12.4 Acknowledging Stress in Others

In addition to recognizing stress manifestations in oneself, health care professionals must identify signs of stress in others. All members of the health care team experience stress, and effective coping can quickly turn into ineffective coping when manageable, normal stress shifts to harmful stress. Nurses should understand how stress may manifest in a colleague and how one can help and intervene if signs of harmful stress occur.

The signs of harmful stress in a colleague often manifest in a similar manner to what is seen in oneself, but certain signs may be more readily identified by an external source. It is not unusual to identify the mental or behavioral signs of harmful stress in a colleague more rapidly than the physical manifestations. Individuals should be mindful of signs of harmful stress in others, such as changes in mood, irritability, signs of fatigue, increased errors, and absenteeism.[1] Individuals exhibiting these signs may be signaling they are struggling to manage harmful stress. It is important to promptly address these signs with the individual. The tendency to assume one can self-manage or will “get over it” can lead to feelings of isolation that will only perpetuate the stress.

When observing potential signs of harmful stress in a colleague, providing an opportunity to discuss the stressors can be a valuable avenue for promoting effective coping. It is important to remember that the individual exhibiting signs of harmful stress may not recognize they are impacted by stress, but having a colleague acknowledge one’s change in mood or attitude can open the opportunity for self-reflection. Although acknowledging signs of harmful stress in a colleague may feel awkward, asking if someone is okay and addressing signs of potential harmful stress can be a significant step in helping them cope. Acknowledgement can occur with statements such as, “I noticed that you seem more frustrated at work lately. Is everything okay?” or “You seem to be more quiet in the breakroom after our shifts. How are you feeling? I know the busy days can really add up.” Simple statements and questions open opportunities to share feelings and frustrations and also demonstrate caring for team members.[2] This approach creates dialogue about stressful experiences and provides support needed to positively address harmful stress.

In addition to demonstrating care for one’s colleague by inviting conversation about harmful stress, sharing resources is also helpful. It is important for nurses to know they are not alone in experiencing feelings of stress, and attention to these feelings can help one develop strategies to positively address them. Planning discussions with a trusted mentor or friend can be very helpful when exploring feelings related to stress. These discussions also provide an opportunity to share information regarding coping strategies such as mindfulness interventions, resiliency programs, or other formalized resources like employee assistance programs.[3] There are also routine workplace measures that significantly impact stress reduction. For example, many nurses do not take the time to ensure they are taking breaks, eating healthy meals, or simply removing themselves from the care environment for brief periods of time. Simple strategies that can dramatically reduce workplace stress include taking a brief walk outside during one’s lunch break or taking a few deep breaths prior to the beginning of a work shift. Other simple measures such as daily exercise and meditation can reduce stress and increase confidence to address the tasks at hand.[4] Although experienced nurses may already be incorporating these strategies, it is important for novice nurses to understand the value of these strategies.

  1. Burton, A., Burgess, C., Dean, S., Koutsopoulou, G. Z., & Hugh‐Jones, S. (2017). How effective are mindfulness‐based interventions for reducing stress among healthcare professionals? A systematic review and meta‐analysis. Stress and Health, 33(1), 3-13. https://doi.org/10.1002/smi.2673
  2. Babore, A., Lombardi, L., Viceconti, M. L., Pignataro, S., Marino, V., Crudele, M., Candelori, C., Bramanti, S. M., & Trumello, C. (2020). Psychological effects of the COVID-2019 pandemic: Perceived stress and coping strategies among healthcare professionals. Psychiatry Research, 293, 113366. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113366
  3. Dossett, M. L., Needles, E. W., Nittoli, C. E., & Mehta, D. H. (2021). Stress management and resiliency training for healthcare professionals. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 63(1), 64-68. https://doi.org/10.1097/jom.0000000000002071
  4. Perciavalle, V., Blandini, M., Fecarotta, P., Buscemi, A., Di Corrado, D., Bertolo, L., Fichera, F., & Coco, M. (2017). The role of deep breathing on stress. Neurological Sciences, 38, 451–458. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10072-016-2790-8


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