Who We Are and the Voices We Listen To

Last blog I talked about how I was seeing resiliency in a whole new light. It’s not just about habits and self care. I believe, while all these things help, it’s about who we are as a whole. It’s about the emotional, social and physical health of ourselves. The world we encompass, whether we are at work, with family or enjoying our favorite things, contribute either positively or negatively to the resilience we have. 

Never have I seen this more true than I do right now. For example, bring up masking and a vaccine and you either have a friend or someone who seems to be putting up walls. Whether you are in a leadership position, a shift worker or a mom sending her kids off to school, we all have these two topics on our minds. I had hoped we could take the topic in smaller doses and then get on with life at hand, but the polarization of beliefs are jeopardizing relationships and taking up energy. It can just about put us over the edge. 

The shift between friends and faith have occurred as well. If one person stands on their beliefs while another one stands upon the same beliefs for the opposite discussion there can be division. Who is right? What is right? Where is God in all of this? The loss of faith comes more quickly when there is a loss of trust with humans. Maybe it’s just my experience, but it’s exhausting and difficult to want to engage with previously trusted friendships or even our spouse.

Everywhere I look it seems the world we know is in crisis. The internet and world businesses have created places across the globe to feel like the other side of the world are our next door neighbors. We are closer than ever, yet don’t we seem further from each other sometimes? Emotions are already at a heightened level so gather around a group who is upset, on edge or  ready to moan about everything and our ability to rise above drastically gets harder. 

For example, work stress has taken its toll and you are feeling less and less inclined to get to work in the mornings. You decide to grab drinks with a friend after a long, terrible day. You find out, quickly, that happy hour is more like vent hour and you both leave feeling discouraged. Sure, you are in similar situations, but you feel less likely to get up refreshed the next morning.

Maybe your marriage is in crisis and you can’t seem to find a breath of fresh air. You call a friend who has been there for you through thick and thin only to listen for an hour about her falling apart marriage. Sure, similar hardship, but does the camaraderie create a resurrected desire to figure things out and start fresh?  

Who we are, and who we are around, matter. Our bones, the stuff which comes out when we are at our worst, shows us what we are made of. Everyone has moments of grumpiness and seasons of grey and gloomy skies. Everyone handles hard things differently, but our ability to get up again and endure comes from two things. Having good bones to support us when we are down and the people we surround ourselves when the times are tough.

The reason people in the helping community (nurses, firefighters, etc) become bonded together is because they go through unspeakable things together. One thing will affect one person while another thing affects someone else. We have learned to be there for reach other because we all need to come back to work. I am strong when a friend is down and out after a rough shift. My coworkers understand when my tone is short because they see the day I am having and come along side me in support. The relationship goes both ways.

That’s the kind of relationships we need when it comes to resiliency. The relationships which remind us to get back to what matters; to pick ourselves up again and to show up even when it’s hard. Finding like-minded people to do life with can only enhance this ability to be resilient. 

I’m not encouraging you to throw out friendships who might not agree with you. We all need to learn to understand others and grow together. I am encouraging you to know what friends to incorporate into your resiliency practices. Which friends encourage you to take care of yourself while challenge you to see life in new ways, through new opportunities and in new strength. Lean into those voices and do the same for them. 

As we keep learning what it means to be resilient, let’s keep digging into who we are as individuals and as groups of people. Let’s get an X-ray to see what our bones are made of and figure out how to strength ourselves at our core so we can have a stronger foundation when the rough seasons come. The people we listen to and do life with do matter and can strengthen us when our foundation wants to waiver. 

-ST

The Stories We Tell Ourselves

During my hour commute home a couple of weeks ago I was listening to an audio book with tears streaming down my face. Traveling the week before, being overwhelmed by my to-do list and failing to see my purpose clearly left me depleted. I began to question my ability to reach for the stars in my ambitions. I had started writing this blog in the airport. I abandoned it when I became “uninspired”. How could I have anything to contribute to the topic of resilience in the state I was in?

