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How to cope when your “nursing nature” gets in the way

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

iStockphoto | ThinkStock

“I can barely keep my head above water.”

This was a comment I overheard in the nursing locker room today. This is a statement I have heard myself think before.

And I guarantee I’m not alone.

Even though as a nurse you have the support of your entire team, from the coworkers on your unit to the colleagues in aligning specialties, when was the last time you felt like you were suffocating? Like you couldn’t get ahead and nothing you did was moving you anywhere at all?

One of the reasons that nurses struggle with feelings of overwhelm is due to our very own nature. Now hold up for a minute: before you get defensive, just hear me out.

As a nurse, what’s your first priority? To help people, right? You went into nursing to care for the sick, heal the wounded and take care of those who couldn’t tend to themselves. We’re helpful people; it’s just our nature as nurses.

And we should celebrate that! But we also must be mindful of it. For isn’t it true that sometimes our greatest strengths can be those things that tear us down?

Let’s talk about this then–the giving nature of being a nurse. I’d like to suggest that you can give in more than one way. You can give to others but you can also give to yourself.

Receiving is a concept that many of us nurses have a hard time with:

  • “No, let her take the last piece of cake” (even though I didn’t get a lunch break).
  • “Sure, I can fill that hole on the schedule” (even though it’s my daughter’s recital tonight).
  • “It’s fine. I can come in early” (even though I could really use the extra sleep).

We give very well to others, but when it comes time to give to ourselves (to receive), we fall flat on our faces!

Here are 3 simple suggestions to help you balance your giving and receiving natures:

  1. As I said, think about receiving as giving to yourself. If you love to give so much, why not give to you? Even further, think about all of your nurse colleagues who love to “give” too. If you’re out there giving all of the time, you don’t let them get to practice their giving. So be a team player; let them give to you and you give to them and we all can help each other out.
  2. Practice with something simple. I am constantly watching people avoid, divert or brush off compliments. How come when someone says something nice to us, we want to run for the hills? To strengthen your receptivity muscle, start by allowing yourself to receive something as small as a kind word or gesture. Just say “thank you” and let yourself feel the joy.
  3. Check in with your feelings. If you’re exhausted, overwhelmed or irritated in even the smallest way, you are doing a disservice to your patients. When we give out of desperation, other people can sense that. They pick up on our tired energy and don’t receive fully what we are intending to give them. Be honest with yourself and note how you feel. If it’s time for a break, even a small one, can you give yourself five short minutes of down time every day?

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Elizabeth Scala

Spiritual Practice Nurse Elizabeth Scala is on a mission to transform the profession of nursing from the inside out. Individuals typically enter nursing with a desire to provide compassionate, heart-based care. Challenged by regulations, financial pressures and technological advancements, today’s nurse struggles to balance the art with the science of nursing. As a speaker, trainer, facilitator and author, Elizabeth inspires nursing teams to reconnect with the passionate and fulfilling joy that once called them to their career. http://elizabethscala.com/; Back to the Basics: A Nurse's Pocket Guide to Self-Care
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