Caring for the Caregiver

Mariano, Carla, EdD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAIM

By Carla Mariano, EdD, RN, AHN-BC, FAAIM

Nursing students face many stresses as they juggle school, family, often work, and expectations of self and others to succeed in all aspects of their roles. In addition, the very transition to becoming professional nurses, dealing intimately with the lives, health, illness, and crises of clients/patients, and families, can create undue apprehension. Stress and its symptoms can significantly impact your academic and personal lives.

Not only is it contagious, stress can lead to:

  • Reactive decision-making
  • Physical and emotional problems
  • Burnout
  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Resentment

Some manifestations of stress include:

  • Anxiety, nervousness, self-doubt, and feelings of incompetence
  • Issues with concentration and forgetfulness, difficulty setting priorities, and loss of perspective
  • Inability to cope
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, and depression
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Anger, irritability, and overreaction
  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, GI disturbances, vulnerability to disease, appetite and addiction problems, and nervous reactions like palpitations, nail-biting, and jaw or fist clenching

Recognizing Personal Stress Triggers

It is very important in times of stress to know your needs and attend to them. The first thing you need to do is develop an awareness of your stress:

  • Do I feel anxious? Do I have any of the symptoms just mentioned?
  • Is stress school-related – family or relationship related? Expectation related? Other or a combination related?
  • Do I set unrealistic goals for myself?
  • Do I realistically see what is happening?

Signs you need a self-care tune-up:

  • You tend to get sick frequently
  • You’re busy doing everything for others
  • You have trouble saying NO
  • It’s difficult to ask for help
  • You are doing too many things
  • You feel lost, empty, weary, disconnected from yourself, or on autopilot most of the time
  • You have no idea what you would do if you had a whole day to yourself

Practice using a half-smile to radiate wellbeing to self and others.

  • Be mindful: stay in the moment–focus on the present. Worry is the most common form of imagery. Chose not to waste your precious life on guilt about the past or worries about the future.
  • If feeling tension, consciously try to release any tension in the shoulders, neck, jaw, etc. Bring awareness to your breathing–slowly, intentionally, deeply.
  • Take time to be with yourself. Take a walk, have lunch with yourself. Being with fellow students can give you time to catch up, but beware of the overflow of work/school conversations. Give yourself a break.
  • Learn to say No when asked to do something you do not want to do, or say “give me 48 hours to think about it”.
  • Journaling can help you vent your feelings without criticism, or look more clearly at a situation and often a solution–but if nothing more, it is cathartic and releases frustration.
  • Practice gratitude: each night before you go to sleep, think of 1 or 2 things you are grateful for. It can change your mindset.
  • Find out what makes you happy. Plan to do something each day that brings you joy–and do it!
  • At the end of the day, acknowledge and congratulate yourself on what you have accomplished and try not to focus on what you have not done.
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