How Nursing Leadership Can Ease New Nurse Anxiety
Entering the workforce as a new nurse and dealing with anxiety is nothing new. During a seemingly unending pandemic, however, new nurse anxiety has grown. New nurses have little time to adjust to an intense, high-pressure environment. Research shows that long-term exposure to high-pressure environments weakens nurse resiliency and increases anxiety.
One recent study found that almost 80% of nurses reported feeling anxious, and higher levels of anxiety are associated with unhealthy habits like:
- Alcohol and drug use as coping mechanisms
- Impairment of bodily functions
- Suicidal ideation
Luckily, there are several strategies for nurses to help lessen the anxiety they feel in the workplace. But what can individuals at the higher levels — nursing leadership — do to help, too? We spoke with Erica Martinez, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, Dean of Nursing at American Career College in Ontario, California and per diem staff nurse at Los Alamitos Medical Center, to get some insight. Her overall message: Lead by example.
A Model for New Nurses to Establish Healthy Coping Mechanisms
The biggest thing nursing leadership can do (that doesn’t require much extra time) is to be present:
- Make eye contact
- Be real
- Be vulnerable
- Be honest
“Let your staff see the healthy ways you cope with anxiety in the workplace, as this subconsciously gives them permission to do the same,” said Dr. Martinez. “Make sure they know you’re there for them but give them space and time to process their emotions when needed.”
Here are a few tangible ways to lead by example for new nurses dealing with anxiety:
- Take care of yourself: If you prioritize self-care tactics like staying hydrated, taking breaks (when doable), and having self-compassion, your nurses are more likely to do the same.
- Pay attention: Take the time each day to gauge how your nurses are doing and what they need in that moment. Listen to them and let them know you hear and see them. Be present with them in their anxieties and challenges.
- Be an advocate for true change: Keep your eye on staffing and be open-minded about creating systemic change. The system is broken — let your nurses see you as an advocate for improvement, whether you’re successful in moving the needle or not.
- Acknowledge the hard work you see: Words of affirmation can go a long way. Nurses appreciate when leadership notices and validates effort and less-than-ideal situations
- Check in with them: After a difficult situation, say, “I know you had a rough shift; I just want to make sure you’re OK.” You can also ask what they need. The answers may surprise you. Asking and listening not only helps nurses to feel seen — it reinforces that you genuinely care.
- Stay a part of the team: No matter your leadership level, there’s a sense of automatic distancing from new nurses if you look unapproachable. Dress for the role you lead and jump in to help when needed.
“To lead by example, you have to really care,” said Dr. Martinez. “Let your nurses know they’re allowed to have feelings by processing your own feelings in front of them. If you don’t process it in front of them, they think they’re not allowed to.”
Perspective is everything. Remember that for some new nurses, the difficult situation or patient death they just witnessed might’ve been their first. Give them time and space to process the depth of what they deal with daily. Otherwise, compartmentalizing can lead to increased anxiety over time.
As a nurse leader, you’ve taken on a larger responsibility not just with your job duties, but with your duty to your staff. Model the healthy coping mechanisms every nurse needs in this time of unprecedented anxiety.
Are you a nurse leader? How do you help ease the anxiety felt among your unit? Share with us in our discussion comments below.
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