6 Ways for Coping with the Stress of Life in the ER
Emergency department nurses face daily stress at an unimaginable level. They experience the worst injuries and conditions, and have to work quickly and precisely to administer care. The pressure is always on. It’s no wonder ER nurses experience burnout at faster rates than other specialties. To survive, thrive, and deliver top-level care, these nurses need effective ways of coping with stress and trauma.
The exhausting toll of emergency care
The emergency room is rife with stress, even beyond the urgent nature of injuries and illness. Emergency care comes with long hours and few mental breaks, often intensified by hospital policies designed to keep patient wait times down. Many emergency care nurses also feel like they’re on an island — they don’t always have access to the personnel, stability, and everyday camaraderie of many other specialties.
There’s also something called compassion fatigue — a form of secondary trauma — that many ER nurses face. Because emergency nurses are exposed to so much stimuli and help patients at their worst, they often feel powerless to help in situations beyond the normal course of treatment. As a result, they can actually become closed off and distant over time without an outlet at which to express their emotions.
Even nurses prepared for the fast-paced, high-tension nature of the emergency room aren’t immune. After years of stress, the effects begin to take their toll unless nurses find a way to unburden themselves.
Steps to coping with the stress of the ER
Coping with the stress of an emergency room position takes three forms: preventive, reactive, and restorative. Nurses need to center themselves before a shift and get into the right frame of mind; during their shift, they must alleviate stress and have an outlet for managing it — people and practices they can rely upon; and after, they must unburden themselves, shake off the day, and leave behind the stress of work when not on shift.
It’s important to recognize stress management for what it is: self-care. Stress affects the mind and body in many adverse ways. Coping with stress effectively is essential. Here are six tips for ER nurses, to help them shed the pent-up tension their profession may be creating for them:
- Find a hobby that alleviates your stress. It’s best to find something unplugged, maybe even outdoors for true restoration. Find whatever brings you peace and joy.
- Give aromatherapy a try. In one study, aromatherapy was shown to reduce stress in nurse practitioners, resulting in better focus and a measurable reduction in stress.
- Learn breathing exercises and practice them at work. Studies have shown that as little as one minute of controlled breathing can calm the mind and reduce stress.
- Eat a healthy snack at work. Diet, mindfulness, and mood are all connected. A healthy snack can be as stress-relieving as it is satisfying to hunger.
- Develop a before work ritual that’s calming. Centering the mind before starting a hectic shift reduces the onset of stress and can stave off stress-induced depression.
- Practice yoga. An oft-cited 2007 study identifies yoga as a productive habit for mindfulness, stress reduction, and self-care among health care professionals.
These six tips won’t prevent the stress of a career in an emergency room, but they’re proven to help mitigate its impact on professionals working in this environment. If you’re feeling stressed at your ER job, consider giving these tips a try.