be made. Use the same principles when coming to a conclusion (diagnosis) about a situation that has caused you discomfort.
Come to grips with the reality that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Yes, sorry to say, most of the time other people are so concerned about themselves that they don’t even think about how their actions might affect you.
Change stress into relief
In her article “Break the cycle of stress with PBR3,” Becky Graner, MS, RN, IAC, shares a simple tool that aids in stress relief. PBR3 stands for pause, breathe, relax, reflect, rewrite. Let’s see how it works. Adhere to the process in the following table the next time you are in a stressful situation at work, or just before going in to take care of a patient who presents a challenge to you.
Pause: Simply stop thinking. You can continue doing something such as walking down the hall, washing your hands, or another activity that has become automatic for you. Simply stop your thoughts.
Breathe: Stop the chatter in your mind by paying attention to your breathing. Just focus on your breaths and count, say a prayer, or repeat an affirmation to yourself. Don’t try to control your breath. And don’t hold your breath.
Relax: Simply taking a pause and a few breaths, particularly diaphragmatic breathing, takes you out of a reactive state and into a more relaxed state. When you are relaxed, your thinking will clear.
Reflect: Debrief yourself. What was going on that led up to the situation that bothered you? If you felt angry, what was the feeling behind the anger? Was your response out of proportion to the situation? Were you thinking the worst?
Rewrite: Check yourself to find out where you may have been taking things too personally, making assumptions, or doing some of the other automatic thinking processes that cause more stress than not. Rethink or rewrite these into more realistic assumptions. Using humor, empathy, or compassion may soothe you.
Graner, B. “Break the cycle of stress with PBR3.” American Nurse Today, (2)5:56–57.