Nursing stress is coming from all directions — including the nationwide nursing shortage, the growing number of elderly Americans with chronic diseases, the COVID-19 pandemic, more natural disasters and growing national tension. Many situations put nurses at risk for anxiety, depression, compassion fatigue, moral distress, stress-related illness and even burnout. Nurses remain in high demand, with about 12% more positions opening over the next decade, particularly in rural areas. Not only is there a need to recruit nursing students but also to retain nurses.
Creating both personal and environmental resilience is vital. Resilience is a hot topic in all work environments, but especially in nursing. First, one should understand what resilience is and how you can foster it.
Resilience: More than a Buzzword
Resilience is a buzzword these days in nursing to help nurses "bounce back" from difficult situations. It is defined as "the ability of an individual to positively adjust to adversity." An analogy for resilience is that it is an individual's "personal protective factor (PPF)" to navigate stressful circumstances. Stress management is dealing with the issue, typically after a challenging situation. Resilience is building strength and strategies to withstand stressful events before they occur.
Three Ways to Build Resilience
Personal resilience is a strategy that nurses can use to survive and thrive in their profession. Very resilient nurses take action to maintain their preparedness for situations. Creating and maintaining a professional network, self-care strategies and a work-life balance are just three key strategies for promoting resilience for a sustainable career in nursing.
- Build Your Social Network
A strong support network can help you be more resilient in challenging times. The military has relied on this strategy for years to help members feel that they are not alone. A professional support network is not your social media network of "friends" or those on LinkedIn. Instead, it is a strong core of between 10 and 12 professionals to support you. Include people outside of your organization, different age levels and even other healthcare professionals.
Professional networking helps you gather insights, perspectives and expertise. It helps you get involved and become engaged. Consider joining a specialty organization, as many are still meeting online.
- Nurture Yourself
Often, nurses focus on caring for others (patients, family, friends) at their own expense. For example, nurses may work long shifts going without food, water or bathroom breaks. Yet, to care for others, you must first take care of yourself.
Nurses who nurture themselves by engaging in self-care activities are more likely to be "healthy in all ways: mind, body, and spirit" and therefore more resilient. Self-care improves mood, reduces anxiety and combats stress.
Additionally, nurses who feel supported provide better patient care. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA) Code of Ethics, nurses have a duty to the self as to others. This makes self-care a professional responsibility for your physical, emotional or spiritual well-being. Strategies can be simple, easy, daily and only take five minutes. Find what works for you, whether it is reading, coloring, walking outdoors, journaling or practicing mindfulness.
- Maintain Work-Life Balance
Nurses who maintain a work-life balance usually have more job satisfaction and tend to be physically and emotionally healthier. This can lead to fewer sick days, reduced negative thoughts and feelings about nursing and ultimately less burnout.
Maintain your boundaries. Many nurses feel guilty if their unit is short-staffed, so they sign up for overtime. It is okay to say "no" so you can take care of yourself. Being tired or feeling overworked can lead to poorer patient outcomes, increased stress, burnout and other health issues like compassion fatigue. If you struggle with balancing work with personal responsibilities and how to "switch on/off," consider reaching out to a workplace mentor or therapist who might provide guidance.
More nursing schools and employers are incorporating resilience-building education and support strategies. Check to see if your employer teaches self-care or offers an employee assistance program and other opportunities to build resilience.