How Nurses Handle Stress on the Job


When I decided to start a journey to become a Registered Nurse I thought I had a good idea of the stress involved with the job. After all, I had worked my way up the ladder from unit clerk/EKG tech to OR tech to LPN to RN.  Each step brought increased responsibility.  I made it through 3 years of nursing school (yes I am an old school nurse).  All while caring for my 2 small children, working part-time and suffering through a divorce the last year of school.  I was a superwoman, at least I thought I was until I started my first job as an RN. In the end I had to learn how nurses handle stress on the job.

Nursing is all about patient care and how hard can that be?  You begin each shift with your patient reports and then make your plan for the day.  You are working with a team of professionals so all should be good, right?  I learned very quickly that disagreements, personality conflicts, differences of opinions and drama are all part of the day to day life of a nurse.

The good and bad of travel nursing can be the fact that you are an “outsider”.  The good is that you are not involved in hospital politics and the bad is you are considered to be an “outsider” and not included in the click.

So when tension runs high and the stress unbearable and you have too many hours left on the clock how do you manage?

What are some good ways to vent while at work?

Tell the unit manager you need a short break and :

  • Take a walk

Step outside and breath the fresh air.  If there is a hospital garden take a stroll through it.  Go to OB and look at the babies.  Visit the gift shop (if they have one) to see what is new.  Just take a few minutes away from the chaos to get your B/P down.

  • Visit the hospital Chapel

If the hospital has a chapel take a few minutes to sit in the quietness of the space.  Whether or not you are religious the chapel can be calming and speak to your spiritual side.

  • Take a break

If the unit has a break room go hide in there.  Even if you just sit for a few minutes and take time to calm yourself.  Maybe grab a snack or something to drink.  Make a fresh pot of coffee or a cup of tea.  The idea is to get away from the noise and relax for a few minutes.

  • Give a co-worker a hand

Ask another co-worker if they need a hand with something.  Just something small to take your mind away from what is stressing you.  I usually always feel good after I have been able to help someone with a small task.  At least it will break up the frustration you may be feeling.

  • Laugh or cry

I hate to cry at work but sometimes you just have to get it out.  Bo into the bathroom or someplace private and shed those tears.  You will feel better.  If crying is not helpful,  try laughter.  I have a facebook group that has animals doing crazy things that make me laugh.  Laughing truly is the best medicine and it will help to calm you down.


Sometimes nurses are expected to be superhumans.  We work long shifts dealing with all that goes with it.  Difficult patients, difficult doctors, and other difficult workers.  We have a family life that might be difficult and are expected to leave it at home when we report to work.  Recognize when you are close to your boiling point and figure out the best way to free yourself from the situation.  Remember you are a professional and burnout is a real issue that can result from stress out of control.  Find your happy place and work to keep your stress under control.



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Cheryl Roby, RN

Cheryl J. Roby is a Registered Nurse and retired US Army Reserve Nurse Major. She has more than 30 years of nursing experience and 26 years of military experience in the Army Nurse Corp. During her nursing career, she has traveled as part of her military experience visiting many of the 50 states and to South Korea. She was trained as an Army Medic during the Vietnam era and later as an OR tec. She went on to become a Licensed Practical Nurse and then completed her nursing training as a Registered Nurse. She was then commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves. She appreciated the challenge of working in various specialties and expanding her clinical and professional skill sets. Her time in the Army Reserves and California National Guard gave her the opportunity to travel to most of the 50 states and work in other medical facilities. During her career, she had the opportunity to work in several specialties to include, OR, Occupational Health, Hospice, Sexual Assault Team, Forensic/ Correctional Nurse, Nurse Case Manager for developmental disabilities, Parish Nursing as well as a Nurse Entrepreneur.

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