“Human factors examines the relationship between human beings and the systems with which they interact by focusing on improving efficiency, creativity, productivity and job satisfaction, with the goal of minimizing errors,” according to a paper released by the World Health Organization, and “a failure to apply human factors principles is a key aspect of most adverse events in health care.”

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This is a stunning fact, but an understandable one given the increasing pressures on nurses and other health care providers operating in environments where there are shortages of resources – time, money and qualified professionals.

It’s time for the industry to place new emphasis on human factors, to find ways to make it easier to serve patients and get work done in the right way, reducing and eliminating errors, and driving the best possible outcomes.

While technology has been created to make the provision of quality care easier, in fact the requirement for nurses to now interact with technology as much as they interact with patients (or more, depending on the facility) is adding to stress, and causing unintended consequences including “hiding behind the computer.”

Human factor professionals help organizations, usually through patient safety initiatives, to make sure teams are using safe prescribing practices, communicating efficiently, processing digital information properly and creating “workflows” that can ease the transitions between shifts, ensuring the patient experience is also more pleasant.

There are programs, and then there are practical tips that can help nursing staff deal with pressures, especially on those days when the patient-nurse ratios increase, when trauma centers are overwhelmed with mass casualties, when new programs are rolled out which may cause confusion and sense of “more work,” and when there are issues outside of work that may be impacting the ability of an individual nurse to concentrate.

Here are five recommendations for reducing stress on the hardest days, knowing that for many nurses, every day is not easy.

1.Create friendly boundaries and learn to just say no!

Nurses, by their nature, are caregivers and generous often to a fault. With a natural inclination to jump in and help, it is not easy for nurses to turn down requests for time and energy. There are friendly and professional ways to say no, including “I’d love to help, but I’m overwhelmed myself right now,” or “I can see you could use some support, and I’d be happy to help in the future, but today I am responsible for other duties.”

When you do have free time, you can go back to that person and offer support then.

2.Exercise and eat well.

Take your breaks – you will thank yourself later, and so will your patients! When you do take a break, enjoy a good, fast-paced walk, and enjoy a tall glass of water and healthy snack. You’re physical being fundamentally tied to your psychological and emotional well-being and keeping your whole system in top shape will allow you to feel better, and stress less.

3.Don’t keep it all in; communicate when you feel you are not able to function as well as you normally do.

When you start to feel taken advantage of, or when you start to feel your workload is too much and that this is leading to a sense of constant, underlying frustration and even anger, take a moment to think about what is causing you to feel bad. Fear, uncertainty, anger and other emotions can take their toll on your ability to think clearly.

Communicating with your supervisor is not complaining, when it is done with the right attitude, tone and honesty. Talking through your perceptions and feelings in a calm setting will do wonders; make sure to be specific about what is troubling you and come with constructive ideas on how you and the entire team can function better, and you may be surprised by the results!

4.Find a quiet place for meditation and bring your tools with you.

There are amazing mobile apps today for relaxation and meditation. Even without an app, bring your headphones with you and find a quiet place to listen to your favorite music, or listen while you’re taking a brisk walk on your break.

Find photos you love, of beautiful natural settings, paintings, flowers, animals and more, and keep those in your own “peace folder” on your smartphone, and simply “go there.” There are also many relaxation techniques including stretching, breathing (inhaling and exhaling works!), and mantras in mind for example repeating “Don’t think, don’t think, don’t think” so you can clear out the mental clutter even if only for five or ten minutes at a time.

5.Forgive yourself and others.

Perfection is a myth, and constantly aiming for perfection is fundamentally flawed as a result. There will be days when you come to the end of your rope, and you lash out at somebody almost instinctually. It happens, and it doesn’t make you a bad nurse, or a bad person. It actually helps you grow into a more capable and loving person, including when you make amends and grow closer to the same person who only moments ago was driving you a little crazy.

According to a 2014 study conducted by the American Sociological Association, nurses who viewed their job as a calling—primarily because they wanted to help others—experienced more nursing job stress and burnout than those who considered their job a career. And why? Because nurses are deeply empathetic and go beyond where average humans go to care for others.

This is beautiful and fulfilling on normal days, but on extremely harried days, busy days, stressful days – it’s important to learn to turn down the empathy and refocus on getting the work done in a safe and proper way.

And while we covered five tips, I’m going to add one more and that is this: do something wonderful for yourself every day. This doesn’t have to cost a penny and doesn’t have to take much time. Remember to love yourself, as that self-love, that self-empathy regenerates all the best of what is in you, and what attracted you to nursing in the first place. Love a nurse – yourself.