Nothing Left to Give
Ways to de-stress and be more mindful once your shift is over.
We have all come home after a long unforgiving shift feeling utterly exhausted and in a fog, coming down from the stress of the day. Ever get home and don’t remember the drive? It’s probably your brain taking a much needed break from the overstimulation of a typical shift. The noise alone on a busy unit can send your sensory system into overdrive. Responsibilities don’t end when we clock out. Many have errands to run, dinner to prepare, pets to care for, bills to pay, perhaps some exercise and multiple personal/family duties that all still require our attention.
Do you find yourself just going through the motions once home? Feel a sense of relief once you’ve dropped in front of the tv - just getting a few moments to shut your brain off? Are you able to really connect with loved ones - taking time to check in on their day? Or do you find yourself feeling so tired and mentally drained you can hardly imagine having one more task on your plate? You’re not alone. Many of us stretch ourselves so thin, giving to others all day and then having little left over for our families once home. With the winter holidays in full swing it is a great time to take a step back before the chaos and assess our current routines. Is it serving you and your family?
My life on the east coast (both personally and professionally) was very different. I lived in New York City where everything seems to move at lightning speed. My husband and I lived in a shoebox sized apartment and were both incredibly focused on our careers. I worked long shifts, went back to school while working full time, tried to climb the clinical ladder ever chance I had and rarely found time for exercise (never mind any kind of mental reprieve). Our idea of blowing off some steam once off from work included throwing back a few cocktails in overcrowded loud bars and heading back home to order takeout and watch tv.
Maybe I’ve turned into a bit of a California hippie - but moving out west helped me slow down, be more mindful and explore some other avenues of mental relaxation. And you know what? I’m happier and definitely less frantic (dare I say calm?) these days. Here’s a few new practices I’ve tried over the last year or two. They have helped me feel more grounded, even keeled and ready to tackle what would have otherwise been stress filled days. The best part is even if you only have five or ten minutes - you have plenty of time to put these into daily practice.
Make Your Bed
I know, sounds ridiculous. Trust me I wasn’t thrilled when I learned it was part of my husband’s routine either… because I’m usually the last one out of bed. I guess it was instilled in him from his college days as a merchant marine. He told me it makes him feel like he starts his day with some order, some control and it feels good to accomplish a task (even one of this size) before getting to your morning coffee. Turns out he was right. Its an easily adoptable ritual that I have come to embrace. Now it drives me crazy if there is a pillow out of place. And yes, I’m one of those people who have multiple decorative pillows. How many is too many? Uh, moving on.
Meditation and Deep Breathing
Disclaimer: meditation is hard. Really hard. It is something I absolutely hated when I started. Unable to quiet my mind and then stressing out about not being able to quiet my racing mind. A bit counterintuitive. However, with practice comes mastery of any new challenge. At least that's what I tell myself so I keep doing it.
I found using mala beads (you can buy these anywhere or use anything you have that has beads) really helped me focus. They are a string of beads traditionally used for prayer. I used them as a sort of numeric guide to keep my meditation on track. I would come up with a mantra and repeat it over and over slowly moving my fingers across each bead with each repetition. Sometimes I change the mantra daily. Sometimes I’ll use the same one for weeks. Your mantra can be as complex or as simple as you like. It can be an original thought or something you heard that brings your mind peace. For example today my mantra was “you are enough”.
I begin my meditation practice by sitting on the floor in a comfortable seated position (with a nice view of my newly made bed, yeah I went there). I take a few deep breaths and sit. I still have to use a timer on my phone. My fear is that I will either lose track of time - having to rush through my morning routine now with the little time I have left or that I will become too relaxed and fall asleep. The struggle is real. Set your timer. For me, five minutes seems to do the trick. Ten if it’s a weekend or I need to sort through a few things in my mind.
Daily Gratitude and Intention
This is my absolute most favorite new practice and it takes less than a minute. You can incorporate this into your meditation time or use alone. Each day when I am done with my meditation I take a quick moment to think of a new gratitude and intention each day. For example, today my gratitude was for our comfortable home (we bought our first house and it’s just starting to come together). My intention today was to practice self care. Yours can be whatever you like; practice patience, express love, be confident, speak up, take time to listen, etc. The possibilities are endless.
Try it for a month straight, you’ll be surprised how many things we take for granted; clean water, a warm bed, supportive family, stable work, nature, etc. My favorite part of this practice is that you are able to revisit your earlier intention and gratitude whenever your day gets a little hairy. It’s easy to get sucked into a stressful situation and spiral into many emotions. Going back to my intention and gratitude puts things into perspective and usually brings me back down. Grounding me. Reminding me of what I wanted for my day and what is really important.
Any kind of exercise certainly helps reduce stress levels and fatigue. I was told the benefits of yoga a million times before I ever considered trying it. “It’s too slow for me. I need a harder workout. It’s not my style”. I was filled with plenty of excuses. Turns out it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It is mentally cleansing - I can only equate it to taking a broom to the floors of your mind and cleaning out the clutter. I feel lighter afterward.
As for it being too slow or not enough of a workout, boy was I wrong. I’m certainly no professional yogi, but there are many different kinds of yoga so you can get whatever you need that day. Sometimes a nice slower paced restorative class is just what the doctor ordered. Other days I like to go to more of a fast paced, upbeat class where I could wring out my clothes afterward from sweating so much.
There is nothing like taking a great yoga class in a heated studio with an amazing teacher - but it can be expensive. I like to mix in a few free or donation based community classes. It’s a great (economical) way to meet new people and most are new to yoga as well. There are many websites dedicated to these kinds of classes all over the U.S. you just have to search a little. If you have any yoga studios in your neighborhood, check their online schedule. Most places host at least one donation based class a week. Another option is to try a few classes on youtube - that’s actually how I started. My favorite is called “Yoga with Adriene”. She has classes for everything; healing, low back pain, sick with a cold, hip openers, yoga for sleep, and many more. She even has 30 days of yoga, advancing a little each day. It’s great for beginners and you can repeat day one as many times as you like until you are ready to move on. It even got my Mom hooked.
I’ve been told many times in my yoga classes that as long as you are focused on your breathing you are doing your yoga just fine. Don’t be afraid to try it out - there’s always a nice comfortable child's pose available to you at any time if things get a little too advanced.
Do Something For Yourself
Make a nice cup of tea. Read your magazine or favorite book for a few minutes. Paint your nails. Sing too loud with the radio on your ride home. None of it has to cost much of anything - but self care is important and often overlooked. We are only useful to our patients, family and friends if our tanks are as full as can be. It is up to us to fill them. Take a deep breath and enjoy!
What are some of your daily rituals to ensure you are at your best?
About Ashley Hay, BSN, RN
Over 10 years of nursing experience in several areas of Pediatric & Adult Oncology including clinical research, chemotherapy, transplant, hematology, proton therapy, GI surgery, wound care, post anesthesia recovery, etc.
Ashley Hay, BSN, RN has '10' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Oncology'. Joined Aug '16; Posts: 51; Likes: 163.