Is “detachment” the key to overcoming stress?
You’ve seen it in the nurses around you. You’ve seen it in yourself as well. Nurses under the most stress are those who have a personal stake in how the patient recovers.
Nurses who need their patients to recover for them to be okay are nurses who will face burnout at much higher rates than other nurses. When you are personally and emotionally involved in patient outcomes, it takes a heavy toll on the nervous system. It also makes it more difficult to be objective.
Many nurses will respond, “Are you asking us not to care?” The answer is no. The key is to care deeply and do your best, and then be unattached to the results. The truth is that human beings can only do so much. We are not perfect. We make mistakes. And there are things that are simply out of our hands.
Whether someone lives or dies is subject to such a large number of variables, only some of which we can control. Nurses who can recognize this will last much longer than nurses who take responsibility for everything that happens around them.
Deep and conscious breathing is one helpful technique for nurses who find themselves too emotionally tied to each patient’s outcome. When you calm strong emotions and feelings of nervous tension, you can begin to put things in perspective.
• Inhale through the nostrils for a count of 5.
• Hold the breath for a count of 5.
• Exhale through the nostrils for a count of 5.
• Contract the throat very slightly as you do this exercise to allow for a long, slow inhalation and exhalation. In fact, sing a long, single note first to help place the throat in the right position.
• Then begin this breathing exercise with the throat in the same position, but without the audible, vocal sound.
Also helpful: Deep diaphragmatic breathing — just a few long rounds — will greatly reduce feelings of mental and physical stress.
Remember, it is always okay to laugh, love on, and cry with the patient and family…but use these breathing exercises to separate yourself enough so that you can still perform your job duties.