Now, during my commute I stopped my audio book. I flipped over to a podcast by a favorite author/pastor/influencer to stop my thought process from derailing any more. The podcast up next to listen to was about body shaming and changing our own narrative. The stories we tell ourselves usually are limiting and are important for us to acknowledge and talk about. The idea of detrimental stories we tell ourselves is not a new idea, but it is an idea I see more and more being talked about. I think it’s time to talk about as we work through being more resilient.

When I was 18-years-old I decided to become a water aerobics instructor. I had been recovering from a muscle fatigue disorder through water aerobics for four years. I already felt like I lived at the pool, so why not get paid for it? It was a job I could also transfer to anywhere I went to college. I made it through my certification course. I had overcome so much already to achieve this certification. My voice, often thought of as quiet and gentle, would become accustomed to projecting over the water. I was sure of it. The day arrived for me to teach my first class as a certified instructor at my regular pool. I was a novice, for sure, but I thought everyone there was supporting me. An older man, who was awkward to say the least, had also attempted to become certified through the exact same program. He did not pass. Irritably he participated in my first class, so I straightened myself up and taught.

After the hour class all the older ladies cheered for me. The man, however, pulled me aside and told me how terrible my voice was. I’m not exaggerating. He told me, “No one would want to listen to you”. He told me I needed voice lessons to correct what was so wrong. I remember just standing by the equipment, bewildered, having no idea what to say. I sensed he was jealous. I didn’t cuss back then, but I’m sure I was more frustrated than the limited vocabulary I had at the time. I shed some tears and my boss gave me a hardy pep-talk. She couldn’t stand the guy either. Pep-talk or not, I was still defeated. His voice remained in my head.

Years later, still hiding and feeling self-conscious about my voice, I would allow his words to be part of the stories I told myself. The first story was this, “No one would want to hear what I have to say.” The narrative turned into a lie. A lie the man at the pool never said. He only critiqued how my voice sounded, not what I said. Neither his words or my lie was true, but, over time, I had grown to believe both.

By the time I graduated college my true story was beginning to form. I was learning to overcome difficulty. I was rising up as a strong woman, a confident young nurse and someone who cared about the resilience of others. I had become confident in my water aerobics instructing, which was a great foundation for my nursing career. I was capable except when I was invited to share my story out-loud. I was reduced to stomach aches and a sore, hoarse throat. The voices in my head, including that awful man’s voice, were louder than the strength and the power within me.

These stories, the ones we tell ourselves, can keep us small. Depending on the narrative, we can be prevented from moving forward. The subtle whispers or boisterous voices overpower what we know is true, our wisdom and our courage. Instead of adventuring out to a new assignment, a new career or even new habits, the narrative repeats until we have bottled up any courage we might have. We allow lies to be thrown in our faces every time we start thinking about being courageous. We allow ourselves to be diminished to the same routine, the same job or the same self-reflections. 

In the next few blogs I am excited to talk about this topic more fully. I have been reading an incredible book about the stories and possibly the lies which inhibit our curiosity. They may even deplete us when life doesn’t go the way we think it will or should. Since my tearful commute, I have been digging deep into the core of resiliency in my own life. I’m eager to process and share with you what I am discovering.

In the meantime, what narratives are you listening to? What lies are you allowing yourself to believe as truth? Speak them out-loud, tell a trusted friend about them or claim what is true about yourself over the lies. These methods can be a great starting point to defeat them. 

Making Space in Our Schedules

For a girl who normally works part-time with an occasionally extra shift here and there, a few photo sessions sprinkled in during the week and volunteer time taking the rest of my “work” time, last week kicked my butt. I crammed all my work, plus extra, into seven days. Sure, I get eight days off now for a family trip, but I was a hot mess after my long stretch. Working early morning and long days, enjoying a holiday and attempting to snuggle with my girls whenever possible before falling asleep, lead to pure exhaustion. I was able to finally reflect on how loosing blank space in my schedule depleted my resilience.

