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Life has stress. It’s unavoidable. And to be fair, there are other professions that are stressful. Nurses, however, are amongst the most stressed out. Why? Because they’re often moms, caregivers, and the job is extremely demanding, unforgiving (making a mistake as a nurse is frightening) and usually in an ungrateful environment. You’re always left with the feeling that you could have done more or done better.

Couple that with the stress of raising a family, being human, and trying to take care of your own health and it’s no wonder that nurses suffer one of the highest rates of burnout of any profession.

All of that stress takes an astronomical toll on health and well-being.

Cortisol is a magnificent hormone if you’re being chased by a mugger. It’s super at helping you stay safe and alive. But chronic stress — and an almost constant release of cortisol that goes along with it — will kill you. In addition:

  • It will make you fat
  • It will hurt your heart
  • It causes systemic inflammation
  • It causes digestive disorders
  • It harms your immune system

And so much more.

So, how do you manage stress? What do you do to get through it and not just survive, but thrive?

There are many recommended approaches.

  • Deep breathing. Both during times of stress and during times of calm, practice deep breathing
  • Meditate
  • Laughter
  • Gratitude
  • Look for the positive (the silver lining)

Personally, I’ve tried all of these things, and they work — but only to a certain extent. They’re like patches on a problem. Patches eventually aren’t enough. I’ve found that I have to do two key things to keep stress at bay and not lose my mind:

Exceptional self care. I’m talking about making sure I get at least 7, preferably 8, hours of sleep. I eat nutrient dense foods and stay away from starchy carbs. I don’t drink and I exercise regularly. I’ve taken breaks from my self-care habits, and when I do my ability to manage stress just falls apart.

Something to look forward to. I also, personally, need to have something to look forward to. A massage scheduled later in the week, a dinner out with my husband, or even an afternoon of baking in my kitchen. I find small ways to experience joy during my week and I hold onto these future activities, keep them close to my heart. I tell you, there’s nothing like making it through a shift knowing that I get to have a massage the next day or I get to have coffee with my friends in the morning. It helps!

Yes, all of the regular stress management practices are valuable. Gratitude, meditation, deep breathing and all of that make a difference. But bottom line, you have to create a life that you love. A life where you are able to take good care of yourself and you have activities in your week that bring you joy. Being a nurse is packed with ups and downs, and it can be a very rewarding career. To keep it that way, take steps to manage your stress and thrive.

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