Letting go: Releasing nurses from the need to control


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I used to want to control everything. I wanted smooth workdays, timely appointments and conversations that ended with my opinions as outcomes. I would get frustrated with coworkers who didn’t see things my way. I’d get angry when people were late or meetings were delayed. I’d feel uncomfortable and unhappy when things didn’t turn out as I had planned—especially at work.

Perhaps you’ve had an experience like the following:

You arrive at your unit on time and ready for report. Since yesterday, you worked a 12-hour shift and admitted the afternoon transfer. Not only that, but you took care of five patients, so you figured you have the same assignment. However, right off the bat, things are not stacked in your favor. You have all new patients; in fact, you are rounding with a different physician team altogether. You look further and see that you’re finishing up your last four hours of your 12-hour shift in the psychiatric emergency department. To top it all off, your manager comes in and tells you that the patient safety meeting has been changed to next week, which is when you have off to study for finals. She says you need to come in for the meeting anyway as she will be out of town.

How do you feel after reading this? In the past when this happened to me, I would fill with anger. Hot flashes would start in my chest, then rise to my head. My blood would boil and my face would turn bright red. My head would ache and my stomach would twist into knots. I’d be on the verge of tears—I was that mad.

My thoughts would race: This is so unfair! I don’t know these patients! I cannot do this. Why does this always happen to me? This stinks! I would complain to the charge nurse. I would attempt to change my assignment and arrange my schedule so I didn’t have to split my shift. I would be furious at my nurse manager for the meeting change, even though it had nothing to do with her. I would feel out of control!

Notice I said this is how I felt in the past. After a lot of inner healing, reflective reading and educating myself, I have a different outlook on the need to control. I have learned the art of “letting go.” A line from the Serenity Prayer states: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” Realizing certain experiences are outside of our control can be freeing. Certainly, some circumstances are beyond our reach:

  • We cannot control time. The clock is going to keep on ticking. The months are going to keep on passing. There are only 24 hours in a day. Instead of letting time have a hold on you, why not slow down and enjoy the present moment? Don’t let time overtake you. Don’t be a slave to the clock. Slow down and take your time.
  • We do not have power over another’s behavior. When you feel yourself getting upset over a coworker’s actions—stop. We can only shift our own thoughts, feelings and actions. We have no say over what another human being is going to do. Don’t try and change your colleagues—it will only make you more upset.
  • We are unable to change the past or rearrange the future. Instead of worrying about what has happened or trying to change what will occur to your liking, realize that we are unable to change experiences. Unless you are viewing the past as a learning opportunity, there is no reason to ruminate on every experience. And instead of forcing the future to be a way you want it to be, remember that our path in life often reveals itself to us.

Letting go can remind us to live in the present moment. So how do we do this?

Here are seven simple steps I take to let go and release myself from the need to control:

  • Observe thoughts as they come into consciousness. If you catch yourself making a judgment or feeling uncomfortable sensations such as anger, unhappiness or frustration, observe these thoughts and realize you are having them.
  • Take a slow, deep breath in and out through your nose. The physical exhale is symbolic of releasing nasty feelings and controlling thoughts out of your body.
  • Focus on the present moment. Choose consciously to pay attention to what is currently happening. Become in touch with your senses—what do you see, hear and feel in this moment?
  • State a positive affirmation. “I am exactly where I need to be right now.”
  • Turn it over to a Higher Power. The Universe has a path for each of us. What is supposed to happen will happen. The timing of experiences will occur in a natural way. If something does not take place as expected, then maybe it wasn’t supposed to be that way in the first place.
  • Be grateful for blessings. Instead of being upset with things not turning out the way you planned, take a moment to reflect on what you are grateful for.
  • Congratulate yourself. Review your experience and celebrate that you have not let feelings control you. Enjoy the feeling of “letting go” of the need to control. Relish this freedom.
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.; Back to the Basics: A Nurse's Pocket Guide to Self-Care

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