Monday, December 24, 2018

10 Strategies for Feeding the Nurse's Inner Life

In managing their careers and busy lives, nurses can be very focused on the "outer" aspects of life and work: family, chores, shopping, resumes, job-hunting, pursuing education, social media, etc. But how do we keep the nurse's inner life fed and watered? Let's explore 10 strategies for cultivating that inner life and nurturing happiness, wellness, and personal/professional balance as 21st-century nurses with very full lives and careers to grow.

(Note: please see this blog post's companion podcast, episode 186 of The Nurse Keith Show, for further exploration of this topic.)

Nurture your inner self
Photo by Atolu Bamwo on Nappy.co

Finding Your Inner Self

There are many paths to finding your inner self, nurses. It's a very personal journey that can take you in many directions and in pursuit of myriad goals and activities. The operative point is that this is about nurturing your inner light, your creative spark, and the need for balance in a time in history when balance can be most difficult to achieve.

21st-century life can be overwhelming and highly distracting. It's almost like our entire culture has ADHD. How many people use the excuse of being "too busy" to call, visit, or check in with dear friends and family? How often do we use social media, television, movies, or other things to distract us from what's most important?

I don't even use the word "busy" anymore because people use it as a way to cop out of doing important things that keep them connected with others. Can we really always be so addicted to busy-ness that we neglect our relationships and allow them to whither on the vine?
This process is all about finding what lights you up and creating a means by which you can change the tenor of your life in the interest of:

  • Having more fun
  • Being more creative
  • Enjoying the small things
  • Engaging the right side of your brain
  • Finding more happiness and joy
  • Having a healthier overall lifestyle and workstyle
  • Consciously doing things that balance out the stressors of an often intense career in nursing and healthcare
Zero in on your goals
Photo by Robin Joshua on Unsplash.com

Making It Happen: My 10 Strategies

In order to home in on the goal of being more authentically in touch with who you are and what can bring you happiness and balance, there are plenty of strategies for doing so. The choice is yours as to what you do and what your goals actually are. The operative word here is balance: what can you initiate in your life in order to create a way of being that's more easeful, growthful, and joyful while also assuring that your career gets what it needs?

Strategy #1: Remember your spiritual life. You may have a favorite place of worship that you can choose to return to. It may be a church, dojo, mosque, or synagogue, or perhaps you attend an alternative church or spiritual meeting; in fact, your "church" may be the cathedral of nature, as it is for my wife, and often for me.

Faith leaders can often be sources of great support. If you have a faith leader in your life, reach out when you need them. I also have friends whose fellow congregants are a source of much succor. Meanwhile, some people prefer to just have a private prayer or meditation practice at home.

Strategy #2: Get your body moving on a regular basis. Movement is essential, and the old adage is true: move it or lose it. Muscular atrophy is for real, folks, and if you want to enter old age with the ability to get up off the floor without calling 911, then make sure those glutes, abs, legs, and arms are good and strong, even into your advanced years, (You'll just have to work at it more to accomplish the task as we lose muscle tone, testosterone, and other essential aspects of our strength and agility as we age).

Your exercise regimen can be formal (classes in yoga, Nia, Zumba, etc.), or it can be something you cobble together yourself. The secret is consistency, quality, and doing something that prevents you from getting bored, which may mean switching it up from time to time. (And if yoga classes are partially a spiritual experience for you, as it can be for some practitioners, it may also fulfill some of your spiritual yearnings at the same time. Some yoga studios are more fitness oriented, and others are very spiritually based -- choose wisely.)

Strategy #3: Remember your creative self! Creativity is something that can truly get lost when life is exceptionally full. Some people may only think of creativity as doing art, music, or dance, but your form of creativity may be baking, yoga, knitting, needlepoint, writing, gardening, or anything else that can help get you into the right side of your brain. What's your creative outlet? If you don't have one, what could it be?

Strategy #4: Engage with a counselor or therapist. Sometimes we need extra short- or long-term emotional and psychological support. I'm a big advocate of psychotherapy and counseling (as long-time listeners and readers already know), and I've taken advantage of such services and relationships throughout my adult life.

