Nursing is already a career that carries with it a high level of stress. However, once you’ve worked your way up the ladder to a position in leadership, the stress levels you are subjected to are significantly higher than the typical amount of stress RNs carry on a daily basis. When you’ve advanced from an RN with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to an MSN, Master of Science in Nursing, your stress just jumped another 10 levels.
It only stands to reason then that by the time you move from an MSN to DNP, stress may become intolerable from time to time. If you’ve chosen to follow a leadership track as a Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP, then stress is really just part of the job. With that said, you don’t need to give in to it. There are things you can do to better manage stress.
Delegate: Learn When and How to Let Go
Although you may have reached the highest rung on a ‘corporate’ ladder within the hospital you work for, it doesn’t mean you can’t share that top rung with other nurses and medical professionals. Also, make no bones about it. A hospital is a corporation and as such it is organized in the same way. It will have a board of directors to which hospital administrators answer. As a DNP working as the nursing administrator within a hospital you will directly answer to the Board but so, too, does every other administrator within the corporate structure of your institution.
Let this be your guide when learning the fine art of delegation. Think of the team you are building as analogous to the hospital’s administrators. Just as you answer directly to the Board with reports, suggestions, and any other matters of health and business within the field of nursing, so too will the team you build similarly report to you. Bear in mind that you have advanced from an MSN to DNP in leadership and as such, you are a ‘leader.’
A good leader mentors those under them and they also learn to delegate responsibilities. Not only will this increase the efficiency at which you do your job, but it will also help to alleviate much of the stress you are feeling. While it might sound a bit cold, think of it as spreading the stress around. One large dose portioned into several smaller doses makes it easier to handle. Your handpicked team accepted the responsibility, so they are obviously prepared to share in some of the stress!
You worked on all the ‘hard skills’ necessary to become a nurse leader, so now it’s time to concentrate on those soft skills. Mindfulness training approaches stress reduction by putting you in the here and now. You learn not to focus on what ‘could’ go wrong but rather how to envision positive outcomes. You learn to let go of the anxiety you feel when imagining the worst.
Mindfulness is often learned in an 8-week course with weekly group sessions that teach you how to remain calm in the face of a storm. You learn to step back and look at the bigger picture while maintaining your calm through various techniques, many borrowed from Eastern tradition. Deep breathing exercises help you step back from the stress of the moment while bringing life-giving oxygen into the body. Have you ever noticed that when you tense up you often forget to breathe? Mindfulness can help you overcome this.
Meditation is also a large part of the focus of mindfulness techniques. This is where you envision those positive outcomes. You learn to stay calm and focused and this is also something you will want to share with other nurses on your leadership team. It is not only an investment in your future and their futures, but the hospital will reap the rewards as well. There is nothing quite as detrimental to progress as is stress, so promote a mindfulness training group that meets at your hospital and encourage the Board to pick up the tab!
As a nurse, you understand the benefits of aerobic exercise in terms of heart health, but vigorous aerobic exercise is rooted in a neurochemical reaction within the body. What you are working toward is the reduction of levels of the stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Endorphins are also produced during a heavy session of aerobic exercise. Your knowledge of nursing helps you understand that endorphins are nature’s mood elevators and painkillers. It sure beats popping a tranquilizer or mood stabilizer! Exercise is 100% natural and if anything, it will keep you up and motivated while calm and collected at the same time.
Sometimes you find that every muscle in your body seems to be tied in knots. You are perhaps cramping and in need of stretching to work those knots out so that you can continue doing your work. Yoga may be a better form of exercise than aerobics because it helps you peacefully stretch those kinks and knots out of tense muscles, allowing blood to also flow more smoothly. This form of yoga is Hatha Yoga and there are probably local groups you could join to learn the technique. This is another stress-relieving undertaking you might want to make a group activity. Just think of the fun you’ll have trying to get your previously underused body to manipulate.
A Walk in the Park
Even inner-city hospitals have small parks nearby or ‘green areas’ on hospital grounds. Often you can sit there doing nothing whatsoever. If there is a fountain, luxuriate in the sound of trickling water in the background while your eyes drink in the beauty of nature around you. Choose a spot where there are few distractions and then just sit there! You don’t have to think about anything. Maybe this is where you could work on mindfulness. Push everything aside and just be present in the moment. If you learn to let go of everything but the beauty around you, you will notice that your breathing becomes more regular, and your eyes stay tuned to the best that nature has to offer.
Soft, Gentle Music
There is no reason why you can’t have a short break inside your office with your door shut tightly. Tell your assistant that you do not want to be disturbed. Whether you have soft music playing through your office computer or on a small headset connected to your mobile phone, there is something calming about gentle instrumentals leading you away from stress and into that quiet place in your mind’s eye.
Guided Imagery Meditation
Meditation was mentioned above in the context of mindfulness training but even if you are not involved in learning that technique, guided imagery meditations can talk you down from a particularly stressful day. Sometimes the narrator will lead you down a sandy beach barefooted to feel the warmth of the sand between your toes. Other times you might ascend the highest mountain in your imagination to gaze down at the wonders of the world below you. Maybe you will be asked to envision a place from your childhood where you felt loved and protected. One thing you will notice about guided imagery, if done right, is that it can literally transport you away from the here and now to a place where only peace and beauty exist.
We’ve Come Full Circle Back to Delegation
In the end, learning to delegate some of those tasks that have you tied up on knots is going to be one of the most successful stress-relieving techniques you can employ. Corporate culture in any organization is largely built on a team mentality within the past few years and this is one of the reasons why. Once you’ve identified nurses with the skills necessary to take on specific tasks that they are best equipped to handle, it’s time for you to let go.
If you’ve built a strong team that works together as a single unit, you will find that things just seem to flow. Although it was meant partially in good fun above, you really aren’t trying to pass the stress around. By delegating key tasks to members of the team with a proficiency in that area, there probably won’t be high levels of stress, if any at all. Everyone has their strong points and weak points so if you’ve built your team and delegated tasks based on each individual’s strengths, stress should be reduced or eliminated accordingly.
As one final note on building strong teams, remember to take the time to meet regularly. These little mini meetings keep everyone on the same page and when trying to run an efficient department within a hospital, organization is critical. They don’t have to be long meetings, but they can be handled in much the same way as shift change meetings are handled on the floors. Run down a quick look at what has been accomplished, a note on what is yet to do and wish your team well before sending them back to their respective departments. Start each day with a smile.