The Unofficial Nurse Stress-O-Meter

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

A truly hectic day for a nurse pretty much redefines the word “stress.” That’s why it can be so hard to assess the level of tension you’ve reached at any given moment on the job.

To help you properly evaluate your state of mind, we’ve created a stress-o-meter by which you can rate yourself from 1 to 10—”1″ being fairly tranquil and a “9” or “10” being something more akin to a nuclear bomb.

We hope you find our system useful, if not completely ridiculous.

You’re at a 0:

Also known as “the unicorn state.” So uncommon that we couldn’t, in good diagnostic conscience, include it on the scale.

Aside from the absence of work-related stress, a “0” on the stress-o-meter indicates a full night’s rest, several days’ worth of lavish meals and real, exercise-induced energy. Possibly post-vacation.

Anyway, this is the most accurate depiction of “0” we could find. Sorry it’s not human:

You’re at a “1”

If you’re at a “1” on the stress-o-meter, the day has likely only just begun for you. Or you’re a lottery winner…on a sunny day.

At “1,” not only is the day young, but you also have fresh coffee, a parking spot near the entrance and your favorite people are on deck today. So things are kind of perfect, and even though you forgot your lunch at home…

You’re at a “2”

You see that the waiting room is full, but nobody is actively bleeding, and one mother (with unusually well-behaved children) even smiles at you. Needless to say, you aren’t too intimidated by an otherwise daunting sea of faces.

One might even say you’re invigorated.

You’re at a “3”

So all those fun and efficient people you thought you were working with? Several of those folks are out today (treachery!) and you’re officially understaffed.

You’ve seen worse, but your blissful workday has definitely suffered a setback. Determined to finish the last of your coffee before things get messy, you see that the box marked “decaf” on your cup is checked.

Fear sets in.


You’re at a “4”

Your first patient, complaining of persistent nausea, is one of those unusually well-behaved children you spotted earlier. You’re grateful for a calm, perhaps even pleasant start. Mom is chatty but mostly unperturbed.

Adorable patient #1 projectile-vomits on you. Mom is officially perturbed.

It occurs to you that things are about to turn sour.

You’re at a “5”

You’re moving as fast as those slip-resistant sneakers will carry you, but you’re failing to keep speed with an ever-growing list of patients. It’s like a bad dream—only you need to sleep to dream, and you can’t expect to do that for the next 17 hours (at least).

You’re at a “6”

This brings you to a full-fledged state of panic. Also known as the “stress-eating” phase, should you manage to find four minutes in the break room with anything edible.

Good thing it was somebody’s birthday…a week ago.

You’re at a “7”

There’s just beeping. Everywhere.

You’re trying to stay cool, but you feel like the hospital (and possibly your world) is crumbling around you.

You’re at an “8”

An hour ago you just thought the hospital was crumbling around you.

Now, it really, seriously is.

Otherwise stable patients are coding, somebody’s current and former wives have turned the waiting room into a cage fight and, worst of all, your last hair tie just snapped. Anarchy abounds.

You’re at a “9”

And that looks something like this…

You’re at a “10”

A “10” is an interesting rating. Sure, it marks the height of agitation on the stress-o-meter, but at a “10,” your state of mind is surprisingly calm.

While some might point to the word “catatonic,” we like to think of this moment as evidence that you’ve crossed over from a borderline manic state to just kinda dealing with it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we are convinced that nurses really are the ultimate humans.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. My day is a 5 most of the time, I am a school nurse in an Elementary School with 600 K-4 and 32 PreK 3-4. On any given day I have Pukers, sore throats, headaches, stomachaches, fevers, colds, coughs, eyeglasses that need to be repaired, clothes that need to be changed (because they didn’t have to go as scheduled), parents who don’t answer their phone, won’t answer their phone or their mailbox is full. I have diabetics, asthmatics, seizures, students that need to be cathed or tube fed. Broken limbs from playground trauma and many off of the wall things that happen daily. Put in an irate parent calling you for something you did or didn’t do and you have a typical day in my clinic. If my level dropped to a 4 or three, I would think the sky is falling.


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