Listening to a book about carrier choices and finding what we are driven and passion about has been helpful this week to reignite my focus. In the initial chapter of You Turn, by Ashley Stahl, she talks about blank space in her calendar for self-care, regrouping and finding herself again. In all honesty, I had kept most of my calendar a blank space yesterday. My house being a disaster, I rescheduled plans to entertain friends at my house. We met for ice cream instead. We are headed out of town so my girls are out of their minds with excitement and anticipation. My girls missed me during my long stretch of work, so they were glued to me. Don’t get me wrong. I love them and I love being with them, but when I need a few minutes to find my space, my two little mini-me daughters don’t understand this.

Add on top of my needed space, my disaster of a house and my exhaustion from 72 hours of work in 7 days, my girls were in moods. I apparently was also in a mood. By the time I sent them to bed I had asked my oldest to stop talking so many times…something I rarely do. Her birthday is two months away and you would think we had told her she would get the mood. My youngest threw a few fits. We had to rise to the occasion for her dance class (first one I had attended and she had been too nervous to go in without me). We managed to go shopping, pack our bags and get chores done, but the space I had intended turning into chores. I was even more exhausted by the time I sent them to bed. My husband asked why I sent them to bed so early (summer bedtime is more relaxed) and I replied, “the day just needed to be over”.

I know I am not alone. We can talk a good talk about boundaries and self-care, but some days it just isn’t possible. I am learning more and more that resiliency is a good talk when we don’t have to go home to little ones or a relationship which needs our attention. As I get into her book, Stahl talks about boundaries between work and life, and life and work. Being able to guard our emotional health as we put everything into our work. I am eager to learn more about this as I work through her book. Finding the balance between who we are and what we care about while choosing to keep enough boundaries is something I need to keep learning.

Today I went for a walk first thing to clear my head and make sure my stress cycle could be complete. I put myself together (put some make-up on) and went through the schedule with the girls. I asked my babysitter to stay later so I could have an hour to myself. I started the day with a healthy breakfast, and finally, didn’t miss the coffee I used to start my day with. My outlook is better and I am ready for the day. I’m excited about the work I do have today, and I’m thankful for the time I get to spend with you.

Resiliency is a work in progress. Some days, however, just need to be over. It is not because it’s lousy to live. It’s just because we are tired and grumpy, and we can’t seem to turn it around. Chalk it up to a day and plan to restart the next one with a new outlook. Find gratitude for what you do have. Tell a friend or the people in your house something you love about them. Start fresh and plan some space in your calendar to be with yourself. Figure out how to make it happen and keep the appointment. You are just as, if not more, important than everything else on your schedule.

Let’s keep at it together. I’ll let you know how I’m doing with it! Have a great day!

-ST

Resilience in Mothering.

Mothering. It’s hard work. It’s hard when your child needs to wear a mask and he or she keeps pulling it off. (I’m in an airplane as I type this with my girls). It’s hard when they are hungry and you haven’t been to the store in a day, or seven. Mothering is difficult when you have worked all day, whether on the laundry or at the office, and everyone is hungry and counting on you to start dinner. Mothering is hard especially when we beat ourselves up for not doing it all, getting it all done or having the right conversations every time with each child. 

A good friend of mine recently told me she had a good mothering day. It was a feeling to celebrate, but let’s be honest. Most days we do a pretty good job mothering. So many women, even within our own communities, have different circumstances. Socio-economic status, personal or family values, living situation and many more factors which contribute to our feelings around mothering. The grade we give ourselves is usually a comparison with another mothers in similar situations as our own or a reaction, either good or bad, to our own upbringing.

Within my own experience as a mother I have learned to have a few habits to help me in my resilience. The first is to be visibly excited to see my children. Being visibly excited to see my daughters in the morning or again after a separation (after school or after working in my office for a couple hours) lightens my mood and delights them. This practice also reminds me to set my focus on them. I was encouraged to do this by Lisa Turk… in her book “Best yes”. It has been a game changer. I can be so easily distracted with other things if I don’t choose to make this a habit. 

