Managing Stress and
Caring for the Self
Let me put you on hold—there’s an urgent e-mail coming in, and
uh-oh, just a second, somebody’s at my office door. No, I haven’t
graded your paper yet. I thought that I might get to finish it and read
my mail while I ate my lunch. But it’s almost 2:00 and I haven’t
had time for lunch yet, and I’ve got a meeting at 2:30. Why didn’t
I think to buy a cup of yogurt this morning? Guess I’ll have to get
something out of the snack machine. I’ve got a few minutes between
my meeting and my night class, so I promise I’ll finish your paper
and put it in your mailbox before I leave.
—Vignette from a typical day at the university for me
The American Holistic Nurses Association says that practicing nursing requires nurses to integrate self-care in their own lives. While I heartily agree, I know how difficult it is to take care of our own needs in our hectic work environments, whether they are health departments, clinics, hospitals, or nursing schools. How many times do you skip lunch or postpone taking a break? The majority of nurses in a large national study perceived their work environments as “constraining,” in that they could not properly meet their physical needs for breaks and meals or their professional needs for autonomy (Carlson-Catalano, 1990). The problem, of course, is not just the demands of the work environment. It’s the tendency of nurses to allow themselves to be engulfed in the needs of others, consequently neglecting our own. It seems as though self-sacrifice is encoded in our genes, for it has survived intergenerational transmission for more than 100 years.
Nurse historians have provided interesting glimpses of the phenomenon in our early days. For example, consider the California debate in