Managing the Emotional Side of Nursing

In nursing school, you are taught to perform medical procedures, like starting IVs, giving injections, filling out charts, and transcribing orders. You're taught how to think critically, make decisions, and talk to patients. But how much time is spent on the emotional side of nursing? The loss of patients, the interaction between staff, the patients who frustrate you, the sense of helplessness when you can't fix someone--how do you prepare for that?

There are classes meant to help nursing students understand the issues involved in working as a nurse. There may be some that touch on the shock of suddenly losing someone you care about to the despair of watching someone slowly die. However, does this really prepare you?

Dealing with Negative Emotions

Working as a nurse brings out many emotions. Some of the most common are:

  • Anger
  • Frustration
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Sadness

Which situations bring these out? Anger could be directed at a colleague who did something inappropriate or didn't do something she should have. Frustration could be towards a patient who is demanding or doesn't seem to try to help himself get better. Helplessness and hopelessness could rise up when a patient isn't getting any better and you feel like you should be able to do something else, but you can't. And sadness could come from losing a patient or realizing that there is nothing more you can do.

Focus on the Positive

Nurses have a stressful job, but one way to manage that stress is to try to find balance. Even though a negative interaction with a colleague or concern over a patient can seem to put a cloud over an entire shift, nurses also witness small miracles and see positive outcomes as well. Nurses feel happy when patients improve and go home, satisfied when they do a good job or accomplish a new task. And remember, pride isn't always a bad thing--being proud of a job well done is just fine.

Focusing on the positive doesn't mean those negative emotions are wrong--they're perfectly human. But how you deal with the emotions may lay the groundwork for how you react in future situations. Remember, patients may feel hopeless, helpless, and frustrated too. Nurses can help deal with their own emotions--and those of others--by helping everyone to stay positive.

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