Thursday, May 14, 2015

Are You A Nurse Stress Cadet?

Just the other day, I heard the term "stress cadet" for the first time, and I was struck by how very apropos those two words are when considering the average 21st-century professional nurse. Are you a nurse stress cadet? If not, do you know one?

Most human beings experience varying levels of stress, even under the most normal circumstances, and for healthcare professionals and nurses, job-related stress can at times be overwhelming.

As a group, we nurses are generally caring, compassionate, hard-working people who like to put others first. This is lovely, but we can frequently forget about a very important person---ourselves.

Some nurses experience stress-related illness, depression, anxiety, burnout, and other symptoms and conditions (at least from time to time). Meanwhile, other nurses may find that such symptoms and problems crop up frequently, or even become chronic and apparently inextricably linked to their work as nurses. What to do?

Be Honest

You see, I was a burned out nurse for quite a few years, and I just wasn't honest with myself (or anyone else, for that matter) about what was going on. I burned myself to a crisp, and it was my long-suffering, compassionate wife who finally put her foot down and demanded that I be honest with myself. And I was.

Are you honest with yourself? Is your work running you into the ground? Are you, as I like to say, burning your wick at three ends? Sometimes, we nurses don't want to admit it, but we have to, folks. We can be the worst patients in the world, but when push comes to shove, we eventually have to pay the Piper, so why not pay in advance with self-care, instead of paying later on with chronic illness---or worse?

Be Proactive

If your work is beating you up, you must decide to be proactive. Here are some examples of things you can do:
  • Talk to a therapist or counselor
  • Go to your employer's Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
  • Enlist your friends and family for support 
  • Talk to trusted colleagues
  • Take a medical leave of absence
  • Change to a different floor/unit/shift
  • Request a change in work duties
  • Look for another job
  • Contact a career coach or consultant
  • Exercise
  • Journal, write, document how you're feeling and what's happening to you
  • Improve your nutrition and hydration
  • Take up yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or other contemplative practices

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it gives you an idea. If you're a stress cadet, it's something to get ahead of before it gets ahead of you.

Be Kind

If you're experiencing high levels of stress---or you're actually in the midst of burnout---it's really okay to be honest about it. It's not your fault, it's reversible, and what you need most from yourself is kindness and compassion.

Being kind to yourself is the first step in overcoming burnout or extreme stress, and that kindness is what will propel you to do some of the things that I've suggested above. If you truly care about yourself, then you'll find a way to decrease your stress and remove that stress cadet helmet from your head.

Be Consistent

Realistically speaking, while we all can't be 100% consistent with our exercise, nutrition, and sleep hygiene, we can indeed strive to be consistent in approaching our own self-care and wellness with kindness, self-love, and self-compassion. Even if you slip up and don't do so well on a particular day, you can still express gratitude and love towards yourself; and believe me, it works much better than self-recrimination.

Be consistent in expressing kindness towards yourself in the midst of your stress, and you'll have made the first step towards getting ahead of the effects of that stress on your body, mind, spirit, and soul.

Being a nurse stress cadet is no fun, but being able to control and overcome your stress is empowering, valuable, enlivening, and a great boost to your professional nursing career and your personal well-being. 
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