Feeling stressed? You aren’t alone

Kate Klingsporn
Kayla, a Melbourne nurse, shared her story with us. It may be an experience that many nurses and midwives around Australia can relate to. If you are feeling stressed, you can call our counsellors any time on 1800 667 877.

Kayla slipped her deep blue scrub shirt over her Adidas singlet and stepped into the corridor of the emergency department (ED). The lights were bright, the floor was clean. She was nervous. She hadn’t been a casual nurse for long, and it was her first ever shift in ED. Kayla walked into one of the busiest nights the department had experienced. Staff hurried as patients received care; a coordinated chaos. She was allocated three patients, one of whom was septic and deteriorating quickly. Unfamiliar with the system, she was unable to access the medication room.

“The other nurses on my team were busy and I was unaware of how the department worked. I found this extremely stressful as I was well out of my comfort zone, and I felt like I had neglected my other two patients due to the high acuity of this particular patient,” Kayla said. Kayla found an available nurse who she was able to seek assistance from, and her septic patient was transferred to Intensive Care.

Stressed nurse

Kayla isn’t alone

This stressful experience may be one that Kayla shares with other nurses and midwives on a regular basis. According to a recent study conducted by Monash University, levels of stress are increasing among nurses and midwives in Australia. 

The national survey of 3000 nurses and midwives, ‘What Nurses & Midwives Want: Findings from the National Survey on Workplace Climate and Well-being’, found that nurses and midwives often experience demanding workloads, resulting in working very hard and very quickly.

85% of nurses

85% of respondents felt that their jobs required them to work very fast, very hard and there is often a great deal to be done at work at least once or twice per week to several times per day.

Kayla is not surprised by these results. “When I’m stressed I become flustered and I tend to rush, which in turn could lead to a mistake if I’m not careful,” she said. “I try to ensure I take my breaks to decrease that stress and compose myself.”

The study suggests that most nurses and midwives have received support from family members in relation to difficulties at work. “Speaking to my family helps me recover from a stressful day at work,” Kayla said. “I also exercise regularly – these two things really help after a challenging shift.”

What triggers stress?

When asked what can be a trigger for stress as a nurse, Kayla explains that it can be a variety of things, and some stressful situations can be more severe than others. “On average, I experience a stressful situation at work one or two times per week. The level of stress depends on the ward and the severity of the situation,” she said. Kayla listed some of the most common triggers for her stress below:

  • Difficult/abusive patients or visitors
  • A deteriorating patient
  • Feeling incapable of certain tasks
  • Having multiple tasks to do at once
  • Not having had enough sleep before a shift
  • Not being able to attend social events due to the nature of shift work
  • Stress in personal life
  • The unpredictable nature of work

 “Most nurses and midwives I work with are passionate and proud of the work they do every day. Every career can be stressful, however, I feel that the level of responsibility and duty of care we have to our patients can increase this at times. This is why it’s so important that we learn and practise strategies to cope with stress.” 


Some strategies for coping with stress include:

  • Talk to your manager or a trusted colleague
  • Have 7-9 hours of quality sleep before each shift
  • Exercise regularly
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Take breaks during your shift
  • If you’re working a day shift, take a walk during your break and breathe deeply
  • Talk to a family member or friend about the situation
  • Speak to an NM Support counsellor by phoning 1800 667 877

Kayla’s first shift in emergency was challenging. She urges all nurses and midwives in a similar situation to “speak up and don’t feel like you’re alone. Most weeks you will experience stress, but you need to find a way that best helps you cope. Remember that nursing is a 24 hour job and whatever you don’t finish you can handover to the next shift workers.” 

What can I do next?

We have more information on stress or you could check out some of our other articles on staying healthy:

Our service provides free and confidential support 24/7, to nurses, midwives and students Australia wide. If you would like to speak to someone call 1800 667 877, or you can request support via email.

If you would like to know a bit more about the service before getting in contact — take a look through accessing support.