A nurse’s daily emotions may ride on a roller-coaster. From feeling touched by the kindness of a patient to feeling anger at the actions of a doctor, nurses can go through the whole gamut of the human experience in just one shift. However, not all of the emotions a nurse feels in a day are negative. In fact, many of them are positive emotions, the kinds that remind us why we became nurses to begin with. Negative emotions happen, but we need to learn how to manage them, redirect them and ultimately overcome them in our pursuit of nursing.
Unfortunately, one of the most prevalent emotions nurses feel is anxiety. Worry can crop up over a patient, over an assignment or over a fight with a co-worker. It is so common on nursing units that some nurses become burned out because of it. Some anxiety can actually help nurses: it can make us pay attention when a patient does badly or keep us alert for potential problems. When anxiety becomes chronic, though, nurses suffer. It is important to learn how to manage your stress and anxiety in a healthy way, decompressing after shifts and possibly seeing a counsellor.
Compassion is another common emotion nurses feel during a shift. We are moved by the struggles of our patients. We honestly want to help them, and we laugh and cry along with them. Compassion is the main emotion that nurses need to tap when the negative emotions seem too much. Talk with a patient. Tell a joke and laugh with them. It is only by connecting with the people we care for that we can prevent burnout and feel better about the work we do. This emotion is the antidote to all the problems that we encounter in a nursing shift. By putting ourselves in our patients’ shoes, we grow to care, and that’s what the profession is about.
Most nurses can’t go a shift without feeling some measure of frustration. On a very basic level, we may feel frustrated because there is nothing we can do to fully comfort our patients. Some of them are very sick, and even our best care cannot restore them to health. However, frustration is everywhere because healthcare is a large machine that often doesn’t run effectively. You can find yourself frustrated with doctors, co-workers, management and even patients. Again, this is another emotion that needs to be controlled or it will lead to burnout. Find ways to make your frustration work for you, especially if you’re on this journey as a grad nurse.
Despite the negative emotions, many nurses often feel joy. Some shifts don’t leave any space for joy, but fortunately those are not that common. You can feel joy at having caught an important problem or in making a patient feel more comfortable. It is important to cultivate joy. Take joy in the fact that you are helping people and that you are doing what you love. Ignoring joy is rather easy, and it is a trap that many nurses can fall into. Express an attitude of gratitude about your workplace, your role in it, and how you help people on a daily basis. Only with cultivation can joy grow.
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Finally, relief is the emotion most nurses feel as their shift nears its end. It is a feeling of the pressure releasing; a feeling that the responsibility will now be someone else’s for a little while. You can also feel relief in many other situations. That patient who had the high blood pressure? You feel relief when it comes down. That talk you needed to have with a patient’s family? It went well and everyone came away feeling good. Relief is another important emotion to cultivate. It is actually the opposite of worry, and it comes when that stress is eliminated. Feel the relief that comes with doing a good job, surviving your shift or saving a patient. It is in these moments that you can prevent burnout.
What emotions are part of your day as a nurse?
Lynda is a registered nurse with three years experience on a busy surgical floor in a city hospital. She graduated with an Associates degree in Nursing from Mercyhurst College Northeast in 2007 and lives in Erie, Pennsylvania in the United States. In her work, she took care of patients post operatively from open heart surgery, immediately post-operatively from gastric bypass, gastric banding surgery and post abdominal surgery. She also dealt with patient populations that experienced active chest pain, congestive heart failure, end stage renal disease, uncontrolled diabetes and a variety of other chronic, mental and surgical conditions. Her Website.