Nurses may experience higher levels of stress from feeling underappreciated than from the demands of the actual tasks they carry out, a new study has found.
Those who believed they have more control over their work and felt valued were less likely to feel stressed or tired, according to the research led by the University of Aberdeen.
“These results suggest interventions might be effective in reducing both the physiological and psychological aspects of stress without needing to change work tasks”
University of Aberdeen study on nurse stress levels
The study, published in the journal Annals of Behavioural Medicine, involved recording the physiological and psychological aspects of stress for 100 nurses at a large teaching hospital in the north east of Scotland.
Study participants recorded the tasks they were doing and how stressful they found them every 90 minutes over two work shifts. Meanwhile, their heart rate and activity was measured continuously.
The type of work nurses were doing, such as dealing with patients or communicating with other health professionals, did not significantly affect how stressed they felt, according to the research authors who said it was instead how they viewed the work that had an impact on their mood.
While overall stress levels rose when the work was demanding, nurses said this feeling was reduced if they felt in control of their activities and felt valued and appreciated.
“In the future we should consider ways of increasing the control that nurses have and how rewarded they feel so that we can minimise their stress”
Professor Derek Johnston
Those behind the study suggested changes to working environments could be introduced - rather than altering tasks themselves - to reduce nurse stress levels in the future.
“Importantly, these results would suggest that interventions might be effective in reducing both the physiological and psychological aspects of stress without needing to change work tasks. In the context of nursing and health care, this makes practical sense as it would be impossible to remove tasks involving direct patient care,” they said in their research paper.
Professor Derek Johnston, from the university’s school of psychology, who co-authored the paper, said: “Nursing is inevitably demanding and the effects of demand can be seen physiologically by an increase in heart rate which over time, might impinge on their long-term health. We found that these effects of demand are reduced if the nurse feels that they are in control and that their work is valued.
He added: “This is the first time that anyone has comprehensively measured the effects of stress in nurses throughout their working day - while they were actually caring for patients in hospital wards. So, these results may prove to be very helpful in considering how to provide a supportive and healthy working environment for nurses.
“Nursing is by its very nature a demanding job but perhaps in the future we should consider ways of increasing the control that nurses have and how rewarded they feel so that we can minimise their stress.”