Nursing is a unique profession, with major psychological stressors and equally great emotional benefits. Who would have better self-care tips for you than a psychiatric nurse practitioner and DNP candidate? Jonathan Llamas DNP (c), BSN, RN-BC, PHN, is all that, plus a freelance writer for MinorityNurse.com.
Llamas is pursuing his degree at Loma Linda University while also working full-time as a psychiatric-mental health nurse at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles, CA. (Obviously, he knows a thing or two about workplace stress!) He is a Filipino-American, a first-generation college graduate, and an emerging nurse leader who aims to help educate the next generation of nurses.
In this Q&A interview, Llamas suggests ways for nurses to practice self-care, while at any point in their career journey.
Jonathan Llamas DNP (c), BSN, RN-BC, PHN
How did you become interested in psychiatry?
I ended up choosing psychiatry because at an early age, I have always been fascinated by the miraculous wonder of the human mind and the inherent beauty and evolution of life that emanates from the adept functioning of the brain.
I developed a profound passion to better understand and treat the psychological, emotional, and spiritual ailments that are often associated with mental illness in contemporary society.
What have you learned—related to stress, self-care, avoiding overwhelm, depression, or burnout—from your psychiatric nurse training that you wish all nurses knew?
The most important concept that I have learned so far during my experience working as a psychiatric-mental health nurse is the importance of self-care. The concept of self-care was never really endorsed until recently, because of the overwhelming influx of individuals suffering from mental illness in recent years.
The interesting part about mental illness that many people tend to forget is that it is non-discriminatory—meaning that it can affect anyone regardless of their race, gender, creed, or socioeconomic background.
I often make it a point to encourage my fellow nurses and colleagues to not be afraid to care for their mental health and address any issues that may produce additional stress and anxiety in the future.
What personal benefits (emotional, psychological, spiritual, etc.) have accrued to you from pursuing this specialty?
Working in psychiatry is a unique experience because it teaches you a lot about the interplay between the emotional, physical, and psychological components of holistic treatment. As a result of this realization, I try to make a concerted daily effort to continue to develop not only creative approaches to my nursing care, but also empathetic techniques that ensure patient safety and satisfaction is achieved across the patient gamut.
You also have previous experience in ICU/trauma and ER settings—what did you learn from those roles, related to stress, overwhelm, and so on?
Although it can be physically and emotionally draining, working in the ER and ICU/Trauma settings—[they] taught me the significance of perseverance, collaboration, and patience.
I have come to learn that the best way to combat stress and burnout is to surround yourself with people and hobbies that energize and remind you as to why you chose to be a nurse in the first place.
Do you have favorite techniques for de-escalating difficult situations, with patients or coworkers?
In the past decade or so, violent incidents have increased dramatically and are now four times more likely to occur in health care than in any other private industry.
Because of this unfortunate reality, one of my favorite de-escalation techniques that I continually perform on a consistent basis is the LOWLINE Model. (Described by Mike Lowry, Graham Lingard, and Martin Neal in a 2016 Nursing Times article.)
LOWLINE is a mnemonic that stands for (L)isten, (O)ffer, (W)ait, (L)ook, (I)ncline, (N)od, (E)xpress.
How has being a minority (gender or racial, ethnic, etc.) nurse played out in your career?
Surprisingly, being a minority male nurse in a predominantly female driven profession has been a positive experience for me thus far. Although I can only speak on my own personal experience, I consider myself blessed and fortunate to be able to care for my patients without fear of being judged or discriminated for my racial, ethnic, gender, or socioeconomic profile.
Since I do work in psychiatry however, I do experience the occasional irreverent name calling from highly psychotic patients, but I do my best to not let it affect me and compromise the type of nursing care I provide.
Listen to Jonathan Llamas on mental health nursing in an “Alumni Spotlight” video clip.
Was looking for a new job on your New Year’s resolutions list? Great idea, the job market is hot right now! But maybe it’s been a while since you job searched, and you’re confused about trends in nurse recruiting. Or, maybe you’re always in the job market (as a travel nurse, say) and have a lot of experience with recruiters. You’re no newbie, but you might still want to elevate your job search game.
Who’s better positioned to advise nurses on job searches than a nationally recognized recruiter? That’s why I reached out to Nick Corcodilos, publisher of the widely-read website Ask The Headhunter. Nick’s work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Reader’s Digest, USA Today, The New York Times, Fast Company, and PBS NewsHour.
He agreed to answer some questions for our readers about cyber trends in nurse recruiting. In this Q&A interview, Nick delivers hints and tips for job hunters at any point in their nursing career journey.
What digital trends do you see in recruiting? For instance, nurses report getting bot recruiting texts as well as direct messages on social media. And not just on LinkedIn, but on Snapchat, too. Even digital natives aren’t quite sure how to handle these situations.
From my experience, 99% of digital or e-mail “recruiting” solicitations are a total waste of time. If an employer or recruiter is seriously interested in you, they’re not going to send you a boilerplate e-mail and tell you to submit a resume or to go fill out an online application. That’s not recruiting—that’s spam!
A real recruiting call from someone who actually knows something about you is very rare. You will recognize it instantly as legit. The rest are spam! Don’t waste your time.
How should a nurse go about applying for a job, then, beyond submitting a resume to hospital career portals and waiting to get a call from recruiters for an interview?
I would avoid digital recruiting and digital (or online) job applications at all costs. This process does little but ensure you will be competing blindly with enormous numbers of other applicants. This hurts you because it allows the employer to process you rather than thoughtfully consider you for hire. Worse, humans are unlikely to decide whether to interview you—a software algorithm will. Odds are very high that you will be overlooked or rejected without any real consideration. Employers don’t realize how this process hurts them, too, because it costs them potentially great hires.
What’s the best way to apply for a nursing position, then, if not directly to the HR portal or other career site?
Studies again and again suggest that up to 70% of jobs are found and filled through personal contacts, not random digital applications.
The smart alternative is to invest some time tracking down either the hiring manager, or at least someone who works for or with that manager. Nose around the organization! Your contact might be another nurse or doctor, an administrator or clerk, a patient or even a vendor.
By triangulating like this to get information about the actual decision maker, you will meet lots of people connected to the organization—and that’s how you’ll get one or two valuable personal referrals. Invest your time in that—not in filling out forms. This personal approach is also more enjoyable—and you’ll make new friends, too.
(For tips on how to build your network “without feeling ‘icky’ about contacting people you don’t know,” Nick recommends his blog post: Please! Stop Networking!)
Any final food for thought for our nurses embarking on a job search?
Real job opportunities come from contacts you make with real people, not from random solicitations you receive from people you don’t know and who don’t know you. So you must reach out. Don’t wait for some “recruiter” who is “dialing for dollars” to send you spam!
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!