Stress at Baseline

It’s not uncommon as a nurse to bring stress from regular life to work, especially to the first part of a shift. Stress from home, piled on top of an abnormally busy assignment, can cause stress for anyone. To have a patient become critical on top of it all has the potential to push a nurse into full blown fight or flight mode. In my profession when it rains, it seems to pour every time. We all jump in to help in hopes we all survive with patients thriving by the end of the shift.

I am sure this is similar to other professions. Whether you are pouring over someone’s coffee order or rushing to solve a problem, stress can hit us in a variety of ways. In my experience, the fight or flight mode doesn’t just apply to life threatening events. As a photographer, capturing the first kiss at the end of a wedding ceremony can put me in the heightened state. Flying over the Rockies after a trip to the west causes enough turbulence to send my heart rate through the roof. Being busy and assuming I won’t get everything done in time can cause trigger this response as well.

Let’s be clear. Stress is normal. When we are healthy, we learn to cope with the stress. We must keep our stress level at manageable because the fight or flight situations do come. Once higher stress occurs, endured and survived we need to be able to return to our normal stress level, our baseline. For example, as a nurse our stress should resolve when the shift ends, the patient gets better, or the situation comes to an end. Once it ends, we can move into a recovery mode. Our heart rates begin to normalize, we realize we haven’t gone to the bathroom or eaten for longer than normal, and we start to process the stress experience.

Pictures help me understand concepts so I drew two to show normal stress and recovery verses abnormal stress and recovery. The first picture is normal life. This person has a baseline which might adjust over time. I have found my baseline has adjusted as I get older because of “adulting”, higher stress jobs and adding family to my responsibilities. As this person goes through life, he or she has experiences which can cause some stress or extended stress which cause that fight or flight mode. Once this person goes through these experiences, resiliency is used to return to baseline.

Resilient LIfe

In the second picture we see the person’s original baseline, and stress experiences. After each experience he or she does not return to normal baseline. A new baseline is created until it becomes as high as other stress experiences previously were. This person ultimately lives at a higher level of stress. It will take less and less for the fight or flight mode to hit. Because the normal stress level is constantly elevated, this person has less opportunity for stress management during high stress experiences and recovery after.

Non-Resident Life

We need resiliency practices. Our mental and physical health are not meant to be at an elevated level all the time. Sure, we have seasons where we are at a higher level, but we must reduce our stress after these seasons so we will be in a better place when the next stress hits.

Here is an an example from a few weeks ago from my work. I witnessed a nurse arrive for her shift and be given a busy assignment. A critical patient admission was added. This nurse began showing signs of low resiliency. These signs included being quick to be angry, tearful, unable to be asked questions without snapping back and making statements about the injustice of the situation without seeing everyone was equally as busy. The shift was rough and we all have them. Not knowing what home life was like I just assumed it was the situation of the day. I hoped the situation would resolve.

The next shift I worked with this nurse the signs of low resiliency returned. There was no critical patient, a less busy assignment and no foreseeable reason for tears. When I was finally able to talk with the nurse I learned her home life is overwhelming. I knew that helping this nurse recover in better ways after long shifts would allow for greater longevity during this nurse’ career. Although the unit’s nurse mentor may not be able to change this nurse’s home life, I encouraged providing more unit education around critical patients, stress management and mental health support in hopes of helping this nurse.

We need to be able to return to baseline after stress because stress will occur again. Developing skills and habits to return to baseline are essential and can start now. We can’t avoid stress and some of us may even run towards it. Life without stress wouldn’t promote growth or courage. Stress, however, should not be allowed to rule our lives. We have the power to return to our normal level of stress and live courageously and with resilience. It takes practice, time and effort.

In the next few weeks we will dive into some practices to help us return to baseline after we make it through stress.

-ST

When the sun is out, but it’s still grey inside…

The sun is very bright today here in the west side of Denver. This morning I photographed an extended family who was finally able to come together to celebrate a little one born during the CoVid-19 quarantine. The photos will show spring’s arrival. I then had lunch outside with a friend. My arms soaked up the sun, giving me a nice tan line. Here in Colorado we crave the sun after a long winter. Everyone else seems to be outside and happy, but we can still feel grey inside.

