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Strategies to avoid feeling overwhelmed by pressure at work

Written by: Mandy Day-Calder
Published on: 8 Jan 2020

I once worked with a nurse who 30 minutes into her shift would, without fail, say in a serious but panicky voice: ‘How are we going to find the time to get everything done?’ Much as there was a comical element to this daily scene, there’s nothing funny about starting each day on the edge of panic.

Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

If you are prone to anxiety, you’ll know that panicky feelings or thoughts can be frightening and temporarily disabling. You can end up feeling humiliated and guilty, as if what you are feeling makes you a ‘bad’ nurse. It doesn’t. What it does mean though, is that you need to learn how to manage work-induced panic and minimise the risk of feeling so exposed and vulnerable.

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Recognise what’s happening

We all have different ways of responding to pressure. The important thing is to recognise your signs of ‘being on the edge’ and act quickly. This is not the time to judge or criticise yourself. Instead, you need to adopt well-rehearsed ‘emergency’ coping strategies so that you can calm down, rebalance and work out what you need to do next.

Such strategies could include taking some slow deep breaths, reciting a calming mantra, counting to ten a couple of times or even taking a short break. If none of these are possible, consider telling whoever you are with that you need a moment to gather your thoughts. If the above approaches don’t work for you, try to think what would. Remember that for strategies to work in the heat of the moment you need to practise them when you are feeling calmer.

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Reflect on your time management

It is also worth spending some time reflecting honestly about how you manage your time. Ask yourself:

  • What helps you?
    Think about how you prepare for your shift. For example, do you arrive in enough time or are you rushing about? Have you eaten beforehand or do you hang on until your first break, only to find you are too busy to take it? Taking a few minutes to regroup at mid-shift can make a difference.
  • What hinders you?
    Can you identify what you get distracted by? For example negative thoughts, feeling responsible for everything or always saying ‘yes’. Also look at how you prioritise and respond to interruptions, as they won’t all need an urgent response. Ask yourself: ‘Is this more important than the task I am doing?’
  • What’s outside your control?
    If resources change or an emergency happens you have no choice but to respond. But you can choose how you do so. Don’t try to be a superhero. Do what you can and delegate what you need to.

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  • What can you change?
    You can read about such things as taking your breaks, learning to say ‘no’ and breaking tasks down, but you are the only person who can put these into practice. So start tomorrow.

Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach with a nursing background, who runs a healthcare training company.

This is an abridged version of the article Strategies to avoid feeling overwhelmed by pressure at work which was first published in Nursing Standard.

Read more careers articles on Nursing Standard