The demands placed on nurses, midwives and students in the workplace may increase their exposure and vulnerability to stress.

The cognitive, emotional and physical requirements of the clinical and working environment may cause stress to one individual but not another. Here we talk about what stress may look like and what you can do to offset it.

If you are feeling stressed and would like to chat to someone you can call our confidential support line 24/7 on 1800 667 877.
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What is stress?

Stress is defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. 

Being stressed occasionally isn't unnatural or unhealthy. But experiencing prolonged and unrelenting stress can affect your physical and mental health. Work-related stress that is not identified or checked can reduce your ability to maintain your mental and physical health, and interfere with your professional performance and care.

If you are feeling stressed all the time you may delay seeking help because you have unrealistic personal and professional expectations of yourself and believe you should be able to self-manage health issues without support. The risk in delaying getting support is a deterioration in your emotional, psychological and physical health.

Seek help early

Seeking support early is important and benefits your return to good health significantly. If you feel that your health may be compromised, please seek support early. Nurse & Midwife Support will understand and listen to your concerns, provide practical advice for your individual health needs and, most importantly, assist you to focus on meeting your health needs.

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Who can you talk to?

Our service is a great first step to seeking support, as we are a nurse and midwife-led service that provides referral pathways and brief intervention counselling.

If you have concerns about how you are currently managing your health, you can also speak with your manager, a colleague, friend, family member or trusted confidant. If you are a student of nursing or midwifery, your lecturers and/or university counselling/health service are also available to provide you with support. 

If your organisation provides debriefing after stressful incidents, you should consider attending. These sessions could help validate your feelings and emotional and physical responses to stressful situations, and show you that other colleagues may be feeling the same as you are.

It is also a good idea to see a GP or a health professional who supports your particular health needs at regular health checks.

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Workplace demands

The demands of everyday nursing and midwifery work may contribute to your stress, and may have a significant impact on your physical, emotional and psychological health. Those demands include:

Cognitive demands

  • managing acuity and the complex needs of clients and patients
  • constant vigilance and paying attention
  • evaluating and interpreting clinical observations and outcomes
  • mentoring and supervision of staff
  • coordinating all aspects of client and patient care requirements – 'air traffic controller', and
  • increasing technological advances.

Emotional demands

  • managing and handling intensely emotional situations such as death and dying
  • exposure to grief and loss
  • exposure to critical incidents
  • care and support for the emotional needs of patients and clients
  • care and support for families and significant others
  • exposure to aggression, physical or verbal assault by staff, patients, clients, families and significant others
  • feeling bullied or harassed
  • poor interpersonal working relationships
  • moral distress
  • emotional fatigue as a result of shift work and shift demands, and
  • vicarious trauma.

Physical demands

  • risk of injury or actual injury due to physical assault by a client, patient or significant other
  • physical injury while engaging in patient or client care
  • manual handling and care requirements
  • quantitative job demands, and
  • shiftwork including night shift.
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Signs and symptoms

If you are experiencing some of these signs and symptoms you may be stressed:

  • reduced concentration both at work and out of work which may result in unusual workplace mistakes or clinical errors
  • increased difficulty in recalling or completing usual procedures and may include difficulty in retaining information
  • difficulty articulating and formulating client care needs or progress, with other colleagues and other health professionals
  • reduced professional and/or personal self-esteem and self-worth
  • social isolation while at work, and/or when not at work
  • reduced desire to participate in the workplace or with other important people such as friends and partners
  • decreased motivation in all aspects of life and decreased attention to self-care needs such as exercise and diet
  • feeling a loss of control to determine life or work matters
  • unpredictable mood changes – more irritable/easily frustrated/sad
  • mood disorders
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • feelings of inadequacies in life
  • reduced desire to care for colleagues, yourself and others
  • insomnia or hypersomnia
  • fatigue or lethargy
  • weight gain or loss
  • gastrointestinal issues
  • persistent headaches
  • skin conditions or inflammation
  • cardiac conditions such as hypertension
  • increased reliance on alcohol or other drugs to cope
  • increased reliance on prescription medications and over-the-counter medications to cope
  • musculoskeletal injuries, or
  • acute or chronic pain
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What can I do next?

Why not read some of our articles on staying healthy that may help you manage stress:

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.

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