Nurse De-Stressing Tips
Part One – The Body
By Aila Accad, RN, MSN
Nurses are terrific when it comes to taking care of everyone else, but when it comes to us; we often ignore or override our own needs. From the basic needs for regular meals and rest to deep emotional needs for releasing the pain we deal with at work, we are at the end of the list (more accurately not on the list) of the people for whom we care every day.
Being tough, nurses can pull this magic trick off for a long time before our resources start to burn out. Then, often the solution is to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep on going. This seems admirable on the surface, but in the end, there is no glory in the burned out carcass of an overly self-sacrificing nurse.
The simple yet profound wisdom of a familiar airline safety protocol is useful to take to heart. “Put your own oxygen mask on FIRST, before you help others with theirs.”
This is brilliant advice! Since nurses have such great stamina, a little care of ourselves up front, goes a long way toward supporting our availability to help others over time.
Here are some quick and easy tips for de-stressing your body. They take very little time to do and pay off greatly in not only reducing stress, but also in building more energy and stamina. When you read these tips, you will see how obvious they are. Yet, I think you will agree that in our hectic days attending to the basic needs of others, we often ignore these basic human needs for ourselves.
Tip 1~ Breathe
Take a moment before going on to the next task in your day for this simple act: take a deep breath, center yourself and smile. What a difference that moment will make toward relaxing and restoring your body and mind for the next situation.
Why it works~
When the body stresses, breathing becomes shallow. You may even notice that you hold your breath. Consciously taking a deep breath gives your cells the oxygen they need, so the body begins to relax and the mind is sharper. When you take that breath deep into the pelvic floor, you will find you stand up straighter and feel more centered and balanced. Standing strong and in charge of your next step feels great, so smile. When you smile, you actually feel better. Your body takes that physical cue as an indication that you are happy, so endorphins start to flow. A genuine smile cues everyone around you too. You may find that others respond better to you as well. Take this simple action several times today. Feel the difference it makes in your outlook at the end of the day. Teach it to others and see the difference it can make in the whole unit!
Tip 2~ Eat
Taking just a few moments for you, before giving to others is time well spent. Now, you are giving from your abundance rather than from an empty basket. Speaking of empty baskets, how about those nutritionally empty cells of yours. Pack a piece of fruit, some nuts, raisins or other quick snacks to have on hand when you feel the need to work beyond meal breaks. Something you can grab fast instead of the donuts or candy the patient’s family just brought. This does not require elaborate preparation, or time. Grab a zip lock bag, throw in a few unsalted nuts, dried berries, raisins, or other dried fruits, or natural foods you like in it, and put it in your pocket, purse or desk. I also have some organic cacao nibs (raw dark chocolate) in my energy pack. Take a handful or two whenever you feel a hunger pang or drop in energy.
Why it works~
A small change in eating can create a huge increase in energy levels immediately and in health over time. Your cells need nutrients to produce energy for work and to regenerate when they are under stress. Fast food, sugar and salt actually have a deteriorating effect on the body. Sugar can provide a temporary high, but to balance that high the body will rebound with an equal or greater low. You actually have less energy in the end. Eating a little bit of nutritious food every couple of hours not only feeds the cells what they need, it also has side benefits. When your body knows you are going to feed it regularly, it stops packing on fat to prevent you from starving. You won’t get so famished you would eat anything in sight as long as it is fast (donuts, chips, fast food). As a bonus, your body may also release a few unneeded pounds, which can make everything feel lighter.
Tip 3 ~ Drink Water
Most of us have gotten into the habit of drinking many things our body cannot use (caffeine, sugar, carbonation). Replace one beverage a week with pure water and feel the rejuvenation in your cells. Each week replace another cup of coffee, or soda with a glass of water. Over a few weeks, your body will actually desire more water, and the transition becomes easy. You will find that your body prefers water once you get started. Keep a mug of water on your desk, or strap on one of those water bottles, so you always have some with you. Sip it all day long. Yes, you will need to take precious time to pee more often at first. This is time well spent. Once your body gets used to the idea that you will be giving it the valuable water it needs regularly, it will stop retaining water. Your drinking and peeing ratio will level out in a couple of days. As your cells re-hydrate, you will look and feel younger and more vibrant.
Why it works~
Our cells are predominantly water. We need to replace the water lost from sweating, tears and the body’s heating and cooling system on a continuous basis. Dehydration is associated with decreased energy, increased hunger, tiredness, and aging wrinkled skin. In addition to actually drinking water, you can eat more water-based foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables for hydration. Another good reason for replacing carbonated beverages with water is that carbonation leaches minerals from your body.
Tip 4 ~ Rest
Take a break every couple of hours or whenever possible. There have been many studies proving that workers who take a break increase their productivity. While you are taking that break, stretch your arms, back and legs. Most animals stretch regularly. Watch a cat or dog sometime, and notice how often they stretch.
Why it works~
Stretching improves the elasticity and mobility of the body, which allows for more relaxed movement and less tension. Resting the body and the mind to a state of quiet opens the senses and the mind for more presence in the moment, creativity and peace. When you create some spaces in your day, you can experience more of what is present and come up with creative solutions to stressful situations.
Putting the pieces together~
While you are taking that stretch break for 5-10 minutes, have a glass of water, pop some of those nutritional snacks, take a deep, deep breath into the floor of your pelvis, let it out and smile. Feel the return of energy and relaxation to your body, clarity to your mind, and caring to your heart.
When you feel stressed and depleted, try these simple tips for incorporating the basic needs of your body ~ breathing, eating, drinking water and rest ~ into your hectic day. Experience for yourself how taking care of YOU first, provides the precious resources you need to care for others from a place of strength and abundance.
© 2007 Aila Accad
Next – Nurse De-Stressing Tips – Part Two – The Mind
Aila Accad, RN, MSN
is a professional Speaker, Trainer, and Well-Being Coach, who is an expert in Nurse De-Stressing. You can learn more or contact her for
This article was published in The West Virginia Nurse, Vol. 10, Number 4, November, December, 2007, January 2008, pp 4-5
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