How to Handle Your Emotions

As a nurse, it can be difficult to handle our emotions. One minute our adrenaline is surging through our bodies as we rush to save a life. Minutes later we may find ourselves in the break room, saying good-bye to a long time nursing friend and colleague.

From up to down and everything in between, how does a nurse continue in nursing without losing his or her cool?

Today’s post will cover three strategies for handling emotions. And while these tactics may be specific to our roles as nurses, you may find that you can use these tools in your personal life too!

1. Avoid Reacting in the Moment

We’ve all been there. Getting yelled at by a colleague- while it isn’t pretty or professional- it can happen. And maybe the “yelling” is less than overt.

You may have received a nasty email, where the tone of the words written on the page stings you to the core. Or, just a subtle gesture as an eye roll or a shoulder shrug. Communication in nursing can be tough!

While none of the above behaviors are appropriate- they do happen. And when they do, we often have emotions that are painful bubble up inside. So, what’s one way to cope with the emotional reaction of poor communication?

Don’t react! At least in that moment.

Let’s go back to the email example for a moment. Sure, you can fire a zinger off back at the author of the email, but what is that going to do? Now it’s in writing and you are putting yourself and your professional role in jeopardy.

When someone hurts you through their communication, whether it be written, verbal, or non-verbal, don’t react immediately. Let yourself cool down. Give yourself time and space. Think about it; in fact, sleep on it. Then, take the proper steps to address the issue after your emotions have settled down.

2. Realize that You Are Human

Another thing that occurs in certain nursing jobs is death.

Maybe it happens often in your work area or maybe less than others. Whatever the case may be, as a nurse, taking care of patients, death is never easy.

Instead of pushing it down and wearing a stoic face, let yourself feel. Especially if you have been taking care of the patient and their family for a longer amount of time. It wouldn’t be normal to not have any emotion at all if you have built a close rapport with the person that has passed away.

Showing emotion is a human reaction. Nurses are humans too! And the family of the patient that you are caring for realizes that you are not a robot.

While crying and blowing up in anger every minute on the job may be a sign that something is deeply wrong, a bit of emotion with the patient and their loved-ones is OK from time-to-time.

3. Breathe Through It

Gosh, it seems like almost every issue can be solved by slowing down and focusing on the breath.

The same is true with negative emotions.

If I am feeling angry, I notice that my heart races faster. If I am nervous, my stomach ties up in knots. If I am awestruck, inspired, or filled with overwhelming gratitude a lump forms in my throat and my voice shakes.

When these things happen, the very best thing that I can do for myself in all of the above moments is to just breathe.

Pausing and feeling the feet to the floor can ground us in the moment. Rather than being caught up in our heads, we focus on the physical body.

The breath can slow the heart, ease anxiety, and help us refocus on the here and now.

Taking slow, cleansing breaths in and out of the nose for just a few seconds can help emotions be felt and dealt with.

We’d love to hear from you! Be sure to Tweet me @ElizabethScala and let me know what tactics you use to handle your emotions in nursing! Thanks for reading; enjoy the day.


Elizabeth Scala

Keynote speaker and bestselling author, Elizabeth Scala MSN/MBA, RN, partners with hospitals, nursing schools, and nurse associations to transform the field of nursing from the inside out. As the host of the Nurse’s Week ‘Art of Nursing’ program, Elizabeth guides nurses and nursing students to a change in perspective, helping them make the inner shift needed to better maneuver the sometimes challenging realities of being a caregiver.Elizabeth received her dual master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is also a certified coach and Reiki Master Teacher. Elizabeth lives in Maryland with her supportive husband and a playful pit bull.