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Recognising and managing stress at work

This article considers how we respond to pressure and practical steps we can take to manage and reduce stress.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

Having read the paper ‘Sources and Effects of Work-related Stress’ by Moustaka and Constantinidis, you will be aware of the need to better understand how we can translate knowledge about stress in nursing into practice.

In this step we consider how we respond to pressure and the practical steps we can take to manage and reduce stress.

Wide-ranging responses

We all react uniquely to pressure. There are also a wide variety of ways in which stress can show.

Some common physical responses are: raised pulse and blood pressure, chest pain, nausea, tiredness, forgetfulness and increased susceptibility to minor illness.

Common emotional and behavioural responses are: under- or overeating, becoming withdrawn, accident prone, aggressive, compulsive or impatient, and increase in alcohol, nicotine or drug use.

Recognising and dealing with stress

We need to be able to recognise what causes us to feel stressed and work out the best way to deal with it, either by altering the situation, or changing our attitude to it and how we react.

If the pressure we feel can’t be improved by time management, delegation and lifestyle factors like exercise, holidays and a healthy diet then we need to consider other approaches.

In the 2015 Guide to managing stress from the Royal College of Nursing, a pressure/performance graph is used to illustrate our response to mounting stress.

The guide identifies three levels and provides a guide to managing and reducing stress at each level.

Level 1

  • Most people respond positively to a certain level of stress.
  • At this level, nurses should be looking to maintain a healthy work/life balance, eat healthily, get enough rest and try to anticipate when stressful periods might occur and how to plan for them.

Level 2

  • If you feel that you are struggling under the pressure and your performance is affected, you may be experiencing a level 2 response to stress.
  • You need to be aware of unrealistic expectations of yourself. You might find talking to supportive friends and family helpful and find outlets that allow you to manage stress such as physical exercise and relaxation techniques.

Level 3

  • At level 3 your work is being seriously impacted, stress is prolonged and it is possible that you are reaching burnout.
  • The suggestion is to seek support from a healthcare professional.

The facilities and systems for supporting nurses who feel their stress is unmanageable will vary; it is important for you to know what is available to you locally.

Your task

How do you know when you are stressed? What strategies are you aware of for supporting stress in healthcare workers in your context? Do you know what is available to you locally?

Share your comments with your fellow learners.


Royal College of Nursing (2015) Managing Your Stress: A Guide for Nurses [online] available from [11 November 2017]

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
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