I have spent many a sunny day wondering why the world seems so happy and hopeful when I am struggling with a loss, a season of grief or a recent trauma. As an ICU nurse, loosing even briefly known-to-me patients create experiences where other’s happiness and my melancholy self just doesn’t seem to add up. Our community has come together during these past two weeks to grieve the 10 lives lost during a recent shooting. It’s a tragedy which affects countless others. Our personal family has gone through stress and fear while a family member was in the hospital this last week plus, too. No matter who you are, we all have seasons and situations which are more difficult than others. The hard part for me is when my grey season doesn’t align with the sun shining and I perceive that everyone else seems to bask in its happiness.

Finding the strength to sit in our own experience is key for our resiliency. We need to be able to work through the hard stuff in order to find those sunny days. Let’s not forget..our experiences are just as important as anyone else’s. Everyone has seasons of sunny days and grey days. When grey seasons persist, depression might occur. (If you believe you are depressed more than a grey season, please talk to a medical provider or a mental health provider.) A few of us choose professions where we help others find their way out of their traumas, pain and stress. We must find ways to process and move past these experiences or we won’t be able to sustain when rough seasons hit our personal lives.

Comparisons: Being jealous of other people’s happiness can robe us of finding our own. Comparing ourselves to someone else’s happy seasons will never get us out of our grey ones. Comparisons may even prolong ours. Being envious of another’s season may also cause us to struggle when asked to celebrate someone’s happy moments. We might miss some incredible memories which could help us find our own joy. A word of caution: We can lean on other people’s happiness, but in doing so, be careful to not steal their joy and ruin their experience.

Gratitude: Gratitude is the antidote for feeling sorry for our own experiences. Gratitude allows joy to fill our hearts and minds, and allows us to find some new perspectives. It can take our eyes off our hardships and bring life to our lives. Joy comes when we do the hard work to work through our stuff. We can all find joy and strength to get through the grey seasons.

The sun is out, and hopefully, you are enjoying a sunny season. If your season is grey and difficult, it’ll be okay. You can do the hard work. You can find the joy to move forward. I encourage you to find your safe people to be present and process with. Be reassured, it’s okay to let the sun shine and to let the grey season linger a bit longer while you are doing the work. I believe it’s in the grey seasons where we have the greatest potential to grow. Take heart, you will find your sunshine again.

If you practice the faith tradition of Easter, may tomorrow be full of joy, blessings and sunshine.

-ST

When the flashbacks prevent sleep…

My heart and prayers go out to the community of Boulder. Thank you to all the courageous men and women who were present and who arrived to rescue and to protect. I am humbled by your sacrifices and grateful to your entire families for theirs as well.

Reflection – in case sleep has gone by the wayside.

There is no way to unsee, or un-experience something. Things flash quickly to mind at a second’s notice. For me, emotions flood to the surface and bring me back to traumas, heartbreaks, and the inhuman moment I have witnessed. Whether firsthand or secondhand trauma, there seem to be few words to explain the process our minds, hearts and bodies go through.

Flashbacks and fears come more swiftly when the evening activities have decreased and the lights are turned down low. Our imaginations start to drift, and as much as we don’t want them to, images and sounds infiltrate our dreams, waking us up in cold sweats and hearts pounding. This is, if by chance, we fall asleep. I believe what happens in our sleep demonstrates how we are truly doing. It can show when our spirits are crushed and our hope is deferred.

Flashbacks and fear loves the darkness. It can hide and the “tough” persona can hang on. We fear giving secondary trauma to anyone who has to hear our story, so we hold it in. Or, we vomit everything over and over to anyone who will listen. In both cases, after a while we wonder where our friends are and why they aren’t as available. Our significant other, or spouse, don’t know what to say. They grieve with or for us, but they also have their own process of grief if involved.

In my experience, knowing who to talk to before the trauma hits decreases the time the flashbacks and fear have time to hold on. When we speak our experiences, our fears, and our shame into the light and out loud it has less leverage and less ability to be hidden. When we bring something out from the hidden places it commands less power over us.

