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Stress in the Workplace: a Registered Nurse's Perspective

The Karma study reminds me of a study that was recently conducted in Saskatchewan regarding registered nurses and their mental health during the pandemic. It was found that a large number of registered nurses are considering leaving the profession, and many already have, due to increased stress loads.

Many of my nursing colleagues have been asking themselves, “Is it really worth it to continue this work with very little support from the government and health officials?”.

Being in the nursing profession right now feels like you’re standing in the middle of a building that’s collapsing around you, and there’s not much you can do to keep the building standing. Eventually, you’ll be crushed by the rubble if something more isn’t done.

Just as Stuart said, that various attempts to reduce stressors have been made, in my case by our nursing union, something deeper is needed, and I believe that undoubtedly is Self-Reg:

1. Reframe the behaviour:

Nurses leaving the profession due to increased stress loads secondary to the pandemic. Nurses need more support from various levels to be able to manage their growing stress load.

2. Recognize the stressors across the 5 domains:

  • Biological: Increased stress levels lead to decreased energy, poor sleep, and physiological symptoms. Many nurses are now developing chronic medical conditions. Add that into not being able to exercise freely at gyms like we used to, and human beings are generally less healthy at this time.

  • Cognitive: The mental load of the pandemic is a huge stressor and has caused an uptick in anxiety for nurses. As we know from Self-Reg, if anxiety levels are up, cognitive ability decreases. It is safe to say that there are moments where nurses aren’t at their best due to anxiety, and that has the potential to impact patient care. Couple that with being short-staffed and you have less brains to put together; which is a strategy nurses use when we know we are struggling cognitively. We bounce ideas off our colleagues often.

  • Social: Due to the pandemic social engagement has suffered, so the same social outlets that were available pre-pandemic just aren’t options for everyone right now. Not being able to connect socially is definitely taking its toll.

  • Emotional: Nurses are getting cranky, and I have seen many developing a negative bias. There are only so many “freedom rallies” you can walk past, or protestors outside the hospital that you encounter before you begin to dive into that negative bias. Add to that many governments who are removing all remaining protection the healthcare system had from being overrun and the world feels pretty grim right now.

  • Prosocial: Dealing with the stress of coworkers. Taking care of individuals with vaccine-preventable illnesses is very difficult and after a while it can be difficult to have empathy for these patients.

3. Reduce the Stress:

There are many ways to reduce the stress. Seeing the public standing up from healthcare workers in support really does help. Having managers recognize the importance of morale in the workplace and ensuring their staff feel appreciated is important. As co-workers we can assess our personal stress loads and see what can be done in our own lives – Can we hire a house cleaner or a meal service to lighten our loads? Can we hire a babysitter for some extra self-care time? We can put focus in helping out our co-workers when we have a little energy to spare and share coping mechanisms with one another to try to lighten the load on everyone around us. Our nursing union has been having mental health webinars for nurses to try to improve our resilience and those have been helpful; we can encourage others to attend as well. I think a big part of this all is to recognize that we cannot control what the government does or what individuals choose to do, so we need to find ways to work productively in a system that is less than ideal. Instead of wishing for people to do things differently, we can accept the world for what it is and find creative solutions to our problems so that we can begin finding joy in our profession again. After all, nurses are incredible critical thinkers.

4. Reflect (develop stress awareness):

Encouraging our colleagues to identify their stressors, and looking inside of ourselves daily, to identify our stressors and come up with creative solutions to decrease those stressors. Being honest about how we are feeling with those around us so that we can all work together to make the profession a much better place.

5. Restore:

Develop personal strategies for managing energy and tension. For myself, as I prepare to re-enter the workforce after my maternity leave ends this month, I am looking proactively at the things I can personally do to restore my energy. I will hire a house cleaner and a meal service and speak frankly with my husband to ensure that the household duties are evenly shared. I will check my bias frequently to ensure I remain positive and don’t get buried by the state of the healthcare system right now. I will also try to help my co-workers as much as I can to try to lighten their stress loads and talk about how to apply Self-Reg so that they can begin reducing their stressors and restoring their energy. If I can help others in the profession decrease their stress, it will benefit me and the entire system at the end of the day.

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Lisa Cranston
Lisa Cranston
Mar 19, 2022

Looking at the situation for health care providers through the lens of the five steps of self-reg really helped me to develop a deeper understanding of your context. My daughter works at a hospital, as a dietician, and she also commented on how discouraging it was for patients and health care providers to have people protesting government mandates outside the hospital. Recently we were expecting a huge winter storm, and the hospital admin where she works sent out an email offering to pay for a hotel for any workers who had a long drive to work and wanted to stay in the city. It was just one of the many ways that they have been trying to care for staf…


Aviva Dunsiger
Aviva Dunsiger
Mar 18, 2022

Thank you for taking us through this! My cousin is a nurse, and I’m going to share this post with her. I think she could really relate. I think about other professions, and if it would be valuable to go through this process for them too. Would it help see the stress differently and reduce it?


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