Yikes! I’m Overwhelmed at Work… Tips to Increase Resilience in Nurses

by | Jun 27, 2016 | 14 comments

Yikes! I’m Overwhelmed at Work… Tips to Increase Resilience in NursesA nurse at any stage of their career can experience feelings of overwhelm in nursing. Maybe it’s a nursing student who has the pressure of final exams, papers, and clinicals all at the same time. Or a new graduate nurse who’s just trying to learn the ins and outs of a brand new career. Even the more experienced nurse can feel overwhelmed by electronic charting, policy updates, or simply the number of patients they need to care for on any given shift.

If you’re a nurse and you’re overwhelmed… first off, don’t panic. This is completely normal. You are not alone. Now that you’ve realized it’s OK to experience a bit of stress in your nursing career… you’re empowered. Why is that? Well now, you are aware of this information. And with awareness, comes power.

When you know something you are able to handle it. You can make a conscious decision to cope with the stress or overwhelm. You can seek out strategies that will help you increase resilience in the workplace. And guess what? I’m here to help you do just that!

Here’s 5 Strategies that You Can Use When Feeling Overwhelmed at Work!

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  • Yikes! I’m Overwhelmed at Work… Tips to Increase Resilience in NursesFind a Resilience Buddy. Have you ever noticed that things happen when groups of people get together? Sure, working on your own can ensure your own timeline and accountability for results. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to seek out a support system. Find a group of nurses also interested in healthy coping, resilience strategies, or work-life balance and see if you can form a support team. For me, when I have a partner who’s eating healthy or exercising regularly, I stay on track in a much greater way. Look for like-minded colleagues and spread the stress reduction around the workplace!
  • Pivot and Stay Nimble. Resilience is about being able to back bounce from challenges. Overwhelm is the exact opposite. When you’re stressed, you feel as though the whole weight of the world is resting upon your shoulders. Being able to view obstacles as simply that: lessons to be learned, is the way to bounce back from challenge. So keep an open mind. Look left and right and even upside down for answers. Stay flexible as you seek out solutions to the problems at hand.
  • Tend to What Matters. Do one thing at a time. While, I know that this can be challenging, it’s the only way to handle overwhelm. For example, when I have a lot to do at work… and I’m talking a TON… my to-do list is running off the page of the paper… I stop. Stay calm and figure out what’s the first step I can take right now. By taking action steps, just one at a time, moves you forward through the endless list of what needs to be accomplished. Focus on priorities first. Put your energy into things you enjoy. Do one thing at a time and watch your never-ending to-do list shrink quickly into complete success!
  • Ensure Proper Rest. One of absolute best ways to deal with overwhelm is through break periods and rest. You need to balance the doing with the non-doing (or in other terms, the ‘being’). I know when you have loads going on it feels like you cannot take a break. But guess what? This is actually counterproductive to your progress. The only way to quell the overwhelm and succeed in all that needs doing… is to stop doing for a bit of time. I’m not talking a major vacation here. Just taking a 15 minute walk around the hospital can clear your head. Or a 20 minute nap during an off day to help you have energy for the afternoon chores. Whatever it takes to bring yourself away from the work for a short time… so you can come back to it re-energized and ready to go.
  • Keep an Open Mind. A challenge with overwhelm is that it starts when we think we know the answers to everything. Let’s take a nursing example here. Say your group is setting out to fix a day-night shift communication issue. They think that shadowing the staff on the various shifts will help. The group starts to look for literature on best practices related to nurse shadowing. Well, this project team actually needs to take a step backwards before beginning. They need to first ask the literature what the best practices are related to improving communication among shifts. This will provide them with ALL of the possible solutions, instead of just narrowing it down first to what the committee thinks will work. Stay curious and open to possibility. Ask questions and be open to opportunity. Relieving overwhelm happens when we keep an open mind and a flexible nature.

What did we miss? I’d love to hear how you increase your capacity for resilience. Leave a stress-reducing tip in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Elizabeth Scala, MSN/MBA, RN; Founder of Nursing from WithinAbout the Author: As a keynote speaker, bestselling author and virtual conference host, Elizabeth partners with hospitals, organizations, associations, and nursing groups to help transform the field of nursing from the inside out. In her bestselling book, ‘Nursing from Within‘, Elizabeth supports nurses to make those inner shifts that are required to more fully enjoy our nursing careers.

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  1. DJC


    • Elizabeth

      Right on!

  2. Carmen Davailus Buck

    Great post Elizabeth! I always had a hard time getting any break. As a provider, I was even tracked down in the restroom (yes, the staff member was counseled on what NOT to do!) and a break meant an even longer day. EMR made it more challenging with the expectation to take work home to get done. Creating boundaries became a priority for me and I learned from those who were good at it. I see lots of tired people in healthcare though, and one of the comments I heard often during the years was ‘lower your standards’ which meant to tend to what really mattered and let go when possible. That can be tough. 🙂 Good to learn about your tips early on and remember to value self care. Kudos to you for all you do to help nurses with tough situations!

    • Elizabeth

      Thanks, Carmen. I appreciate your comments and thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with us!

  3. Angela Sisk

    Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing these awesome strategies to increase our capacity for resilience! What has been really helpful for me in dealing with stress and overwhelm in my nursing career is yoga. Deep breathing, gentle stretching, relaxation, and meditation have been tremendously helpful for me in developing resilience. As a certified yoganurse, I have been able to teach nurses in my hospital these self-care techniques. I feel all hospitals should have programs to teach nursing staff to reduce stress and develop resilience.

    • Elizabeth

      Wow, great tips, Angela. I thank you for sharing these with our readers here and hope that they help another nurse reading this post! Thanks for coming by.

  4. sunnysandra16

    These are great tips! I especially resonate with the Tend to What Matters. When I am “mutitasking” I tend to get overwhelmed and nothing seems to get done, but if I focus on one thing at a time I get a lot more done quicker.
    What also helps me is deep breathing and focusing on the present moment as well as the use of essential oils. At the start of a shift my co-workers and I all put some essential oils on the palm on our hands, our neck and heart chakra and set an intention for the shift, such as We Will Have a Smooth Shift..

    • Elizabeth

      What a great tip, Cassandra! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Donna Maheady

    Love the idea of a resilience buddy. “RB” could become the new BFF or BMF…..just saying!

    • Elizabeth

      Cool idea, Donna!

  6. Tomi

    Release yourself from the pressure of comparing yourself to your colleagues. Compete only against yourself…be the best nurse you can be and go easy on YOU.

    • Elizabeth

      YES! Tomi, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Great additions. Thank you for the upbeat and empowering comment. Enjoy the day.

  7. Anne Llewellyn

    Exercise, is an important component of resilience. Take time to plan time to exercise and keep that appointment no matter what.

    • Elizabeth

      Awesome addition! Thanks, Anne.


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