I heard this incredible story of a nurse who was doing his mental health rotation years ago in nursing school. He was in an adolescent inpatient hospital. This young girl needed to sleep. She had seen unspeakable things. Everything she had experienced was not only at night, but she dreamed about them every night. She had stopped sleeping. As you can image, the mental health issues around months of not sleeping were overwhelming. Nothing was working. This nursing student asked his instructor to change his practicum to night shifts. He sat by her bedside for several nights in a row. The minute she jerked awake from a dream, she would yell. He would speak to her and kept his hand on hers. She began to sleep, no longer as paralyzed by her fear. Over time, she was able to work on her fear during the day because she was sleeping more at night.

Sleep goes a long way towards healing, so, please, begin to speak so your experiences cannot stay hidden. Find a professional therapist, a counselor, a coach, or a peer to listen and help you bring to light what you have seen and what you continue to remember. Don’t linger in the flashbacks. Don’t minimize your experience when you hear someone else’s story. Speak truth out loud truth over your life, your safety or your ability to overcome. Let the light in to those hidden places.

It’s never too late to ask for help. Planning ahead for your safe person is great, but if today is the day you need to talk to someone, don’t wait. There are many opens, but here in Colorado there is a crisis service: https://coloradocrisisservices.org/ or call them: 1-844-493-TALK (8255). Or check out https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists to find a therapist near you.

I pray sleep upon you and restful spaces where you can be free to let the light into those hidden places.

-ST

The Balance between the To-Do List and Slowing Down

My house is a disaster. The laundry needing to be folded is piling up and the refrigerator is showing evidence that our home is practicing scarcity. My to-do list has been stacking up, but my ability (or inability) to prioritize the next urgent thing takes me further from accomplishing anything on my list. I am overwhelmed by my inadequacies and I slump over in tears.

It’s the day after I return home from a little R&R. The sunshine during my little trip brought joy to my heart. Restoration and perspective seemed to come hand in hand during my short trip. My friend, who I was visiting, and I walked for miles over the course of three days, talked about life and relaxed on the couch together, laughing over the comedy we choose to watch. I slept and I ate good food. I walked on the beach and photographed a baby bump. Everything was perfect. I cherished the time I was able to slow down.

Now, the day after I returned home, I start the day determined to help my soul stay refreshed. I make it about 10 minutes. I am quickly overwhelmed by my to-do list. Maybe my break from life created space for my brain to get back on track, but now I see more clearly what I haven’t accomplished. It also reminded me of the goals I have neglected. On the bright side, maybe slowing down doesn’t just help us rest, but it can also give us clarify around what is important when we are productive.

I wonder about the true relationship between productivity and allowing some space to slow down. There must be a balance somewhere. Giving myself permission to be productive is just as powerful as giving myself permission to slow down. My soul seems to need both to be centered. Carving out time for both appears to be key.

What is the balance for you? A little slow down time in conjunction with productivity? Or, do you blaze ahead until you have nothing left to give before you slow down? What if we do both? Finding the boundaries within our productivity, learning when to slow down and choosing to set both as priorities can help us build resilience into our every day lives. When stress comes, or the feelings of inadequacy over our to-do lists overwhelm us, finding our way back to the balance will be essential for a sustaining way of life.

Donald Miller talks in his course, “Hero on a Mission”, about productivity being best in the morning when our minds are the sharpest. He also talks about giving ourselves rewards (little dopamine hits) when we accomplish a daily goal or task. Rewarding myself is hard for me to do, but I am determined to reward myself with small moments of slowing down after accomplished tasks. I believe it will bring a better balance to my life.

-ST

Sleep…what I am Missing

I am sitting outside during this glorious Colorado day. My youngest is sleeping in the car after errands so I take a few moments for myself. What a treat to have a fresh wind, the warm sun and a gentle spirit of renewal in the air. The mountains are still snow capped and we have moved into the season of spring days bookended by snowstorms. The snow comes quickly, melts quickly and saturates our brown grasses in hopes of green May colors. This is also when my winter blues start to fade and hope sneaks into my heart ever so gently.

