You want to create the professional future that your heart desires, but perhaps you haven’t had much luck with standard career planning methods. You’ve tried coming up with a list of New Year’s Resolutions or setting SMART work goals, but by Valentine’s Day, you can’t remember them.
As a nurse, you’re someone who’s put in long hours in college to earn a degree so that you could pursue your chosen profession. You then clocked in many more hours working long shifts, on an often unpredictable schedule, in order to build a track record in your field.
Don’t stop now—you’re too valuable not to go after all your dreams in 2019. But maybe it’s time to explore a more creative New Year goal setting approach, like mindfulness.
You may have noticed the word “mindfulness” popping up all over the place, not only in health care organizations and the wellness industry, but also in technology corporations, like Google. Glance over any grocery store newsstand and you’ll see articles and even entire special publications by Oprah and Yoga Journal (of course!) but more surprisingly, Life-Time and Harvard Business Review.
So, what is mindfulness? Simply, mindfulness means that you’re paying attention to the present moment—not mired down with living in the past or anticipating the future. Science-based mindfulness practices have been proven, in many studies, to be helpful in creating your best life.
There are multiple physical and emotional health benefits to be had when you aim to live mindfully, including increased feelings of calm and focus, plus improved brain function.
As a point of comparison, “mindlessness” is what happens when you drive home at the end of a 10-hour shift, preoccupied with thoughts of your day. Then when you suddenly arrive at your destination, you can’t even remember how you got there!
You might be wondering how you can possibly plan your future when the whole point of mindfulness is to live in the present. As long as you don’t live in the future, it’s fine to fast-forward and project yourself into possible scenarios that you can imagine for yourself. (The trick—and it really is a trick—is to quickly come back to present-day reality.)
Mindfulness helps center you as you examine what’s really happening in the present and what you’d like for your life going forward. Then you’re less likely to get caught up in regrets about yesterday (woulda…shoulda…coulda…) or fears about what might happen tomorrow.
One important component of mindfulness, especially for nurses and other caretakers, is self-compassion. Like self-care, that gentle attitude towards self will help you to clear emotional roadblocks that may be holding you back from going after your dreams.
Mindfulness and self-compassion can help you be kinder to yourself, and cut through negative self-talk and self-doubt. You’ll begin to believe that not only do you have the ability to go after your nursing career goals, and that you deserve to achieve them, but that you absolutely will!
Or, you might find that you’re chasing a dream that isn’t your own anymore, in which case, maybe you should stop.
For a research-based ideas on how to start your mindfulness journey, visit the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Or for inspiration on where to go next in your career journey, visit Johnson & Johnson’s Discover Nursing website and and take their Find Your Specialty quiz.
We love to share insights and advice that helps nurses like you to achieve their career goals. In the days after New Year’s, it seems like jumping right into goal setting and resolution making is the way to fast-track your success in 2019. But that would be wrong.
In fact, we’ll let you in on a little secret: A slow start is the quickest route to your goals.
Let us explain. Like the ancient Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare, here’s a popular business fable that shows how a fast start doesn’t always get you very far in the world of work:
Two woodcutters go about their business in totally opposite ways with unexpected results. The first woodcutter starts right in and chops and chops, not stopping until he is absolutely exhausted. Of course, the very process of cutting dulls the blade. Surprisingly (or maybe not) he only manages to cut a small supply of cordwood, hardly enough to heat his own home, let alone sell in town. The second woodcutter takes his time setting up, first sharpens his saw, and then he gets to work cutting. His saw cuts through the tree trunk like a knife through butter. He stacks up cordwood as tall as his house, anticipates a tidy profit, and all without over exerting himself.
As a nurse, you can accelerate your professional progress by slowing down to speed up. Here’s how. First, spend time evaluating where you are, figuring out what’s been working for you (and also what hasn’t), before hitting the road toward new horizons.
Clear the Deck of Undone Tasks From 2018
Perhaps there are things that have been annoying you for a while, minor nuisances that you haven’t taken care of because they seem so trivial. They add up, though, so don’t tolerate even tiny irritants. Root them out. Ask yourself: What needs to get done now so that I can hit the ground running in 2019? Your responses may range from “increase my 401K contribution” to “update my resume” to “apply to advanced nursing degree program.” OK, so maybe not everything on your list will be little or effortless; some things might be quite consequential and even a tad overwhelming.
Consider What Worked Well in 2018
Take a look at your achievements in the previous year—possibly by leafing through your planner, calendar, or personal file of job-related documents. Did you add to your skill set or knowledge base by taking continuing education classes? Did you get a letter of commendation from your supervisor or a heartfelt thank you note from a patient’s family? Maybe you’re most proud of a less tangible accomplishment. Have you finally stopped holding your breath while on the job, breathed a sigh of relief, confident that you’re fully capable in your nursing role? That’s a win! Don’t forget to celebrate your each and every gain, personal and professional, regardless of size or seeming importance.
Consider Where You Need to Improve in 2019
As a nurse, you’re on a unique journey, one that may have roadblocks and detours. By being honest with yourself about your mistakes and shortcomings, you can become better and stronger for the new year. Be careful not to get stuck here, though. Assess where you fell down, didn’t meet your own or other’s standards, or where you left things undone. And then forgive yourself. Consider mistakes as lessons learned, and resolve to move forward by figuring out how to turn a negative into a positive in the new year.
After clearing the decks, you’ll be able to focus on what you really want in life, and not waste time spinning your wheels without a clear direction—or the wrong one. The New Year can be a fresh start, with exciting new plans and opportunities. After all, 2019 is a brand new year with all sorts of possibilities for getting you where you want to go in your nursing career.
Every nurse has some stress in his or her life. That’s a given in this caregiving profession. Some days, that tension can grow and grow until you feel like you’re drowning beneath a tsunami of stress. Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, winter solstice, whatever special days you mark, can also be a major source of anxiety.
Even if you don’t celebrate any of these holidays, the short days and long, dark, cold nights this time of year can dampen anyone’s mood. As a nurse, if you’re feeling anxious and overwhelmed this holiday season, it’s extremely important that you try to reduce your stress. Here’s why:
Extreme stress may lead to depression, which is so common in nursing that it’s epidemic, though often unacknowledged by nurses and others. If the causes of stress—events in your personal life, in addition to the everyday stress of nurse life—are not dealt with, nurses will suffer, as will patients who may be endangered by medical errors and near misses.
Ultimately, what will suffer is the nursing profession, if depression leads to burnout, and good nurses leave the bedside or the field entirely.
You may have already heard that depression in nurses is at alarming levels, but is that claim evidence-based, or just hyperbole? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) found that nurses experience clinical depression at a rate of 18%, while ordinary citizens score at 9%—nurses suffer clinical depression at twice the rate of the general population. What’s scary is that depression is difficult to self-diagnose, especially in caretaking professions where sufferers may have trained themselves to turn off feelings of emotional distress.
Holiday stress comes from many different directions.
You can’t change everything that maybe causing you stress in this “happiest of all seasons.” For instance, you may decide that you really do want to go home for the holidays. But then that means gift shopping for the folks, packing your bags, traveling on the busiest flying days, attending multiple holiday parties, and finally, sitting down for a big family meal with loved ones who know all too well how to push your every last button!
Is there any hope for de-stressing these last weeks before New Year’s when your seasonal schedule is this packed? Yes, and the trick is to focus on the few things that you can control. Being purposeful and applying organizational skills to calm the chaos comes naturally to most nurses. Here are some areas that may make the most difference in reducing your tension during the holidays.
Keep your eye on the prize
In other words, don’t waste your energy on activities that don’t matter to you and your family. Just let them go. Maybe you don’t need to buy gifts for former neighbors and second-cousins once removed. Maybe you can pick up a supermarket pie instead of baking one, if you don’t enjoy spending time in the kitchen. Maybe a seasonal concert doesn’t ring your bell—stay home in your PJs and listen to your favorite holiday music on crackly vintage vinyl albums or a pristine sound-streaming service.
Make a list—and check it twice!
Get organized with a master checklist so you know exactly what needs to get done and when. You may have to delegate chores to other people so you don’t have any last minute running around. Enlist family members if you can, but if that would only add to your stress, splurge and hire a service. It’s worth spending some money to save some time. With a $50 payment, say, you can off-load a few tasks, like house cleaning and errand running.
Stick to your holiday budget
On the other hand, don’t go gonzo and overshoot your gifts, food, and travel budget. That assumes you have a budget—the very word sounds so old-fashioned. But creating a spending plan can help keep your spending under control. A budget planning sheet or checklist is a smart thing to include in your holiday master planner.
Financial pressures can be a major cause of stress any time of year, but they really heat up during the holidays. It’s so easy to overspend. People want to make the season special and show their love through fancy gifts and festive experiences. It may be tempting to put those purchases on a credit card but then when the bills arrive in January…
Nurses know that the holiday season is a stressful, but special time of year, and with some planning, it can be savored. In the holiday frenzy, don’t forget about self-care—take time to be kind to yourself!