The second is explaining to my daughters when I am stressed or overwhelmed. I tend to be more quick to yell or to be short with them when I am not doing well myself. Telling the girls upfront also helps me stay calmer. When I do loose it, I try to quickly apologize. I know I will grade myself on my mothering more harshly if I don’t. It’s also a great practice. My girls are more quick to apologize and to forgive if I model it first.

The third habit for my resilience is to have one key thing I intentionally do with them a day when I am with them all day. Sometimes I’ll plan an ice cream shop trip on scooters for no reason. Sometimes it’s setting an expectation for one of them to achieve something, being with them the entire time, and then going nuts about how proud I am or how much I trust them when it is over. Ding, ding, ding. This one goes a long way to boost my mothering good-feelings. Bonus, it fills my girls cups. I can then work on something else on my to-do list for a second win of the day feeling satisfied.

I have also found it crucial for my resilience to have one or more mothers surrounding me. They cover me when I have messed up the schedule, one of the sources of my anxiety. They love my children tenderly and stand in at events or parties if I can’t be at my girls’ every important moments. My husband is my parenting partner, but other mothers are often the fuel to help me recharge. We are not alone in this mothering journey, yet it is often too easy to attempt to go it alone.

The last key aspect of resilience for me in mothering is having my own identity and my own interests. I love being a mother, but it’s just one piece of me. I am a nurse, a photographer, a wife, a Board member and a volunteer. I bring women together for community. I invest in younger women. I have my friends’ children over. I make time for my faith and try to blog weekly. My girls come with me for some of it, and other times they stay with others or go to school. Life, for me, is a balance. Life is also a constant rebalance which needs tweaking before, during and after each season.

So, when we grade ourselves as mothers, remember this: We are more than we think we are. We are worthy of love and honor just as much as the other mothers in our lives. We are the envy of someone else’s life. We have been entrusted with little humans and so many women wish they were as well. This realization may not make our days any easier, but a little gratitude for what we have been given may make the next few minutes seem a bit sweeter.

As you read this, your children may be screaming in the background (newborn to teenagers).  Breath, Mama, and conquer the day. Figure out the habits you have which help you feel like a great mama and accomplish one of them today.  Get back on your feet, just one more time, and one step at a time. Breath a little more deeply, count to ten and remember to be grateful for your screaming child, or the other mothers in your life, or the five seconds of peace you might get when you go to the bathroom.

Thankful for you. Mothering makes the world go around and connects us to each other. Rise up, all you mamas. You have got this!

-ST

When It’s Someone Else’s Fault

My resilience often falters when someone else causes me grief, stress, anxiety, or you name it. My desire to find wine goes up, I complain more and I loose sleep. The truth is that it is easier for me to blame someone else for my own lack of resiliency than to take responsibility for it.

I have worked in an environment where showing up to work became increasingly difficult. I would break down in tears when the disrespect and arguing from a coworker had reached its max. I disliked who I was, who I was becoming. I made every aspect of my life about my challenging work environment. I spend all my time being angry. I slept in fits. I had difficult conversations, yet nothing changed. I finally decided to leave.

Life went back to normal. I slept, I found my resiliency again and I was able to make it through the pandemic’s quarantine with strength of mind and heart. I started another endeavor, a volunteer opportunity, and again had difficult conversations, navigating expectations and creating boundaries. I began to my faltered resilience. The difference this time…I realized my deficits more quickly. I committed to not be leaving this endeavor. Instead I need to find ways to remain strong and keep moving forward.

I spent some time with my counselor first. We talked through ways I can change the way I am thinking. I need to keep retraining my mind to tell myself the right things. I can find new ways to focus, especially before I sleep. I can make sure I am getting physical activity as often as I can to put my energy into other places than just my thoughts.