This past week I reflected that my winter blues seem heavier this year than previous years. Working night shift and sleeping very little during the day before and after a shift enhances the bluish hue in my mind and heart. I love working at night, but, news flash, I’m not as young as I used to be. My life is more clustered with responsibilities and agendas than it was when I was in my twenties. Finding the resiliency to get the to-do list done seems a bit harder lately.

I knew I needed to dialogue about this with my equally driven friend. As we enjoyed coffee this morning, we talked about simplicity and decluttering our lives, yet moving forward with our goals. We also talked about sleep. When people, like the two of us, are driven and goal oriented, sleep doesn’t seem as important. We can become so run down, almost to the point of shut down, before we go to bed early and unplug our alarm clocks. For me, the fear of decreased momentum shows up when I decide to take a day of rest. I fear that I might loose track and forget to accomplish something.

My other problem is that I want to be liked. I want to be successful in ALL my endeavors. Yet, two things happen when I don’t sleep. The first, I don’t like myself. The second, I don’t have the capacity to do one thing well, yet alone my entire list of goals. In my mind I may be loosing momentum, but taking a few years off my life due to the lack of sleep sounds way worse.

I have decided I need to build some sleep into my resiliency plan. My goals will only be as good as the energy I can put behind them. Choosing to sleep, thus improving my mental capacity, my concentration and my overall health, needs to be as important as the foods I put in my mouth and the exercise I choose to participate in. Sleeping more cannot be a sign of weakness in my life. It needs to be a sign of wisdom and strength.

This week, I am going to schedule sleep into my daily life. I will plan when I go to bed and when I will get up at least one day. I will plan it around what my body needs, not around my other goals. I want to see if one night of good sleep a week will increase a positive outlook around my future, provide momentum around my goals and increase my desire to speak kindly to myself.

How about you? How’s your sleep life? Do you need to sleep more so you are more likeable to yourself and everyone around you? Do you need to say “no” to something so you can rest? Or are you struggling to get out of bed every morning? Would a conversation with your doctor, therapist or good friend/loved-one be needed to acknowledge the “blues” you are experiencing and to get help?

Whatever your case might be, take some time to figure out what you need to do around sleep and make a plan to do it. It might just make some of us feel like we are still in our twenties…okay, a girl can hope, right!

-ST

Celebration, a Pause from the Mundane

Today is my youngest’s birthday. It’s been four days of festivities so far with more to come. She gets a pass on chores today and doesn’t have to eat things she doesn’t like. She has enjoyed three pieces of cake. She says her favorite part about her day is the notes she received from her classmates. She is 5 now and this birthday has been one for the books.

In the past two years or so I have been striving to bring greater celebration into our home, especially for birthdays. I seem to have an aversion to being celebrated, so this year, my 39th birthday, I made some changes. I let everyone who asked do something with me. I ate what I wanted and enjoyed food more than I ever have. I did not cook or clean. I took the time to do my hair. I dressed in nice clothes and savored the wine other people purchased for me. It was a great birthday.

My birthday, and now my littlest’s, created some space between the normal and the extra special. It put a pause on life. The day, and days leading up to it, slowed and life wasn’t about going to the grocery store, having hard conversations and bringing in a paycheck. I didn’t rush. I sat in the uncomfortableness of attention. I savored the friends and family who paused their lives for mine, even just for an hour over coffee. Life was good, sweet and full.

My little one is sound asleep now next to me. It’s an early night for her because she is so exhausted. Being celebrated, changing the mundane to the exciting, is exhausting. She put her whole self into being present for her birthday. She didn’t want to miss one second of it. She had no cares in the world and every person who wished her joy was met with smiles, a “thank you”, and a demonstration of pure joy in the form of jumping up and down.

I want to be like my daughters when any special day arrives. I’m coming to realize that celebration can give us not only joy, but also rest from the normalcies of life. Celebrations, even small ones, allow us to realize that life can be abundant. It’s the toast with girlfriends (Oh, Cheers!), the dish of ice cream after a project completion or the dinner to celebrate a job promotion. It’s the pause we need to remember the relationships we cherish, yet forget to embrace when life gets busy. It’s the joy which overflows when our children decide to be agents of change and advocate for themselves at school. All these small celebrations, or the big ones which last for days, are gifts to our normal lives which recharge our batteries and create more space for resiliency.

