It sat idle on my desk for a few years, the white letters on the shiny red circle of the “Easy” button tempting me to approach. I couldn’t bring myself to indulge the urge to depress the circle that would emit the pleasurable sound, “That was easy!” Why not? I hadn’t experienced anything worthy of declaring victory—easy.
Much of the work we do as nurses is emotionally and physically demanding. We knew what we signed on for when we chose nursing. We weren’t looking for something easy; we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. We share difficult intimate moments and weep for strangers. We sacrifice personal time for work. We overcaffeinate our bodies to stay awake. Our choice to be nurses at times leaves us tired and spent, but nothing else compares to the gratification we get from helping other human beings. The demands for compassion, hardiness, alertness, and resilience are interminable, yet expected. We embrace these demands as badges of honor. To keep those badges gleaming, however, we must nourish our minds, bodies, spirits, and professional egos.
Scientist Hans Selye articulated the effects of stress on the body and the body’s reaction to changes in normal balance. He described three stages—alarm, resistance, and exhaustion. We muster adaptive energy
to address the alarm stimulus, but when stress exhausts that energy, our bodies (or minds) fail.
Nurses receive many alarms that elicit a stress response. We know them as challenges we may face—moral distress, compassion fatigue, sleep deprivation, and burnout, to name a few. Steps to guard against
exhaustion induced by these stressors may include implementing “me” time, learning to say no, and improving sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Pursuing intellectually fulfilling discussions to expand our thinking and developing methods to deal with the root causes of emotional stress in the workplace can be preventive and curative.
I recall an episode from many years ago: As the chief nurse, I went to an orthopedics unit to talk with staff to learn why it was taking so long to admit patients from the emergency department (ED), where a backlog was causing undue burdens for patients as well as staff. The charge nurse competently described patient acuity and competing activities, including operating-room admissions and the current staffing situation. Together we crafted a plan to admit ED patients who needed their care. As I turned to leave, I saw her head to the break room. Curious, I followed her and asked about executing the agreed-upon plan. She calmly said, “As soon as I’ve been able to take a few minutes and finish my coffee, I will put things in motion.” At first, I was incredulous. Then I realized perhaps she was doing what she needed to manage her stress and maintain balance and calm amid chaos. I had confidence she would carry out the plan effectively and in a timely manner. She did.
Nurses are expected to be models of wellness, although we haven’t always fulfilled that expectation. Throughout this issue of American Nurse Today, you’ll find resources to nurture your mind, body, spirit, and professional ego. The article “Uncover your inner nurse athlete” provides guidance for getting and staying fit. “How to love and care for yourself unconditionally” dispenses self-care wisdom to help us take personal responsibility for ourselves. “Find the best route to your career destination” describes career-building strategies,” while “Too young to be a nurse leader?” offers advice for young leaders to support their professional growth. So instead of New Year’s resolutions, consider “Renew You” resolutions—renewed spirit, refreshed nutrition and exercise, and reenergized professional engagement.
Only you can write your personal well-being prescription to feel good and maintain balance. The tricky part is filling the prescription and sustaining new or improved behaviors and activities that make it easy to care for ourselves. After all, each of us has a vested interested in taking care of ourselves.
We can wisely embrace the ANA’s Center for Health, Safety, and Wellness definition of a healthy nurse as one “who takes care of his or her personal health, safety, and wellness and lives life to their fullest capacity—physically, mentally, spiritually, and professionally.” Being healthy helps us recognize our charge to be effective personal role models, educators, and advocates within our families, in our work settings, and across our communities. Renewed effort can help us hit the “Easy” button.
Pamela F. Cipriano, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN