Guest Blogger: Jerome Stone
Isn’t Nursing Stressful Enough?
You’re a nurse, and your job is to take care of people, right? So, why does it seem that sometimes you have to spend as much time taking care of your “technological solutions” and EMRs as you do taking care of your patients? As if you don’t have enough stress in your work, do you also need stress over the high-tech of high-touch?
Nursing is stressful, that’s agree-upon. In fact, worldwide the main challenge that nurses face is stress in their work environments. Stressors come in all forms; patient care, staffing, fatigue, administration, and – yes – technology.
In fact, there’s no need to worry about your tech as long as you’re taking care of your patients. As the Aussies say, “No worries mate!”
Stressors and Stress, Remembering the Difference:
First let’s remember what we can control and what we can’t. Stressors are the circumstances or external factors that we don’t have a lot of control over. We can work diligently to arrange our environment so its minimally stressful but let’s face it, when it comes to having control over our circumstances – especially in healthcare – it’s best to face up to the fact that we can’t do it all.
Stress, on the other hand, is what we experience when we encounter stressors, and a personal experience that we do have some control over. Stress is the physiological juice that we feel in our body, and the mental anxiety, clouding, or overwhelm that we feel in our mind. And…it doesn’t have to be that way!!
Think about this; what happens to you when your techno-gadgets fail? What’s the first thing that you feel? Powerless? Inept? Confused? Angry? Right…I’ve been there, done all of it! But, what do you do with those feelings?
Emotions and Feelings:
It’s easy to confuse our emotions with our feelings. So let’s unpack this piece.
- Emotions are the raw energy that we sense in our body when we encounter stressors. It’s thought that emotions are meditated by the limbic system of the brain, a trait that all mammals share. Emotions are the “primitive” mechanisms left over from our evolution that tell us when something is wrong or when there’s danger. Our emotions of anger, anxiety, sadness or fear probably originate from the body as a primordial response to some physical stressor or perceived threat.
- Feelings, on the other hand, are how we interpret our emotions. They’re the meaning that we ascribe to the physiology of stress. And, they’re what make our lives miserable when we encounter challenges with our technology. But have you ever stopped to really take a look at your feelings around these challenges? Have you ever stopped to think, “Wait, is my patient going to die because of this glitch?” Or, “Am I less of a nurse because my screen froze?” Right!
Similar to the relationship of stressors (external locus of control) and stress (internal locus of control), while we may not be able to stop the emotions that we feel when something happens, when our computer screen freezes or our smartphone won’t work, we can work with our feelings.
You Can Work With Your Feelings
When we’re used to specific stressors, we can learn to mediate our response to them in a way that produces less internal stress. For example, those who are comfortable or familiar with technology, like our dear hostess The Nerdy Nurse, and geek-wannabees like me, technological glitches are to be expected.
Take the example of the cool ICU nurses I’ve worked with, who – in the middle of total pandemonium – can be calm and composed, able to see the big picture and act in a reasonable way. How do they do it?! They’ve worked past the physiology, and have been able to work with what is arising within their mind, so that while they may feel the physical excitation (emotions), they’re able to calm their minds (feelings). Great stuff!!
Guess what; you can do the same when it comes to technology challenges. What is it that most bugs you? Is it the powerlessness? Then, how about developing some strategies for dealing with the feeling? Is it that you’re already busy and can’t take the time to deal with the EMR when your patient is crashing? Then take care of what you can, your patient, and let the EMR go.
In this discussion, it’s important to remember that feelings are “only feelings.” How so? When you consider how often your feelings change, and how many times during the day you experience completely contradictory feelings, you have to ask yourself whether your feelings are really “real” or whether you base your world on how you interpret your emotions and then associate them with feelings. Worth some serious, if not humorous, reflection.
How to Work With Your Feelings
There are a number of ways to work with the emotions and feelings that cause you to experience stress.
The first thing that you can do is to recognize the power of your emotions when they arise. Begin to take note of what happens when you experience stress and notice where in your body you feel the stress. Just note it; you don’t have to change it or try to make it different. Just note it.
The next thing to do is to see what happens when you don’t react to your emotions. See if you can “just be” with the physiology when it arises. What does it feel like? Is it really bad, or is there actually an element of “excitement” there? That is, could the anxiety that you feel also be interpreted as excitement if you reframed it?
What about your mind; what do you notice within your mind if you don’t get caught up in the emotions? Can your mind remain intact and not pulled into the feeling-state-of-things if you just recognize your emotions as the physiological response to a stressor?
All of these methods offer you a way to reframe what you experience as “stress” when something like technology fails you.
There are ways for you, as a nurse, to work with your mind and emotions in ways that actually train you to become less stressed. Whichever method you choose, make a commitment to follow it until you feel competent in changing how your mind responds to stress, it’s one of the greatest gifts that you can give to yourself. [BRITTNEY – at this point, I could expound a bit on mindfulness and meditation, but that would also be unabashedly “self promoting” and I’m not sure how you feel about that. If it’s okay, then let’s include the next paragraph.]
One of the ways that I encourage nurses to work with stress and to meditate emotions and difficult feelings is through mindfulness or meditation. While I’ve written an entire book on the subject, Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind, I’ve also written a ton of content – blog posts – on the subject that will be a great support to you in your path to overcoming stress and difficult emotions. Check some of these posts out here.
About the Author
Jerome Stone is the author of the book, Minding the Bedside: Nursing from the Heart of the Awakened Mind. He is also a blogger on his site, Minding the Bedside, and a guest-blogger on the sites What Meditation Really Is, Tiny Buddha, and The Nerdy Nurse. He is a speaker on the topics of stress management, meditation, situational awareness, and compassion. He can be reached here to discuss bringing these discussions to your workplace or into your personal life.