With all the celebrations you find yourself enjoying this week, may you pause a bit longer and welcome the moments of joy which come with them. May you find some space to celebrate and to be celebrated. Cheers!

-ST

A Few Minutes of Mindfulness

Last month I grabbed the “Yoga Journal: The Power of Mindfulness” from the magazine rack at the store in preparation for this year’s blogging adventure. I have often heard the word “mindfulness” and have been curious how it applies to life other than being mindful of others, especially when interacting with people different from you.

The Oxford Dictionary (thank you, search engine) defines mindfulness as:

  1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something
  2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

The mindfulness themed yoga magazine talks at length about tips and small actions we can do in our own lives throughout the day or seasons to be present, thoughtful about our experiences and find greater meaning in our lives. Mediation is one aspect of mindfulness. This can be done in a spiritual sense (such as prayer or focusing on a specific verse or passage) or through non-spiritual guided meditation. Research has shown there are quite a few benefits from meditation such as easing pain, managing anxiety and depression, and boosting brain function.

If you have followed me at all you know stillness and being quiet are difficult for me. My prayer time comes most easily in the shower, during my commute and when my anxiety is mounting. All good places for re-centering my attention on something other than myself. But quiet, focused prayer/mediation is not a practice I run to, even weekly.

There are a few times in my life I remember being involved in guided prayer. I remember them vividly. I also participated in an experience room at a conference I attended in college. It was calming and tethered my weary heart and busy mind to a subject for the 30 minutes as I purposefully wandered through the room. When I need a mental break I will often find myself back in that room, going through the experiences again. I am grateful for these memories.

You may be like me and meditation just doesn’t come naturally. I think this is why they call it a “practice”. We can all find ways to slow down for a few minutes, to quiet our minds, to search our memories to tie our minds to peace and tranquility. Our practice can also create new habits. For me, practicing mindfulness doesn’t mean I have to become someone I’m not. It’s allowing myself to slow down. If it is meditation for a few minutes, a specific prayer time or just recalling a gentle memory which taught me something or brought me joy that lowers my anxiety and makes me ready to get on with my day, I’d say it’s worth the few minutes.

Enjoy a few minutes of mindfulness practice this week. I will be taking this to heart this week as well.

-ST

Music, a piece of resiliency

(This blog might be tough to read if you have suffered the loss of a young person.)

For any nurse our first death of a patient, whether we took care of the patient intensely or walked into a code situation, takes residence easily in our memories. At an instant, we can recall where we were, what we were doing and even details like the smell surrounding the experience. For me, not only do I remember my first death vividly, but my first death of a child was traumatizing and left me with symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After this little one’s passing, I began not sleeping well. I dreamed about the bruises I saw on the little boy’s body. I judged everyone who yelled at their child at Target. It was becoming unhealthy quickly. I resisted going back to work. If I had been a drinker, I would have drowned my feelings with something liquid.

Realizing my career couldn’t survive another experience like the one I went through I began to work through my experience. I wanted and needed to continue to care for my patients and their families without being void of feelings and distrust. I needed to sleep without ugly dreams. During the next few months I developed ways to handle my grief. Over the years I have perfected my process. Every death hit me differently, but I have created routines around loss to help my grief. One of those routines is involving music.

Early in my career, I would turn to music on my drive home after loosing a patient. I would hear a song on the radio or on my playlist with a phrase or melody which would minister to me. I began to play that song over and over. I realized after a while something in my gut released. I would cry and be sad until I felt this sensation release within me. Some losses take longer than other, but no matter what, I keep the song playing.

The night before Father’s Day about 9 years ago I took care of a beautiful girl while her family said goodbye. In the midst of the loss her family would be giving the most precious gift to several other people. As heartbreaking as her story was, her family seemed to hold onto this hope. After caring for everyone involved, I walked her parents out of the unit and was allowed to go home. While I headed home I flipped on the radio. Miranda Lambert’s The House that Built Me came on. I sang my heart out. Because it was on my playlist, I sang it over and over until it sank in. It became for me her song, a little piece of her story etched into mine.

