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Stress Reduction and Relaxation Ease Nursing School Journey

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By Glenna Murdock, RN, contributor

The life of a student nurse can be stressful. Juggling classes, study time, exams and, sometimes, work and family can put nerves on edge.

As Associate Professor in the College of Nursing at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, Glenda Christiaens, MS, RN, AHN-BC, has a front row seat for witnessing student stress. Christiaens’s empathy for her students and her advocacy of holistic health were the catalysts that inspired her to devise a stress reduction plan that blends easily into the students’ hectic schedules.

Named Relax, Rejuvenate, Recreate (RRR), the plan presents an analogy of the student as a prizefighter, beginning with the stressed-out student “on the ropes,” then guiding the student through the fight, all the way to the final round and being declared the champion.

“The first rule for students to follow,” Christiaens said, “is to declare themselves number one. It is not as easy to do as it sounds.”

While RRR offers a number of relaxation tips, Christiaens knows that it is impractical to expect students to use all of them in a single session because their time is so limited.

“Students are probably not going to have time to take a yoga class but stress can be reduced in little chunks of time,” Christiaens explained. “I tell them to spend just a minute stretching or to stop and take four deep breaths before walking into a patient’s room. Even such small things can make a big difference.”

Among the techniques is one called Body Scan, which encompasses inhaling deeply while mentally scanning for stress from head to toe, exhaling slowly to release tension, and consciously relaxing. This routine should be repeated four times in a set and can be completed in under a minute.

Other effective strategies include giving oneself positive affirmations, halting negative thoughts, visualizing success and, with eyes closed, taking a few minutes to envision being in a restful place. Adequate hydration and brief shoulder massages can also work wonders in achieving relaxation.

Christiaens, a doctoral student at Oregon Health and Science University, did not graduate with her BSN until age 40. She had, however, been avidly interested in integrative and holistic health long before entering nursing school. It was during her master’s program that she became a fan of Healing Touch therapy and its relaxation benefits.

“I realized there were things I could do that were healing and relaxing for my patients and those things were powerful and had no side effects,” she recalled.

Christiaens exposes her students to integrative healing practices and to exploring complementary therapies by inviting to her classroom speakers who are authorities on such subjects as chiropractic treatment, raw food diets and essential oils.

“I teach them to look at the whole person when interacting with a patient,” she explained. “They should consider the mind, body, spirit and social aspects of each patient.”

To put them on the path of managing the pressures that come with nursing school, she teaches a four-hour stress reduction class for first-semester nursing students.

“The students eat it up,” Christiaens said. “It is so popular that I’m invited by the campus Student Nurse Association to conduct a refresher session each semester.”

She also employs RRR in her classroom by stopping at the mid-point of class to have students spend a couple minutes relaxing and letting go of stress.

Christiaens is the Education Coordinator-elect for the American Holistic Nurses’ Association (AHNA). With support from the AHNA and BYU College of Nursing, she has been taking her message to the masses by presenting the RRR plan at national and state student nurse conventions.

Christiaens, who will present RRR at the National Student Nurses’ Association annual convention in Texas on March 29, 2008, is emphatic regarding the importance of students having the tools to manage the stressors that affect their well being.

“Student nurses absolutely crave and long for permission to take care of themselves,” she said.

© 2008. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.