Everyone believes they have a stressful job at some point in time or another, but stress is a relative term that’s largely dependent on the tolerance of the person and the nature of their work. Despite being a subjective idea, however, it can be said that some careers are invariably more stressful overall and none quite make the top of the list in such a way as hospice nursing careers do.
Hospice nurses operate in an environment that is defined by stress. Tending to terminal patients day after day, knowing the inevitable end that is rapidly approaching is a stressful prospect in and of itself, but it’s only the core in a many-layered cocoon of stress. Families trying to cope, medical situations that require absolute attention and long hours create a full gamut of stresses that are not easily escaped or dealt with, leading to a myriad of concerns for the hospice nurse.
Needless to say, the job of a hospice nurse is more than just stressful—stress invariably becomes a daily part of a nurse’s life, even outside of the hospice environment.
This is a very important idea to understand and one that many hospice nurses are educated on before they begin their careers: stress levels require management or burnout is inevitable, and often times devastating.
The first and best way to cope with the daily stresses of being a hospice nurse, before they become tantamount to a breakdown or burnout, is to identify stresses. Generally this means taking a step back and looking at your own wellbeing from time to time—this can be hard for many hospice nurses because they spend so much time taking care of others.
Identify your stresses in two ways: those you can control versus those you can’t control. For example:
- If you’re stressed about making dinner after work one night, this is a stress you can control—ask a spouse to take on the duty, arrange for a friend to make food or pick it up from somewhere already pre-made.
- If you’re feeling stressed about the passing of a patient you’ve become close with over several weeks or months, this is a stress you cannot control—you’ll need to cope in healthy ways and ride out the stress over time.
Once you’ve identified what things you have control over versus those you might have little to no dictation towards, you’ll be able to better manage your stresses in a way that’s not only alleviating, but healthy as well.
Effectively managing stress is only viable after you’ve identified it—you may think getting a massage or taking a mini vacation is a way to alleviate stress in the short term and it is, but it’s not a long-term solution. For long-term stress relief, you’ll have to address your individual stressors and make amends that enact positive change in your life.
Now, de-stressing your life in regards to the stressors you have control over is simple enough—you simply need to find solutions that help to portion out your burden or eliminate it altogether. On the other hand, however, addressing stressors that you have little to no control over can be more difficult—this will require positive coping actions.
Too many hospice nurses manage the symptoms of stress to get through the day, and while this might help them to get through the week for a time, it doesn’t always address the underlying burdens that are building up as the result of unresolved stressors. Treat the stressor first, if possible; if that’s impossible or out of your control, then treat the symptoms however best fits you.
As any hospice nurse can and will tell you, identifying and managing stress is a lot easier said than done. Often, it takes nurses years to understand the stressful dynamic that becomes a part of their lives—it’s the ones who make a priority of breaking down this stress to resolve it that succeed as caregiving professionals.