Strategy #5: Seek out pleasure and leisure. Pleasant experiences help us to relax and get out of our heads. Pleasure is defined by the person experiencing it: some people like roller coasters or rock-climbing (not me!), while others prefer sex, reading, listening to music, strolls in nature, or going to the theater or movies. It's really up to you, but just make sure you get some, whatever it is!

Time is of the essence
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.com

Strategy #6: Use nature as a source of healing for a soul in need of peace. Nature can fulfill our need for spiritual upliftment (strategy #1) and for exercise and movement (strategy #2). If you're a nature-oriented person, there are so many things you do to connect with nature, including but not limited to hiking; canoeing or boating; skiing; camping; swimming; the list goes on and on. And remember that studies have shown that even just having greenery outside your windows and inside your house provides psycho-emotional healing and a relaxation response.

Strategy #7: Hire a coach. At its core, coaching differs from psychotherapy and counseling in that it doesn't involve the treatment of pathology or prescribing of psychological solutions, per se. Rather, it focuses on goal-setting and other techniques for finding fulfillment in life and/or career. There are, of course, overlaps between coaching and therapy, but a good coach knows their scope of practice and when it's best to refer you out. There are life coaches, spiritual coaches, relationship coaches, business coaches, career coaches (like me!), and many others sprouting up all the time.

Strategy #8: Get some rest, for crying out loud. Rest and sleep are what help our cells to recuperate and our brains to recharge. Not sleeping well is a specific health issue, and for those nurses working night shift, getting your sleep hygiene in order to paramount. As for rest, I'm a big proponent of naps, so consider how to get more rest each week despite the "noise" and responsibilities in your life.

Strategy #9: Be a polymath. Episode 76 was all about nurse polymaths, and I sincerely believe that polymathism is good for you, your brain, and your ability to have a life not completely caught up in just work and home.

For myself, some of my polymathism comes to bear in terms of how and what I read. This past summer, I bought myself a Kindle, mostly because I'm tired of trying to get rid of the books that pile up around the house. Books are heavy to cart around, aren't they? I've found that I can really dig through a lot of books using my Kindle, and the variety of books on offer makes my reading list pretty varied and fun. The books I've most recently read include:

  • Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil DeGrasse Tyson (science non-fiction)
  • Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark T. Sullivan (fictionalized history)
  • Educated by Tara Westover (memoir)
  • Life by Keith Richards (autobiography)
Do you notice that none of the books mentioned above have anything to do with podcasting, nursing, healthcare, writing, or business? While I do read books (and articles, blog posts, etc) on these subjects, I've been trying to make sure I keep my reading list diverse.

As for my other interests, I use my polymathism to cajole me to travel, look at art in museums or galleries, listen to all kinds of music, and attend various types of events in and around Santa Fe.

Strategy #10: Honor yourself. No kidding. As natural (and sometimes compulsive) caregivers, nurses spend so much time caring for others (in and out of the workplace) that they don't have the skill of tending to and honoring their own needs. This is where the rubber hits the road and how you'll truly move the needle in terms of your wellness, self-care, and sense of personal balance. You need to honor your time, energy, finances, relationships (to self and others), and every other aspect of your life.


 Time is of the Essence

If you feel that time is your enemy, you need to reconfigure your relationship with time itself. Here's a strategy for doing just that:

Carry a pen and paper with you for 1-2 weeks and use 30-minute increments to record how you spend your time. You may be surprised that social media, Netflix, and other "time sucks" are taking up more time than you ever imagined. What if you cut your Facebook and Netflix time in half and devote that time to healthier and more nurturing activities.

While watching Netflix or playing on Instagram may be one of your habitual forms of leisure, it's very passive by nature. So, when you choose to do these things, be conscious that it's actually how you want to spend your time. If it feels like you're just filling time, then consider what else you could do that's more creative, fun, and actively engages the right side of your brain.

This list is not all-conclusive -- it's simply my best 10 ideas. Do you have more? I'd love to know what they are!
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Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.

Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.

A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the  nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AusMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, NursingCE.com, American Nurse Today, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.


Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and his adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George.
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