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Take Five: Simple Strategies with BIG Results for Overwhelmed Nurses

Does your life feel like a tug-of-war? Nurses continuously juggle the demands of their personal and professional lives. At work, they provide high touch-high tech care for sick and dying patients. In addition, many nurses perform ‘double duty’—caring for friends and family members when not at work. Being pulled in so many directions can seem overwhelming. Learn how to manage stress and regain your balance by taking a few small steps each day.

Kayla is a nurse on a busy telemetry unit; she is married, has two school-aged children and helps care for her aging mother. Today she agreed to work another double shift to cover a last minute call-in. Kayla slammed the phone down after arguing with her husband Mike—he resents Kayla choosing her job over the needs of their family. Kayla was already feeling inadequate when her friend Terry excitedly announced, “I passed my certification exam.” Although Kayla bought a review book six months ago, she hasn’t started studying yet. She worries, “I hate not being there for my family… I am falling behind in my career and I never have time for myself.” Kayla felt a wave of nervous tension in the pit of her stomach. Tom, the patient care technician, interrupted Kayla’s thoughts, “Mr. Rodriguez is having chest pain.” Kayla mindfully refocused her attention to her work taking slow deep breaths on the way to Mr. Rodriguez’s room.

1. Take five deep breaths: to elicit the relaxation response

Deep breathing is a simple stress management technique that can be practiced almost anywhere. It can help quiet your mind, release tension, and decrease the symptoms of stress by eliciting the relaxation response. The relaxation response is the opposite of the ‘fight or flight’ stress response.
Take five slow deep breaths, whenever you begin to feel stressed. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Your abdomen should expand when you breathe in and flatten when you breathe out. Focus on your breathing until you feel calmer.
Integrate deep breathing exercises into your daily routine to decrease your stress symptoms before they occur.

2. Spend five minutes in nature: to experience mindfulness

Stress can promote automatic thinking or mindlessness. After a busy shift at work, have you ever arrived home without remembering the drive? This is a classic example of mindlessness—performing a task while preoccupied with other thoughts. Being distracted during patient care can lead to serious omissions and errors. In contrast, mindfulness is the ability to focus your attention fully in the moment.

A simple exercise for developing mindfulness is to spend five minutes in nature every day. Find time to go outdoors before work, on a break or after work. Be present in the moment and engage your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, or feel? During this exercise, do not think about the past or worry about the future—experience now. In addition to becoming more mindful, you have just taken a mini-break from the stress in your life.

3. Pause five seconds before responding: to avoid over committing

How often do you agree to help only to regret it later? Due to their helpful caring nature, most nurses have difficulty saying “no” to the requests of others. This can lead to fatigue and resentment from over committing. Learning to say no to out of balance requests frees you to say yes to your own needs.
Before agreeing to work an extra shift, babysit your friend’s children or bake cupcakes for the entire third grade, pause five seconds before responding. Five seconds is long enough to gather your thoughts. If you are willing and able to help—say yes. If agreeing is over doing—say no. If you are uncertain, a possible response is, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” If you are pressed for an answer before reaching a decision, it is generally safer to say no—you can always say yes later.

4. Record five thoughts or ideas: to process your emotions

Journaling is a simple yet underutilized stress management tool and path to self-discovery. A journal is more than a diary to record events—it is safe a place to process your emotions. Nurses are held to the highest moral, ethical and legal standards. In addition, they regularly witness the emotional and physical suffering of others. Nurses have a lot of daily stress to process.
Commit to recording five thoughts or ideas in a journal each day. Allow your thoughts to naturally flow onto the paper. Do not judge your handwriting or your feelings. Your feelings are your feelings—they are not right or wrong. Discover patterns of thought and behavior as you write. Periodically re-read your journal entries—you will be amazed at your progress and insights.

5. Read five pages a day: to promote life-long learning

All major goals can be broken down into smaller steps. Kayla could prepare for her certification exam by reading five pages from her review book a day. Reading is the fastest and least expensive method of becoming an expert in your nursing specialty. Imagine the knowledge you would gain by reading five pages from nursing journals or books each day.

Commitment to life-long learning is essential to the professional development of a nurse. The rate of change in health care is constantly accelerating. In order to remain relevant and keep pace with new technologies, techniques and trends—nurses must stay informed. Reading from a variety of fields can inspire creative solutions for the challenges facing the nursing profession. Readers are leaders.

Utilize the simple strategies of taking five deep breaths, spending five minutes in nature, pausing five seconds before responding, recording five thoughts or ideas and reading five pages each day to produce big results in your life and career.

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