Music brings us together. Music helps us grieve and helps us celebrate. It’s the gift of connection and of unity. It’s the fight song of our favorite team. It’s the hymn which raises our spirits. It is the song we walk down the aisle to. It’s the song which takes us back to our childhood or away from the hard things in our lives. Music can bend our hearts towards each other when words break us apart. (Brené Brown talks about this connection in her book Braving the Wilderness. I highly recommend it!)

I flip my music to Miranda again. She is singing and tears are streaming down my face. The song reminds me of the patient’s room, her family, the experience and what I learned through it all. The song reminds me to pause and grieve the losses in my own story. It brings healing in the midst of life’s pain. It helps me settle down, refocus and gather my strength to push forward.

This is resiliency. Being brave enough to be moved deeply, process it and get back up to try again. It’s experiencing belonging even when it hurts and letting our stories be imprinted by others. It is playing the song over and over until our hearts are ready to move on. Maybe you need to be reminded of a song which helped you get back up and try again. Find it and enjoy it today!

-ST

Belonging: What Matters Most

The pressure to be productive can go right out the window this week. I realized after a stressful meeting where I felt distant and walked away not feeling like I belonged, that questioning my sense of belonging decreases my desire for productivity. If I feel as though I belong, I am more invested and the weight of my efforts, aka, work, holds greater importance. When I know I belong I’m more eager to show up and be seen. It’s easy to think that belonging comes from other people and the environments in which we work, but belonging comes from being our true selves.

Without a sense of belonging we can begin to feel discouraged, depressed and alone. A work for example, if we hear others have inside jokes or seem to be better friends with the boss, we can start feeling like an outsider and our ability to complete tasks will be hindered by the “aloneness” we feel. We might start to wonder if we are doing a good job or if we will get a bad review at the end of the year. We can start to believe the stories we are telling ourselves. These stories might be that we don’t belong and that others in the office are creating this problem for us. We can then start to live these stories into reality and actually start doing a bad job.

I’ve seen this play out in the workplace. Let’s say we have a coworker who has become increasingly grumpy and makes comments about “being left out”. Let’s call this coworker Jane. Jane used to contribute to the team. Now, she makes life miserable for everyone. She is late most days, seems to leave early because no one will tell her not to and does just enough work to get by. She goes out of her way to avoid the group dynamics. Decisions get made without her because she has “something more important” during scheduled staff meetings or chooses to finish a project at the same time as group huddles happen. Although Jane’s lack of productivity is annoying to the team, and the boss isn’t addressing it, the lack of team participation is the factor driving the frustration. The coworkers know they can’t, and honestly don’t want to, help improve her sense of belonging and she outwardly blames the team for pushing her out because “I don’t feel like I belong”.

Other factors can play into the lack of belonging in the workplace. Personal health and wellbeing can also be parts of it as well. If we are struggling at home, work can begin to bear the same issues. Difficult seasons, like a pandemic, can add to the feeling of isolation. More people are working from home. This can be isolating and create a lack of belonging just because there are different demands. In one of my own previous work experiences if I wasn’t always around the boss I would feel forgotten. Someone else could quickly get the boss’ full attention. If this is your experience, working from home would only exemplify this. You can’t just pop over to the boss’ office mid-afternoon to check-in. I expected my boss to solidify my feelings of “belonging”.

This week I went to my favorite Brené Brown to learn more about belonging. I found this amazing YouTube Podcast: Brené Brown SECRETS For HEALING YOURSELF & Making An IMPACT In The World |Lewis Howes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TbsRU-crgsc, last viewed 02/04/2021). The conversation Brown and Howes has is about true belonging and not about trying to fit in. Brené says belonging “never asks us to change who we are, it demands that we be who we are”. Fitting in is “betraying self for other people and that’s not sustainable,” said Brené Brown.

The podcast goes on to talk about vulnerability and courage. To be who we are we must find belonging in ourselves, and then share this with the people around us. This is courage. To work in a group environment, to be willing to own our mistakes and to go back to work the next day takes guts. It takes resiliency. It takes vulnerability. The coworker who makes work life miserable or the boss who seems disconnected can be a road block to our sense of belonging. If we wait for the team to show up before we show up we are depriving ourselves of finding our own belonging. It might be easier to just get by, to just do what we need to do for a good review, but we will feel exhausted at the end of every day. It will become increasingly hard to go back to work every day.