On the heels of National Family Caregivers Month in November, which this year carried the theme of “Supercharge Your Caregiving,” here is a way to carry out that charge year-round. And carry it out we must, because health care can no longer ignore these folks. The Caregiver Action Network estimates that there are over 90 million Americans doing this critical work, which is largely publicly invisible, unpaid, and underappreciated.
The Josie King Foundation recognizes those giant numbers and the outsize importance of the role that family caregivers play in the life of patients. The response to requests from non-nursing staff and family members, they now offer the Caregiver’s Journal, a variation of their signature Nurse’s Journal. Their aim is to provide a low-cost tool that can help alleviate some of the emotional stress of serving patients and loved ones with sensitivity, commitment, and compassion.
The journal was created with the help of experts in therapeutic expressive writing and road-tested in several facilitated writing workshops for caregivers. Here’s what participants had to say about their experience:
“I felt stressed at the beginning of writing and relaxed at the end.”
“I felt purged and able to breathe after writing in my journal.”
“I feel like I understand things better after I write them down.”
The Caregiver’s Journal is a 61-page spiral bound notebook filled with helpful content, such as psychological theories about journaling benefits, before and after stress evaluation forms, and suggested resources for those who want to learn more about expressive writing.
The majority of pages are meant to be used for writing sessions, and offer an inspirational quote with perhaps a guided writing prompt. For instance, one is titled guided writing page is titled When Times Are Difficult, with this prompt:
“Things to consider. What are the current situations causing you stress in our work or in your personal life? How can you alleviate these stressors? What steps have you thought about to make this situation better?”
The page ends with a quote from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Some “free writing” pages are empty except for a short quote, with this instruction about how to use them: The following pages are for you to write about anything that you want. Remember to go deep and really explore your thoughts and emotions. Avoid getting caught up on grammar or spelling. Just write.
Many hospitals buy these journals in bulk as a gift for caregivers or to use in staff training and development programs. For more information about the Josie King Foundation and their specialty journals for caregivers, visit http://josieking.org.
Nurses know that caring for patients and others before yourself can lead to nurse fatigue. An essential first step to taking good care of yourself is finding a healthy outlet for stress. How can you do that? Some of the simple ways that nurses report for dealing with tension include: hiking, biking, crafting, taking a sauna, or spending time with family and friends.
But one of the most powerful (though not effortless) ways to find a positive perspective is through meditation. Meditation may seem off-putting to many people who aren’t familiar with the practice, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to sit on a floor cushion and fold yourself up like a pretzel to meditate. You don’t have to hum or chant, either. But you certainly can and it’s an amazing way to relieve stress, clarify your mind, and improve your life. What nurse couldn’t do with a bit more calm and focus and balance?
If you’d like to give meditation a try, you can start by sitting in your favorite comfy armchair. You could also lie on a bed or floor—but then you might fall asleep. Some nurses struggle to get restful, restorative sleep, what with 10-hour shifts and rotating schedules, so sleep may be what you need for health. But it wouldn’t help you develop a meditation practice.
Next, close your eyes and take a few slow and deep breaths. That will help clear your mind of everyday thoughts and concerns. Then, give your mind something else to think about (that’s what minds do best—think!), such as a soothing word. You may want to silently repeat that word or phrase, sometimes referred to as a “mantra,” if you think that may be calming. Depending on your religious faith or cultural tradition, you could choose “shalom” or “om” or simply “home.” Other popular options include “peace,” “love,” or “calm” or favorite prayers and sacred passages.
One of the first researchers in the area of meditation-based stress reduction, Dr. Herbert Benson, suggests the word “one” silently as you breath out. He offers that as a secular mantra because it doesn’t have strong associations that may distract some meditators. (Also, when he’d originally asked subjects to count up to 10 with each breath, they’d get so relaxed that they’d lose track of where they were in the number sequence.)
Benson wrote the best-seller The Relaxation Response forty years ago while a professor at Harvard Medical School. His work is still the subject of studies on how it can be used to increase the health and well-being of patients and health care providers. He has proven that meditation really does reduce stress as well as improving medical symptoms and promoting wellness.
Start gently with five minutes of meditation and work your way up to 10 minutes, and then preferably 20 minutes, a day. Making this a daily event is how it becomes a transformative practice in the life of a stressed-out nurse.