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Can you spot the signs of stress?

By Gemma Raw

Everyone needs a holiday. But for nurses and other health professionals, it's absolutely vital to ensure you avoid stress and burnout, which can negatively impact on your ability to deliver excellent care. So, how do you spot the signs that you need to take a well-earned break from work?

According to a study by the Health and Safety Executive, in 2017-18 work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of work-related ill health and 57% of working days lost. However, in 2015 the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) found that only half of UK employees take all their annual leave allowance.

Nursing jobs can be stressful and the fact that you're constantly working under pressure can take its toll. Of course, you may just need to chill out in a quiet place for a while or make sure you unwind properly in the evening. However, it's also important to be aware of the indicators that show you're in desperate need of some proper R&R.

We’ve put together a few ideas to help you be aware of the danger signs...

A short fuse

Do you find yourself snapping at your fellow nurses or getting angry with colleagues from other departments? Irritability is often a sign that you're feeling dangerously stressed out.


Finding it difficult to nod off or keep waking up in a cold sweat? Stress often causes 'hyperarousal', which can upset the balance between sleep and wakefulness. Lack of sleep can also make matters worse, detracting from your ability to cope with work pressures.

Errors are creeping in

If you're finding yourself increasingly making minor errors in your work, it's time to think about having a holiday. Remember, you need to act before those little mistakes start turning into big ones that could put your patients at serious risk.

Brain fog

Have you been forgetting to lock the front door? Do you keep misplacing your car keys or your purse? These can be signs that you're mentally exhausted and need a break from work to revitalize. Again, it's important to be aware of the importance of being on top of your game in your nursing job.


Are you becoming an anti-social couch potato? If you're lacking energy or enthusiasm and spend most of your leisure time in front of the TV, it could be a reaction to heightened stress levels. Feelings of extreme fatigue and lack of motivation are key danger signs and can be associated with long-term conditions such as depression.

If you're experiencing any of the above issues, now's the time to act, before things get worse. In healthcare jobs it's often not easy to find a convenient time to take a holiday. But don't let that stop you. Whether you enjoy hiking in the mountains, doing some city sightseeing or simply chilling out in a sunbed, it's important to get the break you deserve.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has developed a guide to managing stress for nursing staff. Download it here.