Allowing ourselves the grace to belong without needing external circumstances gives us permission to show up. Showing up can give us that sense of belonging we long for. This perspective and practice takes greater courage than checking a box on the to-do list. It is work which can lead us to job satisfaction, and gives meaning over content with the work we produce. Whether we are noticed for our productivity or not, being willing to show up and be ourselves will energize us. It will help us find our best selves.

May you rest this weekend and show up on Monday with a new sense of belonging.

-ST

The Balance of Productivity

Let’s talk about productivity. It may seem odd to talk about this before jumping into resiliency, but we are laying a foundation. The Oxford dictionary defines productivity as: the effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. I have heard a person is often measured by their level of productivity in the workplace.

The author of Radical Candor, Kim Scott, talks about people’s productivity around work. Some people work best and most productive in 30 hours while others thrive on 60 hours a week because they love to work. When doing a self evaluation, she talks about the importance of not comparing ourselves to others amounts of time we put into something when the productivity is the same.

Self-Evaluation: I love being productive. I am also driven. The Oxford dictionary defines a person who is driven as: relentlessly compelled by the need to accomplish a goal; very hard-working and ambitious. This is me, until it’s not. Let me explain. I wake up at 7 a.m., pull my goal planner out, set high expectations for the day and off to the races I go. I work, tirelessly until 10 p.m., if necessary. I have a list of tasks completed and have moved to next steps. I feel great, happy and ready for the next day. The next morning comes and I am sluggish. I have decreased will to have another day like that again so soon.

On productive days I thrive in the middle of things. I want to feel needed. I get in a grove and pour everything into it. Then, I get tired. My inner critic starts marching in and I forget to take a breath. I end up discouraged and not wanting to do anything the next day. When the next day comes I spend hours evaluating “how to make my life better” and attempting to be emotionally fit. I run on full speed for 15 hours in the name of productivity, but I’m burning myself out in the meantime.

My life is never been regulated by one job, I tend to focus on immediate needs of the work or the people around me. Do I have photos to edit, a project to finish for my nursing job or does someone need me for something? I am a 2 on the Enneagram, if you are wondering. I will drop almost anything if I feel I can be invaluable to someone or a situation. I can do all this in one day when I’m not wearing my nursing hat. I rush to accomplish everything on my list because the next day I am scheduled at the hospital for a full 12-hour shift. The third day I may be catching up at home or on appointments. This has created a habit of up and down expectations of myself around productivity.

I have come to realize that I operate like a nurse even on my days off. A nurse has her day set by policy and procedures, medication times and patient needs. The day is marked by things getting accomplished. A great nurse adds some goals into the day in hopes of encouraging the patient to conquer the day. After a long shift, it’s time to rest and get ready to go back for the next scheduled shift. This is how my brain is wired. I operate like a nurse everyday. I have my tasks and I push through until the end of the day. I have no boundaries and wonder why I can’t take a break.

Anyone outside of shift work may have different work patterns, but I believe no matter what work we do, we can loose balance in the name of productivity. Balance for me means giving myself grace to not have to press through every day to get more work done. It’s the permission to enjoy the work of my labor. It’s choosing what “winning” the day looks like every day. Sure, some days are busier than other days. Giving ourselves permission to fill that space with grace when we don’t accomplish everything is key. It is how we will learn to rest. I’m speaking to myself here, but I hope this also gives you permission to create this balance for yourself as well.

When we find the need for resiliency, the balance we have found between productivity and rest will be essential. If you are a leader in your company, modeling this balance is a great way to care for the emotional health of your team. I just enjoyed some sessions at the CultureSummit.co this week. One tip around balance was to email the team saying something like “We just had a big project finish and I’m going to take Friday afternoon off. I encourage you to do the same.” This is giving permission to your team to rest because you are modeling the behavior. Just food for thought as you find this balance for yourself.

I’m going to practice some balance by having an unplugged Sunday. I hope you enjoy some rest this weekend as well.

-ST

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