How to Build and Maintain Resilience

 In Nurses Weekly

This month, the Healthy Nurse, Healthy New Jersey (HNHNJ) Team will focus on the topic of RESILIENCY.

Nursing is such a noble profession, but with it can come many emotional challenges and great responsibility. Nursing’s badge of honor is, at times, quite a heavy badge to wear. I have learned over the past several years that if we don’t fill up our cups first, we will not have enough to pour into the cups of those we serve. We can try to scrape the bottom of the barrel for energy and compassion, but eventually we are tapped out. It will catch up to us and affect our health and well-being.
In my case, I hadn’t realized I was burned out until after I left my seven-year post on a pediatric oncology floor. I took a job as a travel nurse and did not return to pediatrics for two and a half years.

How do you know if you’re burned out? At the time, I wasn’t aware of my own burnout, only that I needed a change. I didn’t fully come to this realization until after I spent some time away from the environment. While I still enjoyed my coworkers and felt “comfortable” on my 10-bed unit, I took a leap of faith, packed my car and headed for San Diego to pursue travel nursing. When I returned two-and-a-half years later, I ran into the mother of one of my patients. Her child was undergoing therapy at the time I left. When I told her that I had needed a change because I had felt burnt-out and had been working in San Diego, she looked at me, smiled and said, “I knew you were burned out.” How could she know? It took me some time to realize that what I had felt in my heart during the time leading up to my departure was written on my face and probably detectable to most of my patients and their families.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all had moments like these. Nursing is not for the faint of heart. What we do day in and day out can put us at risk for burnout. It comes with the territory. I believe the No. 1 reason we became nurses is that we truly want to take care of others. We have been referred to as “angels here on Earth.” But we also need to care for ourselves; self-care helps build and maintain resiliency.

Now that I’ve experienced nurse burnout, I have become passionate about promoting self-care. Self-care is not about getting regular massages, eating dark chocolate and keeping our nails manicured (although these are some of my favorite ways to de-stress). It’s about the simple self-care habits done on a daily basis to keep our cups full.

My self-care regimen includes waking up early so that I am not rushing to clock in at work. When I wake, I drink a special lemon water. It has been a game-changer for me! It sets my mood, gut and energy for the day. I even travel with all of the supplies so I can make it on the go: lemon, honey, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. It’s a daily ritual, and I refuse to miss out when I’m not at home. Whatever you do, it’s important to be consistent.

I also place exercise high up on my priority list. Whether it’s a day off or when I’m working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., I will wake up at 4 a.m. to get in a workout. It’s necessary for me because it “fills my cup” and I am able to pass on positive energy to my patients, their families and my co-workers.
And what about sleep? Yes, please! As we discussed in February, restful sleep is a huge part of self-care. We all know how we feel and act when we are tired. It’s not really fun for anyone. I listen to a guided mediation at night on YouTube and it has helped me so much to relax and prepare for sleep.

Becoming more mindful of our actions every day helps build and maintain our resiliency. There are many books out nowadays on mindfulness and if you Google mindfulness, I’m sure you could keep yourself entertained and engaged for hours! We need to stop dwelling in the past and worrying about tomorrow and think of how to make each new day great.

Here is an interesting article on how mindfulness habits can assist with resiliency. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Cheers to resiliency in nursing!

With gratitude,
Katie M. Carroll, BSN, RN and the Healthy Nurse, Healthy New Jersey Team

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