7 Ways to Love Your Nurse Self
by Robb Hillman, RN and Certified Life Coach
When I talk to nurses about the work that we do, the biggest problem I hear about is stress. There is good reason for that, since pressures weigh on nurses from multiple sources. We find ourselves in literal life-or-death situations. We are often short-staffed and over-worked.
While our patients are our priority, we also have to answer to management and corporate as well as state and federal agencies who monitor each and every thing we do. Not to mention the workplace politics and drama, the lawyers, and of course there is always that ONE GUY who is lazy and a jerk and a bully and makes every shift you work with him a nightmare.
Naturally all of this results in a lot of stress. Because nurses are focused on the welfare of others, we often forget to take care of ourselves. So the stress builds up. It starts to feel normal. It doesn’t feel good, but it seems like we feel it every day, and everyone else is feeling it too, so obviously that is just what nurses are supposed to feel, right?
The problem with that theory is that stress isn’t just a bad feeling. It actually affects your health.
You know the drill here – stress is a word we often use to describe the activation of our sympathetic nervous system. Our SNS is amazing for those moments when we stumble across a bear in the woods and can even be fun when we are riding a rollercoaster. But the chronic activation of our stress responses result in a laundry list of things that make our job and our lives harder and less enjoyable:
- Anxiety when at work, and even when just thinking about going to work
- Inability to concentrate and impaired memory
- Irritability and feeling overwhelmed
- Weight gain and disrupted sleep patterns
- Sexual disinterest and/or dysfunction
- Increased risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease
So what is a nurse supposed to do? The stakes are real, but luckily, so are your options for solutions.
Eliminating all stress from your life is probably not an option for someone who works in healthcare. But you do not have to sacrifice your health and well-being here either folks – there is no glory in being a martyr.
Self care has never been so sexy and alluring.
If you want to love (or keep loving) being a nurse, here are 7 things to start doing right now.
TIP #1: Focus on what you want
What do you want when you come to work? Do you want to give great care? To gain confidence and improve your skills? Do you want to love your job?
There are lots of great answers of what you want from your job. If you take the time to get clear about that, it can bring a lot of satisfaction when you make progress towards attaining them. (We all want a paycheck from work, and doesn’t payday always feel great? That’s because we are getting something we want.)
People generally have an easier time talking about the things that they DON’T want, but if that is your focus you are giving yourself an extra challenge. If you don’t want moody docs, or admissions, or to deal with drug-seeking patients, then every time you have to deal with one of those things you are primed to feel miserable.
TIP #2: How can you laugh more today?
Humor can be a powerful release for nurses, breaking the stress cycle, calming the brain and centering us in our bodies again. And yes, often nurses laugh at inappropriate gallows humor.
My motto is that anything that can make me laugh is the right answer. Seize and enjoy those moments. And when others do the same,
Not because all humor is appropriate (it isn’t), but because feeling offended can trigger (or mimic) the same stress responses we are trying to minimize. Remember your goals, and respond appropriately.
TIP #3: Pick your battles, and accept that there are some things you cannot change
There is a legitimate political conversation to be had about whether or not HCAHPS scores are a useful measure. But, for today at least, it is the law. It is what is. Arguing with and resisting that reality only sets you up for a lot of frustration and unhappiness.
Now, by all means, network with leaders and call your Congressman if you are serious about creating change in the system. But if all you are doing is being mad about it every time someone asks you to provide good customer service to your patients, then the only person you are punishing with your frustration is yourself.
TIP #4: Practice Mindfulness
When things get crazy and your mind is spinning, mindfulness techniques are a great way to center yourself again and calm down. There are probably hundreds of different techniques that utilize some combination of sense-awareness, deliberate thought and/or focused attention.
For the busy nurse, my favorites are the straightforward breathing exercises, because you can do them sitting on the toilet or when you pause while you collect bandages in the supply room. (You may never have seen it, but trust me, there really is a toilet where you work, and you really should be using it.)
Just be still and breathe deeply, into your belly. Feel the air come in, visualize the air filling up your body. Hold and count to five. Then slowly breathe the air out, letting the stress and frustration flow out with it. Repeat as needed.
This, and methods like it, can stimulate the vagus nerve, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is good for your body, your health, and your sanity.
Like anything, mindfulness takes practice. But when things get crazy, re-centering yourself into your body in the here and now can be extremely helpful.
TIP #5: Choose your vices wisely
One big sign we are experiencing chronic stress is that we start needing help to be able to relax or have fun. We can’t get started in the morning without coffee. We can’t relax after work or have fun with friends without a glass or four of wine. We can’t sleep at night without taking a benadryl or an ambien.
Now, I’m no teetotaler. These things may have a place in your life and there is nothing wrong with that. All I’m suggesting is that you stay aware that these substances have a potential and progressive downside as well. Pay attention to what you are becoming reliant on.
Pay attention to your dependance on quick fixes and make sure you are making the choices that will best set you up for the long-term life you want to have. If one cup of coffee used to be enough and now you need three just to get the same effect, you already know what I’m talking about.
TIP #6: Exercise and eat well
You knew this one was coming, right? Your body is the tool you use to interact with the world. If you don’t take care of it, no one else will. Food is the most abused anti-anxiety drug, and exercise is the most underused antidepressant.
Stop eating patient graham crackers and sodas for dinner when you already ate them for lunch. Don’t let sitting in front of your computer and TV be the only way you decompress. Take care of your body, and your body will take care of you.
TIP #7: Fill yourself up.
You can’t pour from an empty pitcher, and your career is going to be short-lived if you aren’t re-filling yourself deliberately and regularly. What that looks like will be different for each one of us.
Join a choir, or a line-dance group, or a band. Play with your dog. Keep a journal. Learn how to be a person who is very good with their money. Be a great lover. Be a great spouse/parent/friend. Volunteer. Read the classics. Go on a pilgrimage. Run for office. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Learn to paint. Go birdwatching.
Do the thing you’ve always wanted to do. Visit Spain, or Peru, or Indonesia. Learn about starting your own business. Get certified in your field. Organize a food drive. Go to church. Train for a marathon. Get a funny coloring book. Play Cards Against Humanity with all of your best naughty friends. Find out everything you can about your great-grandparents. Be an expert on something. Knit.
Send your best friend a handwritten note. Make a list of everything you are grateful for. Be the kind of person other people are grateful for. Make a playlist of all your favorite songs from high school. Plan a scavenger hunt for your teenagers. Spend a day with your nephew and take lots of pictures. Forgive someone you’ve been mad at. Rick roll someone. Go on a medical mission. Donate (time/money/manpower) to something you believe in. Get a massage. Buy new underwear. Find a new recipe for dinner. Be supportive of the new grad on Facebook who is anxious about the NCLEX.
Scroll right past the drama without getting sucked in. Take a walk in the rain. Make a snowman, or a sand castle. Write yourself a thank you letter for all of the amazing things you’ve done for others. Clean out your email inbox. Purge things you don’t really need. Eat a peach, or a plum, or a mango. Get inspired reading a blog post and then don’t stop there and actually go out and do something about it.
Make the choices you deserve. Decide that you are worth being a priority. The work you do is important, and there will be patients in a year and in ten years and in thirty years that deserve to be taken care of by you.
Don’t burn out before then. Don’t deplete yourself and find yourself running from your chosen career because you are so drained. There is nothing sexy about being a martyr.
The world needs you. Don’t just take care of yourself, be a self care guru. Take care of yourself so hard that you’ll be able to handle all of the inevitable challenges that come up. Nursing is hard, but you can do hard things.
You are worth it. You are appreciated. You are respected. Never forget that.
Now go have fun.
Robb Hillman is a Registered Nurse and Certified Life Coach, helping nurses who want to feel better and love their lives. You can follow him on Facebook and on his blog www.robbhillmancoaching.com. He currently lives in Las Vegas, NV.
Until next time friend,
Come visit me at Ask Nurse Beth career column at allnurses.com for all kinds of entertaining and informative career questions and answers, and to submit your own question