If you are like me, difficult conversations can happen even when I’m not my best, but I’m often exhausted for several days after. Finding space to recharge and reset is key for my resilience. It’s easy to blame someone else or other situations for my “stressed out” mind, but I am responsible for my own actions and reactions. Claiming my reactions as my own is the first step to finding that space. If I don’t like my response, I have the opportunity to change it.

Forgiveness is also important in my resiliency. Time spent over the years in an unforgiving attitude caused bitterness and a poorly trained mind. Now, I am quicker to forgive because I know the value it brings to my mind, my heart and even my body. I still have a lot to learn about forgiveness. Forgiveness means being willing to let go of the hurt someone else has done to us. No conversation needs to occur with the other person, especially if they are unaware I am holding something against them. I have to be willing to acknowledge I have been hurt and I am choosing to let it go. Forgiveness becomes a daily habit until my mind has been retrained. Sometimes forgiving someone takes longer than I would like, but I keep doing it. Eventually my heart and mind are changed and I can walk in the freedom of that forgiveness. (More to come about forgiveness in a future blog.)

I’ve heard it said “hurt people, hurt people”. I hurt people sometimes. I have to forgive sometimes. I have to apologize more often than I would like to admit. Retraining my mind is an ongoing activity. I can’t imagine that I’m alone in this. These are all aspects need to keep myself resilient. As hard as it is, I hope you find some strength in knowing you are not alone and we do not need to keep blaming other people for our own failings.

On this Memorial Day weekend, if you have served or have experienced the loss of someone in our military, thank you. Thank you for sacrificing your time, energy and even life to protect us.

-ST

The Overdone Escape

Have you heard a coworker say, or maybe you are saying it yourself, “I need a bottle of wine”. Where the normal “glass of wine” used to preside, the whole bottle has become the lingo. Or maybe someone wants to “numb out” and binge watch their favorite show all day. Maybe it’s a routine stop after work to indulge in something else which will keep his or her mind off of the stressful day. Even excessive exercise can be an escape.

All these can be symptoms of burnout. The Mayo Clinic talks about symptoms on their website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642

The Mayo Clinic offers these questions you can ask yourself to see if you have the symptoms:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

I do believe these can be causes of other things besides job burnout, but it is important to keep an eye on it.

So what can we do if we answer one or more of these questions? We have been talking about some of these things. If you are having physical symptoms, consult your doctor and your mental health support. We have talked about the importance of having someone listening and helping to bring light to ongoing issues. I also recommend talking to your supervisor/boss/manager or mentor within your job. Being able to ask for understanding or help can be incredibility liberating. Setting appropriate goals can help you get back on track. If you are physiologically unsafe to bring it up with your superior, consider other avenues to gain support or look for other job opportunities. If you are unsafe, confide in a trusted friend and find a way to get the right help.

Other options can come from relaxing techniques, exercise, definitely sleep and the mindful training we talked through earlier this year. Being able to pause during overwhelming and stressful experiences either after work, during work or even before heading into a stressful day can give you the mental break you need without reaching for a substance or habit which can be detrimental to your long-term health and wellbeing.

I recently heard an author mentor in my own life, Dallas Willard, talk about habits. He said we have to find the root of the problem before we can change. I agree, and in the same way, we can’t just slap a bandaid on burnout. We have to go to the root. Whether we are drinking a whole bottle of wine without realizing it or being so critical of coworkers we are loosing friends at work before we recognize our patterns, we need to search for the roots of the problems. What causes us to hit the bottle or be harmful with our words? (Check out my previous blog about habits.)

Let’s first realize our patterns which might be symptoms of burnout. Then, start looking for the roots of these habits. Next week, I will talk about my own burnout and steps I took to find the roots of the habits. I look forward to having you join me!

