Hospitals are extremely stressful places. Death, emergencies, and unending alarms only touch the surface of what nurses have to deal with. Follow my advice and you’ll give yourself a smoother ride.
Why should you treat yourself like a king? I have seen way too many nurses sacrifice their bodies (especially their backs) serving patients, only to collapse at home after consecutive shifts. It’s a shame they treat their patients better than they treat themselves. Before I get into the mechanics of how to treat yourself like a king, I wanted to share a secret I wish someone had told me when I was 18.
Rule #1 of nursing: If you feel that you are huffing and puffing during your shift (and want to just hide in a closet), you are experiencing psychological pain. This pain is telling you that you are trying too hard. You’re probably feeling pain because you’re either trying to do too many things or trying to please too many people.
The solution to huffing and puffing is to engage in the following self-talk: “Slow down. Nice and easy.” That kind of self-talk puts less pressure on you. By completing your tasks one at a time with no rushing, you’ll actually hasten your work in the long term because you’ll make fewer mistakes. Remember that nursing is a marathon, not a sprint. Too much huffing and puffing will wear you out.
Now let’s get into the daily, weekly, and monthly practices of treating yourself like a king.
a) meditation – I aim to meditate for 10-20 minutes sessions before bedtime, focusing on my personal mantra and the inflow and outflow of my breath. Meditation helps me ritualize the behavior of focusing on my breathing, as opposed to getting lost in my thoughts. The value in nursing is tremendous, because the typical nurse runs across many, many distractions throughout the day in the form of phone calls, requests, call bells, etc. The practice of meditation helps me re-focus my attention on my breathing whenever such distractions hit me.
b) Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day – Have you ever noticed that nurses with more than ten years of experience are often fat/obese? It’s all in the diet! Eating fruits/vegetables is the toughest behavior to adopt because it’s too easy to eat junk food. So how does one ritualize the intake of fruits and vegetables? I personally set my alarm each night to signal the need to eat. For example, if I am going to work on a tuesday, then I’ll make sure I eat five fruits and vegetables on monday night to make sure I have tuesday covered. The key to ritualization of this behavior is to set a trigger (in my case, it’s an alarm). The trigger will remind you to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables. If you won’t do it for your long term health, then at least do it because you don’t want to get fat!
c) After each shift, sit down for 10-20 minutes to reflect on your work – I write emails to myself at the end of every shift. I mainly record three things: medications/procedures I need to look up, mistakes I made, and examples of negative self-talk. I look up meds and procedures for my own information so I will know how to explain them to patients in the future. I also record mistakes because the process of recording my painful experiences causes me to think of what I’ll do next time to avoid the same errors. In addition, I record examples of negative self-talk so I can analyze how to improve the conversations going on in my head. When you write down your negative self-talk, you realize that your negative feelings all stem from the same messages you tell yourself. For example, my nursing self-talk generally consists of catastrophic thinking, which is unhealthy. Here’s an example of what goes on in my head during nursing shifts:
a) “Wow, why am I following directions of a female? Am I a little bitch or what?”
b) “Wow, nice mistake! You keep making mistakes because your life has been a failure!”
c)“Yup, they’re going to fire me because I made that mistake.”
Notice how my negative self-talk is catastrophic and black-and-white in nature. So when I record my self-talk and categorize which cognitive distortions are at work, I am able to see how ridiculous my self-talk really is. When I write my negative-self talk, I spontaneously come up with new, positive self-talk to mitigate my negative feelings. For example, I’ll write down new thoughts to counter a, b, and c from above. I’ll label them as a’, b’, and c’.
a’) I’m following directions of a female because she is a superior who is precepting me. She has more experience than me, so she can teach me something.
b’) Making mistakes is how people learn. I don’t expect myself to be perfect.
c’) Really? Are they truly going to fire me because of a simple mistake? It’s highly unlikely.
In summary, I write emails to myself after each shift. I record items to look up, mistakes I’ve made, and negative self-talk throughout the day. At the very least, this exercise helps me get my thoughts onto paper so I can feel more relaxed. The long term effects are that I get to improve my mood and learn from my mistakes faster. I also get to improve my self-talk!
Your weekly exercises should get you in the the state of “flow,” where you lose track of time and become completely engrossed in your activity. These exercises serve to 1) enhance the quality of your life, and 2) get your mind off work.
a) Massages – Some may say that massages are purely recreational and should be limited to monthly visits. But I’d say that’s pure garbage. Massages are essential! And they get better if you actually develop a relationship with your masseuse. At this point, I know what you’re thinking. Am I referring to dirty massage parlors with “happy endings,” or am I referring to real massage parlors? My answer is that it doesn’t matter. As long as someone is touching you and inducing feelings of relaxation, you’ll get the dopamine/seratonin/oxytocin release you need. But if I had to give a recommendation, I’d advise against dirty massage parlors, which often hire quasi-masseuses who don’t know much about the art of massage. On the other hand (pun intended), licensed masseuse know what they’re doing.
I’ll give you a warning: massages can get addictive. A strategy I use to avoid spending too much is creating a budget exclusively for massages at the beginning of the year. For example, I may set a goal to spend no more than $1200 on massages for 2018. As long as I don’t surpass the pre-determined amount, I enjoy massages without guilt.
b) Aim to get at least three sessions of 20 minute cardiovascular exercise per week. I specifically aim for twenty minutes because shorter sessions don’t get me in the “flow” of exercise. Also, 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (as opposed to weight training or high intensity interval training) promotes the growth of new neurons. That’s right: running makes you feel great and smart.
So what’s the catch? If running for 20 minutes is so great, why doesn’t everyone do it? It’s because the first step is the hardest one to take. Before one takes the first step of the run, one is apt to create stories about how long the jog will be or about how one isn’t in the mood. There was a time when I told myself these stories everyday.
There are two keys to bypassing the anti-exercise stories you tell yourself. The first key is to give up the story that exercising/running is difficult. That is, once you let go of the interpretation that exercising is hard, the only thing left to do is to just do it. The second key is to ritualize the behavior of running. The way I did it was running first thing in the morning for a month. After 30 days, my body was trained to run immediately after getting out of bed.
c) Connect with family members (or friends). This one is the hardest for me to do because I’m not naturally inclined to talk about my feelings. But I force myself to connect with others on a weekly basis because the primary predictor of well-being is social connectedness/intimacy with others. Practically, this means you should aim for face-to-face time with loved ones or phone calls that last for more than five minutes.
Monthly practices: The only monthly practice you really need is the “CEO Evaluation” (courtesy of Ray Dalio). Every month, I pretend to be the CEO of the company called “My Life.” I look at my life from an objective prism and ask myself if I’m getting closer to or farther from my goals. If I don’t see any progress, I make changes in my behavior, oftentimes ritualizing them. If I am making progress, then I pat myself on the back and record in my agenda to do another CEO Evaluation the next month.
Treat yourself like a king! Treat yourself as if you were the primary caregiver for YOU.