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Killing stress

With work-related mental health issues on the rise, it seems a fitting time to address workplace stress prevention. By Amie Larter

In a perfect world, we would all have a job that is without stress of any kind - we would have the right skills, time and management support to complete our roles effectively.

In reality, there is an extremely high prevalence of stress throughout most professions, including nursing.

As defined by the World Health Organisation, stress is "the reaction that people have when presented with demands and pressures that are not matched to their knowledge and capacity and which challenge their ability to cope".

Nurses and midwives have caring down pat - the profession is recognised for it. However, when it comes to looking after their own health, nurses are often less active.

Michael Licenblat, resilience expert and CEO of www.bouncebackfast.com, knows all too well the implications of stress in the workplace.

"Workplace stress is a condition that occurs when the pressure of work (deadlines, working hours, client needs, etc) impairs your effectiveness, working stamina or wellbeing," he said.

"Workplace stress is not something that happens 'to' you, but rather it happens 'because' of the way you handle pressure."

Last year, Monash University released a report - What Nurses Want: Analysis of the First National Survey on Nurses' Attitudes to Work and Work Conditions in Australia - that investigated the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of working as a nurse in Australia, and the perceived shortfalls in nurses' working conditions.

This was the first study of its kind, and it revealed that nurses felt they were under increased stress and pressure at work, with a large proportion of respondents suggesting an increased workload as the primary cause of their work-related stress.

Heavy workloads, long hours, lack of management initiative, inadequate staffing and high patient loads were also listed as main stressors.

The report confirmed that burn-out, "a condition where an individual feels over-extended and depleted of their emotional and physical resources as a result of the work they do", is rife throughout the nursing profession.

Dr Virginia Skinner, from the University of Newcastle, agrees that the work environment can be quite stressful.

"(Nurses) have high expectations and want to provide quality care to the woman or the patient and sometimes it is not always possible in that working environment."

Skinner believes that another key stress factor is the requirement to work within an institution's agenda - following specific policies and guidelines.

"If a nurse or midwife doesn't work within those policies or deadlines and they do step out beyond those, then their registration could possibly be on the line ...

"They almost work in a risk-orientated culture and I think that makes them stressed even more."

So how can we minimise the stress faced at work?

Licenblat believes nurses need to be proactive in handling pressure and take responsibility for responses, rather than waiting for managers to act after they notice signs of stress. He suggests three practical ways to build resilience to work-related stress.

Punctuate your pace

Discipline yourself to take short breaks that get your body moving every two hours.

Physical and mental pressure builds when you are focused on a series of tasks for a sustained period.

Vary the intensity periods of your work so that you are not working at breakneck speed your entire day.

Keep moving forward

Give yourself space to fail and learn. Use your challenges and problems to improve on your next call, project, task, interview, etc. Leave the sulking to the children. Save your tears and self-pity for your therapist.

Not succeeding doesn't mean that you are a 'failure.' It just means that you didn't get what you expected. That's it. Pressure will impair your personal drive when you dwell on what went wrong. Forgive yourself for being imperfect and keep moving forward.

Unwind your mind

Your work will never be done. When people don't know when/how to stop working, they become burnt out and are less productive at work. Therefore, for career sustainability and self-preservation, it is vital that you practise leaving work 'at work' by switching off your mind and relaxing your body each night. To work at your best and maintain your energy and wellbeing, you need to have a life outside of work.

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