In a previous article, I wrote about the importance of stepping back and taking a break every once in a while. For nurses, this replenishes and helps to prevent burnout. However, that does not mean we have to avoid stress altogether. In fact, maintaining a level of stress can be quite beneficial. The challenge comes from recognizing the bad vs. Good stress and using the latter to invigorate and keep us on our toes.
I can think of a couple examples where good and bad stress came into play in my life. Reflecting on the stress I experienced during nursing school a few years back, that actually proved beneficial. Meeting deadlines for assignments, encountering new situations during clinicals and preparing for the ominous N-CLEX exam, all felt grueling at the time. It was hard work that left me questioning how I would get through it. However, the stress led to hard work, motivating me to do a good job with my best work and to keep pushing forward through all the presented challenges.
When it came to bad stress, living with a close family member dealing with a severe illness years ago, it left me anxious and not taking good care of myself. That included lack of sleep, not eating very much and sinking into some unhealthy coping. Fortunately, with bad stress, we can intervene and take steps to decrease it. The first step is giving ourselves permission; giving the ok to take a break from what is affecting our wellbeing or stepping away from it all together. What can we give to anyone if we can’t take care of ourselves? If the stress can’t be left entirely, setting limits, groundedness, and reminders that we can only do so much, also helps.
On the flip side, even as we can turn bad stress around, good stress can do the same thing by going too far. A good example is studying for an exam to the point where we have an IV running a bolus of coffee and stay up all night. Or, getting so enmeshed in our work that we neglect those close to us and the stress begins to affect how we respond to other people, such as angry outbursts, etc. I find that what has helped many people, including myself, is recognizing the stress and getting into movement. We have stress hormones in our bodies, such as cortisol, that ages ago motivated us to run from saber tooth tigers. Now, with a more sedentary culture, we have all of these stress chemicals in our bodies that need a release. Exercise and whenever possible, get moving in a way that speaks to you. Whether it be dancing, jogging, kick-boxing or climbing mountains, It certainly will make all the difference. Combine that with moments of escape, close relationships and some R&R, you have the perfect recipe for joyful living.