empty gurney in hospital hallway

5 Effective Coping Strategies for ER Nurses

As if working in the ER wasn't stressful enough, emergency department nurses also have to cope with tragic events, including patient deaths. Dealing with these consequences can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining, so it's important for ER nurses to find effective coping strategies.

Easy coping strategies for ER nurses to use

1. Take advantage of in-hospital resources

Nurses need time to grieve after a tragic event. Available resources in their workplace can help them cope with tragedy, and emergency department nurses should take advantage of these services.

Catherine Burger, BSN, MSOL, RN, NEA-BC, at registerednursing.org says that emergency department nurses experience significant tragedy, and policies must be in place to support them in their time of need.

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“An effective method to cope with this exposure is to ensure there are mechanisms in place to assist nurses with debriefing and grieving when needed. Most facilities offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where staff can seek psychological help. ED nurse leaders are wise to provide timely debriefing with the availability of EAP professionals after tragedies,” explains Burger.

2. Grieve when you need to

Shannon Stewart, MSN, RN, APRN, FNP-C, CCRN, and author of the Amazon #1 best-selling book GRIEF, has dealt with tragedy on an almost weekly basis in a hospital setting for almost 20 years.

“The first thing I would say is grieve on your own timeframe. Never let anyone else control how long you need to grieve to get through a tragedy.”

Everyone's process of grieving is different — if you need time off, take time off. Talk to a trusted friend, spouse or psychologist to help you process complicated feelings.

3. Take care of your own needs

In response to tragedy, sometimes emergency department nurses can put other's needs before their own, and Stewart cautions against nurses doing this.

“Don't neglect yourself. Too often we've cared for others to the point of not taking care of our own needs. We ignore the bathroom breaks, we skip meals, we fail to see a doctor for our own illness. Remember that there is still a human being behind our honorary title, and that person matters too.”

4. Heal yourself through creative outlets

Sometimes activities such as yoga, exercise, meditation or even adult coloring books can help relieve stress and improve your mood. The American Art Therapy association considers adult coloring books to be similar to art therapy, allowing the participant to express themselves in a healthy way and perhaps help them heal in times of grief.

5. Surround yourself with your support system

Stewart emphasizes the importance of having a support system you can trust in when you're in the grieving process. “They will notice things about you that you might miss,”Stewart says.

Rely on trusted colleagues, friends, family or a therapist to help you work through your grief. They can offer a listening ear, advice if you want it or companionship.

If you're in the field of ER nursing and coping with tragedy frequently, know you're not alone and there are resources available to help in your workplace and in your life.

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