-ST

Back to the “Why”

An exercise I have done often, and seen done during resiliency workshops, is to review the reasons “why” we do what we do. Why am I a nurse? Why am I an ICU nurse? Why do I choose to work as well as be at home with my girls? For example, a nurse might answer the why question, “I enjoy helping people. Nursing is fast pasted and ever changing or I find it gives me something important to be a part of.” For a different profession, the “why” might be different. No matter what the reason, if it is a life-sustaining reason, it can be helpful to return to it regularly and during seasons of burn-out.

We don’t all love our jobs, at least all the time. If we live off feelings, we can be hot and cold about it all the time. Life is hard and finding joy at work can be challenging. We may have seasons where it’s easy to get to work and other seasons we can’t help but hit the snooze button one too many times. What is the cure? A job change? Easier said than done when you have bills to pay and health insurance to hold on to. Per recent reports the risk of going without health insurance keeps 1 in 6 people in their jobs (1). Forbes says the other reasons people stay in their jobs is: security, friends at work, already know the job, age, too much work to find something new, and not knowing what might end up being worse (2).

Being reminded of your “why” can help you rejuvenate or help nudge you towards something different. Maybe it’s time to ask for more opportunities in the area you love. Maybe you are hustling too much and need to slow down, delegate more and set aside some time to enjoy life.

In her book The Best Yes Lisa Terkeurst writes about not being able to do everything 100% to the best of our ability. We have the opportunity to do some things amazing, but to have that expectation of ourselves all the time creates too much pressure and poor results. Her book was instrumental in helping me understand that not only do I have to know my “why”, but I have to pick the areas which are most important for me to focus on.

So what about you? What is(are) your why(s)? Why do you come home early some days? Why do you stay late? Why do you strive so hard at work? What sending you back into the madness the next day? What fulfills you in your job and what might you focus on to find life in it again?

Being brave and asking some “why” questions can help you assess how your work, your side hustles and even how your volunteer work is going. Is it all going great? Do you think about doing something different? Do you need to slow down? Be proud of yourself for asking these questions and being willing to contemplate where you are and where you want to be. I hope going back to the “why” helps you find more resilience in your life.

-ST

References: 1. https://www.webmd.com/health-insurance/news/20210507/fear-of-losing-health-insurance-keeps-1-in-6-us-workers-in-their-jobs 2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2018/01/05/the-ten-worst-reasons-to-stay-in-a-job-you-hate/?sh=5421418c2fc7

Keeping Life-Giving Routines

One of the ways I recommend finding resilience during stressful situations is through routines. For example, when I experience a difficult shift at work (either I have lost a patient, it was too busy and stressful, or someone was rude) I launch into a specific routine to help me process and find my way back to my baseline. I head home, listening to music which helps me process (Country music is always a go to during these moments). I don’t talk to anyone when I get home and jump into the shower. I stay there until I have processed what I need to either to be kind to others or to be able to sleep without having ugly dreams.

We have to process our stress. We have to find a conclusion or resolution. Sometimes we have to grieve the conclusion. Sometimes we need extra love for ourselves to forgive or to adjust to a new normal. A routine helps us keep moving forward in the midst of the stress. If we have set routines we can calm our minds and our bodies so we can actually do the work stress requires of us.

When I am stressed out, anxious or overwhelmed, a routine helps me become more centered. I go for a walk, or sit and remember what it going well with my life. I make a point to check-in with someone else so I can get out of my own head. Sometimes I just need to brew a cup of coffee or do 30 minutes of yoga. Slowing down a bit with a set routine gives my mind and my tightly held body a break in the midst of the stress.

When it is hard to get out of bed some mornings (much like today) it’s usually because I feel overwhelmed by my “todo” list in my head or the difficult conversation I need to have. I can be stressed even before I get out of bed. It’s these days when I put one foot in front of the other and do the next needed thing. Resource: I’m digging into this concept of the “next right thing” by listening to “The Next Right Thing” podcast with Emily P. Freeman. She has a book out too, so I’ll be grabbing that on my kindle as soon as I can.

