1. Rosenblatt, Carolyn L. RN, BSN
  2. Davis, Mikol S. EdD

Article Content

Is the quality of your life away from work affected by your job? Managers are in the middle: On the one hand, you must answer to the higher-ups; on the other hand, keep the peace with those whom you supervise. This may cause a challenge to your personal loyalty between the staff members you supervise and those to whom you must answer. The effect of being in the middle often creates a high level of inner conflict.


I just can't cope!!

We manage inner conflict, or not, based on our own inner resources or coping skills. We don't often see coping skills in our academic curriculum and they aren't usually a part of in-service training; rather, we learn them by observing others. This learned behavior is referred to by psychologists as social modeling. In other words, we observe the primary relationships in our lives as we grow up, such as relationships with parents, teachers, relatives, and friends, and how these relations cope helps form the pattern for our own coping behavior. Whatever our social modeling growing up, we can always learn better coping skills as adults with resources and effort.


In order to develop a healthy strategy to cope well in a supervisory role, it's important to review the internal resources you have for dealing with conflict. One thing is certain: Conflict is part of the job and that conflict is directly related to feeling stress.1 If you've neither looked at your own coping style, nor spent any time hearing feedback about it, conflict may be taking a greater toll on you than necessary. Conflict at work contributes to conflict at home, and the reverse is equally true. Therefore, to develop a healthy coping style to manage conflict at work, you need to ensure that you examine what's going on in both domains of your life. If you find yourself drinking a bit too much, overeating, or skipping healthy stress relievers such as exercise, it will be quite challenging to effectively handle the stresses of conflict at work.


Start looking at your coping skills by taking a personal inventory of the stressors in your life. Taking the time to examine what brings you personal discomfort at home reveals how high your stress level is before you get to work. A next step is to develop a concrete plan for addressing the stressors on the home front. What can you do to minimize or alleviate stressors at home? Some situations, such as a sick parent, a disabled family member, and money worries, can be outside your reach to change. However, other stressors, such as challenging relationships, poor health habits, procrastination, and parenting conflicts, can be addressed.


Rediscover joy

Mental wellness is the effect of learning to balance the ways you effectively cope with personal stressors against the stressors themselves.2 This balance necessarily includes adding into your life each day things that bring you joy and personal satisfaction. No one should be on a starvation diet from things that give them any small measure of joy. Things we love to do are like a vaccination against stress; they strengthen us and indulging in them is a coping skill. It's easy to forget that fun and diversions are an essential part of maintaining the quality of our lives. In our workaholic society, value is placed on working hard, overworking, and not taking breaks. How many executives brag that they haven't taken a vacation in years? It's likely that these individuals aren't exercising solid coping skills and their work and personal relationships both suffer.


Coping skills include a variety of things that may seem like indulgences, but in reality they're like preventive medicine for the psyche.3 Structure, a sense of purpose outside work, and having a sense of community are among the cornerstones of mental wellness. Although work itself may provide plenty of structure, community, and purpose for us as professionals, the often intensely stressful environment may not nurture our mental health. Therefore, we must protect our emotional well-being by nurturing the part of our lives that we spend outside the workplace. Walking, cooking, gardening, talking to a friend, sharing with coworkers, reading, listening to music, meditation, expressions of sexuality, affection, and learning something new unrelated to working (such as taking a class for fun) are all examples of coping skills.4


Savvy managers who employ such skills are far ahead of those who don't. These diversions enable you to dissipate the internal conflict inherent in the job. They also help people who tend to internalize others' problems and pain to have a constructive outlet. Because your work life is about addressing others' difficulties, it's a healthy choice to recognize how the daily habits of taking on the problems of your patients and those you supervise can adversely affect your own mental health. Although you may sometimes feel that you're expected to be superhuman, no one can get through a stressful day of clinical work without some effect internally. Looking within and being proactive with your mental health is of great benefit.


Planning structure for time away from work and carefully using your time off for meaningful and enjoyable activity provides the needed framework and sense of purpose that can keep you healthy mentally. Sometimes nonwork chores seem to occupy every spare moment; however, there's a kind of discipline attached to using time off with purposeful intent. Organizational skill is perhaps one of the ways managers get into positions of leadership. The same skill set is needed at home for finding time to do the things that fill you with moments of joy. In other words, organize your nonwork time as skillfully as you manage others at your job. You'll find time for good mental hygiene if that's what you intend. The best leaders lead by example; consider being an example of solid coping skills to those whom you lead by ensuring positive mental health habits in your own life.


You are a priority

The takeaway message from this is that maintaining mental wellness means making your own mental well-being as important a priority as your career and your family. Nurses already possess the general knowledge about what mental wellness means for their patients. Managers especially need to make their own mental wellness a priority, starting today.




1. Goldberger L, Breznitz S, eds. Handbook of Stress: Theoretical and Clinical Aspects. 2nd ed. New York, NY: The Free Press; 1993. [Context Link]


2. Lehrer PM, Woolfolk RL, eds. Principles and Practice of Stress Management. 2nd ed. New York, NY: The Gilford Press; 1993. [Context Link]


3. David M, Eshelman ER, McKay M. The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook. 4th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.; 1995. [Context Link]


4. Brantley J. Calming Your Anxious Mind. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.; 2003. [Context Link]