A majority of America’s nurses admit they are stressed out, consuming too much junk food and getting too little sleep, says a Ball State University study.

The Impact of Perceived Stress and Coping Adequacy on the Health of Nurses: A Pilot Investigation, published in the online journal Nursing Research and Practice, found that nurses with high stress and poor coping had difficulty with patients, working in teams, communicating with co-workers and performing their jobs efficiently.

“This study reveals stress takes a toll on nurses’ health and they need better ways to handle it,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, a Ball State health science professor who was part of a multi-university team that examined how nurses cope with stress. “Nurses need to improve their lifestyles and health behaviors, take advantage of all health benefits available to them and learn to manage stress and conflicts at the workplace.”

The study of 120 nurses working in the Midwest found that most nurses had poor health habits:

  • 92 percent had moderate-to-very high stress levels.
  • 78 percent slept less than eight hours per night.
  • 69 percent did not exercise regularly.
  • 63 percent consumed fewer than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
  • 22 percent were classified as binge drinkers.

The study also found that when confronted with workplace stress, 70 percent of nurses reported that they consumed more junk food and 63 percent said that they used food as a coping mechanism.

Nurses in the “high stress/poor coping” group had the poorest health outcomes and highest health risk behaviors compared to those in other groups, researchers also found.

Management has a big role to play in providing health promotion services and employee assistance programs to help deal with stress-related poor health behaviors, such as addiction,” Khubchandani said.  “What I find severely lacking is the understanding of burnout in nurses, its prevalence and its long-term impact on the nursing workforce of any facility.

“Management needs to invest in assessing and addressing these issues. In the long term, employers can save costs if their nurses remain fit and perform to the best of their abilities.”