Career advice

How to cope with change and uncertainty

Nursing has always been unpredictable and under pressure. Mandy Day-Calder advises nurses how to cope.

Nursing has always been unpredictable, but rising demand, funding pressure and service reconfiguration have taken uncertainty to a new level   


Unpredictability is part of nursing, but constant uncertainty can take its toll. Picture: Getty

When you start your shift you cannot know what the day, or night, will bring. Despite all the advances in medical science and evidence-based guidelines, human beings are unpredictable.

On top of this ‘normal’ unpredictability, you may be dealing with the many unknowns that occur in overstretched services, from day-to-day issues (staffing, beds or other resources) to longer-term ones (job security, restructuring or funding). Both types are stressful to deal with, and nursing will always involve working in an environment of change.

However, as the American mathematician John Allen Paulos said, ‘Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.’

A sea of change

Change has become the norm in the NHS, yet coping with constant uncertainty can take its toll. You may feel a variety of emotions, including anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness and exhaustion, all of which are entirely normal. When added to the usual stresses of work, these emotional responses to uncertainty can leave you feeling stressed, unmotivated and undervalued.

Tips on coping in uncertain times:

  • Acknowledge none of this is your fault: even if you feel other nurses are coping better than you, don’t add to your worries by giving yourself a hard time for feeling the way you do.
  • Talk to others: you may be surprised at how skilled some of your colleagues are at appearing to be fine. Share your concerns and fears, but try to avoid going over and over things in minute detail, as this can add to ongoing feelings of anxiety. If you find yourself ruminating over unknown outcomes, try to distract yourself.
  • Re-focus your attention: what are the stable things in your life just now, in and out of work? Increasing your energy in these areas can help you to feel more balanced. For example, if you have a core group of colleagues who get on and work well together, can you arrange to spend more time socially, or even have a text-support group?
  • Let go of what you can’t control: no matter how tempting it is to try to ‘fix it’ yourself, some things are beyond your control, and focusing on them will only eat up your energy and feed your frustrations. Work out what you can control and be proactive on these. And then try to let go of the rest.
  • Take care of yourself: though not immediately obvious, ‘work-life balance’ is one of the things that is actually within your control and can give you a sense of calmness and security. Watch your energy levels and remember to cover the basics: eat well, exercise, have some fun and get enough sleep.
  • Keep it in perspective: as hard as it is just now, nothing stays the same. Not even uncertainty. So this too will pass.

Mandy Day-Calder is a freelance writer and life/health coach

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