Nurses know stress.

In a job that is often 24/7 and requires the most technical and most empathetic skills to be used simultaneously and at a moment’s notice and often in less-than-ideal and sometimes dangerous conditions, a nurse’s job is hardly peaceful.

But Amiee Bernstein, author of Stress Less. Achieve More. and president of Open Mind Adventures, says you can use that ramped-up adrenaline to actually get more done. If you can stop fighting against the constant demands, you can actually get into a healthier zone where you can be more productive and more centered.

There’s a difference between stress and pressure, says Bernstein, and understanding how each impacts your typical day is important. “Webster defines pressure as a force or a power or energy that comes in contact with a surface, fluid, or object,” she says. “I use pressure as energy. Pressure is our energy, our life force, and the energy of change.”

Pressure vs. Stress

But stress is something entirely different and most of us want less stress. “Pressure is good,” she says. “Stress is not good. When you are open to pressure, your capacity increases and your perception is enhanced.” Stress is the opposite – it depletes your energy.

As an example, Bernstein says no matter how tired you are, when there’s an emergency at work, your body provides that rush of energy to help you do your job. “As a nurse, if you are open to it, you will perform very well,” she says. “If you resist it, you will feel discomfort and distress.”

You can use these tips for deciding what’s pressure in your life and what causes you stress and how you can choose to change how you react.

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Awareness

Bernstein says is helps to become aware of your own stress triggers. A coworker might thrive under a huge list of expectations, while that same task list makes you feel resentful. No one is right or wrong about a trigger, but it helps to know what makes your stress rise. If you know your triggers, says Bernstein, you then have the power to choose how you will let it affect you.

Presence

Bernstein refers to this as “hereness,” which is how you assess before you react. Workers in stressful roles – nurses, physicians, military personnel – act from their bodies in an emergency. Being present means you listen to your intuition first, often before you have time to think through a scenario. You react based on experience. But your intuition isn’t just guessing. “You have to practice it,” says Bernstein, so you can determine if your attention is focused within yourself (only on what you are feeling), out of yourself (only on what others are feeling), or a balance of both (when you can attend to others’ needs while recognizing your own).

Wherever your attention is, that’s your center,” says Bernstein. Once you are aware and present, controlling the stress and opening to pressure so you can function at your best means noticing when there’s an imbalance so you can find your center.

You don’t have to be tension free to function at your best, she says, but you do have to work so that the tension doesn’t overtake your energy. How can you tell is you need less stress? Is your back tight? Are your shoulders hunching? Is your stomach in knots? If that’s happening, taking deep breaths (Bernstein even recommends holding your breath for just a bit to break out of the cycle) and realizing the source of stress and how it’s beginning to impact you is necessary. “That’s your yellow light flashing,” Bernstein says.

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No one can have a life free of stress and pressure, but you can learn how to manage them. “When you are working without pressure, there’s no motivation or drive,” says Bernstein. “That’s when you fall into complacency.”

Instead, notice when you react negatively and respond in ways that make you feel better. You can’t strike a yoga pose in the middle of the ER, but you can notice how you feel and train your body to react differently and your experience, although pressured, will be less stressful. You can even talk about individual triggers as a team so there’s more awareness at work of what might affect the team.

You will turn pressure into a positive force in your life,” says Bernstein.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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