Career advice

If you’re stressed at work, comparing yourself to others will only feed the anxiety

Practical tips for nurses on how to stop negative thoughts in their tracks

Practical tips for nurses on how to stop negative thoughts in their tracks

Picture: iStock

The much-anticipated NHS staff survey results for England were published at the end of February. The survey, which was conducted between September and December 2018, is one of the largest workforce surveys in the world, with the findings giving a sense of the experience of NHS staff.

As with all research studies, the data can be interpreted in many ways, but not even the cleverest of politicians could put a positive spin on the figures for health and well-being.

The stress of working in the NHS

With almost 40% of staff saying they felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in the past 12 months, there’s no doubt that stress is a major problem in the NHS. As well as affecting individual staff members, it can have a significant impact on NHS resources and finances.

There is no exact medical definition for stress, but causes are known to be both internal and external. There are undoubtedly numerous external factors that contribute to high levels of stress among nurses, and although the current state of the NHS makes me angry, constantly focusing on that anger is not conducive to anyone’s well-being.

I’m not saying we all accept the current situation as a fait accompli, but let’s focus instead on some of the things you can control, such as the internal factors that may be adding to your stress. 

Advice to get you started

  • Increase your awareness Over the next week or so keep a mental note of all the times you find yourself comparing yourself with others
  • Name it So that when you find yourself about to fall into the ‘comparison trap’ you can use this name to stop yourself
  • Be creative I use a song. Whenever I find myself about to beat myself up I start singing (in my head!) Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘hello darkness my old friend’. If nothing else, it makes me smile
  • Switch your energy Try to focus on what you can do instead of everything you feel you can’t. This helps you to move into a positive mindset
  • Make positive choices Make an active choice to spend your time with people who boost you as opposed to those who drain you. This isn’t always easy in the workplace but don’t let negative comments affect how you feel about yourself
  • Watch your social activity Social media are breeding grounds for self-sabotage. Just as you can’t judge a book buy its cover, you will never know the truth behind a picture or post. So although someone’s online presence may lead you to believe they are happier or more successful than you, don’t use this as further evidence against yourself. Instead, limit your time online and accept that what you see may not be the full picture


Unfavourable comparisons are a trap

As a nurse, you will have learned early in your career that no two patients are the same. Even if they present with similar symptoms, each will need individual care and may respond differently to treatment.

‘All that energy spent wishing you could be like someone else will be draining your mental resources and contributing to your stress levels’

I’m sure you tell your patients not to compare their progress with that of the person in the next bed, so why do so many of us fall into the trap of comparing ourselves unfavourably with colleagues? 

Use your appraisal to identify your goals but don’t spend the next 12 months beating yourself up for not being good enough. For all you know, the nurse you aspire to be like may be looking at someone else and thinking the same.

Conserve your energy

Constantly comparing yourself with others is not an easy habit to break. Comparison is the ‘thief of joy’, so you need to address this if you value your well-being. All that energy spent wishing you could be like someone else will be draining your mental resources and contributing to your stress levels.

Although the conditions in your workplace may be far from ideal, learning to accept that you are ‘okay as you are’ will help you cope better and, in time, may also help you to achieve your personal goals and objectives.

Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurse

RCNi Nursing Careers and Jobs FairsRCNi Nursing Careers and Jobs Fairs

RCNi Nursing Careers and Jobs Fairs are the largest CPD-accredited nursing recruitment events in the UK. Visitors can meet leading employers and agencies with immediate vacancies, and receive advice on finding a new job, revalidation, and climbing the career ladder.

If you're looking for a new job, or aiming to develop your nursing career, come along to our next event. Go to to book your free place today.

RCN Bulletin Jobs

RCN Bulletin Jobs is a one-stop resource for finding and applying for the best jobs in nursing and healthcare.

Hundreds of new posts are added every month and you can browse vacancies by field of practice, band or location.

Registration is quick, making it as simple as possible for you to take the next step in your career.

Find out more at

This article is for subscribers only