A morning routine can be hugely beneficial for creating space to return to my baseline. Routines can help our brains relax and find the normal about life. A routine can help similarly when we go through stress. I know when stress hits or a difficult shift ends I have a routine to go to first. I don’t have to wonder what to do depending on how I feel. I do the same routine every time. When I don’t follow my routine, when I choose to ignore it, I inevitably have bad dreams, a bad attitude and it takes me longer to normalize my thoughts and my body. Stress can happen longer than one routine does, so returning to similar routines over the length of the stress can also be helpful.

Pause to think about your own routines. Do you need to have them ready in your back pocket as your go-tos during stress? Are your routines vital and beneficial or are they harmful for your mental health? A routine which includes a bottle of wine instead of just a glass or numbing out on social media repeatedly may not be the routines you want to have. A routine which is life-giving and is kind to you and others can bring you back to your baseline rather than hiding the stress instead of working through it. We have to be able to process the stress all the way through and routines create that space for us to do this.

My wish for you this week is to enjoy one or more life-giving routines to help create space to process and grow. I’m headed to brew some coffee and journal as one of my daily routines.

-ST

Writing a New Story

As I shared last week, a resilient life is one where stress can be managed at a good baseline. There are seasons where we are more heightened or stressed, but after the season ends, we should be able to return to our former level of stress or something close to it. This can be incredibly difficult to do and if we struggle to return, it can cause more stress and anxiety.

When I was young I was diagnosed with a pain syndrome which affected my muscles. I do not remember a day I have not experienced pain. Long story short, I had lots of therapy and then went into my own daily care by the age of 14. Around the same time I was at a breaking point and life wasn’t great. I needed help and I needed a new perspective. Being a child/adolescent with a chronic illness can do a toil on a developing mind. I had shame over my desire to not continue life. I felt guilty for costing my parents excess medical costs. I was consumed by surviving the pain.

By the time I was 16-years-old I was better with the care I took to rehab, strengthen and press forward. I took this ambition to overcome into and through college. It was constant survival mode. I became increasingly more sick in college and had to learn to advocate for myself in every area of my life. Through my determination I rarely let myself relax and relent in my pursuit to make it through. Other stresses in my life mounted and I was tightly wound. I made it through nursing school and started my career as a pediatric nurse.

That’s when I broke. I had operated at such a high stress level for so long I feel a part. I had stuffed emotions, shame and hidden things so deep inside it took months to dig it all out. I found a safe place to process, to grow and to be emotionally exhausted. I could not be who I wanted to be for my patients and their families if I wasn’t okay myself. I also couldn’t maintain my health with the stress I had put on myself.

For me, this breaking point took me to a mountain (literally) and a gut-honest submission to my God. It then took some hard conversations and creating a new way of living.. It eventually took me to a new city, new job and a new community where I could be the revitalized me. I also found a therapist who I have now known since I made this commitment to my mental and spiritual health. The old me was exhausted and burnt out. I had to create a new normal though hard work, years of hard work. This baseline I talk about does not mean you decide one day to be less stressed. It takes a decision to find a new way and then daily little decisions to live differently.

One of my favorite things I have done recently is to have a story summary for my life. Each year can be different. For me, this year’s summary is: Loving myself through my story. This keeps me grounded to my baseline. It brings me back when shame, guilt and pain creep in to control my heart and mind. It reminds me to be gentle with myself and to love myself through the stress and the pain of daily life.

Whatever you are in your story, take a few minutes today to consider if you are running and avoiding, if you are striving for something you believe you need to achieve, or if you have a story summary to write or rewrite. We don’t have to find a better baseline overnight. It takes work. We need to assess where we are first before we can head in our desired direction. Make a plan to determine where you are at, where you want to be and how you are going to get there. If you are in a current stressful season, find healthy ways to make it through and plan to reassess once you have rested a bit. We can all get there. Give yourself some love today and be gentle with those around you as well.

We will keep working towards resilience in the weeks ahead.

-ST

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