New Year New Nurse: Four Strategies for Turning Over a New Leaf

This article discusses strategies for staying mentally healthy as we care for our patients.


As I pulled away from the home visit, I felt the grey fog envelope the car on the outside and threaten to seep into my holiday spirits. From where I sat, I could see the Christmas tree blinking crazily with artificial cheer, while the patient I had just left was filled with sadness and despair and pain that was more than physical. I did what I could to offer a few words of encouragement and to address the physical issues at hand, but my heart was heavy. This was the third difficult visit I had made on this week between Christmas and New Year’s, and I could feel my generally upbeat spirits begin to sag. What could I do to keep going?

The holidays can be fun, festive, and spiritually uplifting for many. On the other hand, it is often a time of remembering those who are no longer with us. This can be good but at times sad and depressing. The season sometimes promotes comparisons as we see friends and neighbors who seem to have it all together. For most, it is some combination of these feelings.

During the week leading up to New Year as I made my visits, I thought about what I could do to renew my spirits so that the gloom of the weather and the last visit didn’t cloud my own perspective. As nurses, we often face this dilemma. How are we supposed to change our attitude as we go from patient to patient without carrying over from one to the next? How do we manage to stay hope-filled?

Offer the Gift of Presence

It is not wrong to be happy and to celebrate our lives. When we encounter horrific circumstances in those we care for, we can be tempted to enter too far into their sadness and carry those away with us. It is not wrong to be present with someone, to be a professional offering care and compassion, and then to leave that burden there as we move on. It is a professional attribute that involves maturity and sometimes a good deal of practice to attain. It may be easier for some of us than others, and that is OK, too. Honoring their sadness, grief, and pain does not mean that we also have to be filled with sadness, grief, and pain. Offering the gift of presence can mean being able to leave that spirit of empathy there when we close the room door or the car door and go on to our next patient.

Build Boundaries

Building boundaries is part of being an excellent professional. Learning to have good boundaries is a nursing skill that we learn for the entirety of our professional lives. We all come to nursing with our own backgrounds and personalities, but the requirements at the bedside are the same: provide excellent, compassionate care each time to the best of our ability. Building good boundaries does not mean that we are immune or unfeeling. It does not mean that we never cry or go out of our way for a patient or a family. It does mean that somehow we have to find a way to still be able to walk away emotionally and attend our child’s basketball game and cheer wholeheartedly. What helps you set good boundaries?

Seek Self-Care

Seeking out self-care. As professional nurses, we sometimes fall into the trap of feeling that we have to meet everyone’s needs but our own. After all, we are usually attracted to the field of nursing because of an inner desire to care for others in their time of need. We want to help. This desire can push us to help past the invisible line that demarcates the space in our spirits between giving and resenting. We all know when we have crossed it: what once felt like doing good in our job now feels like we are scraping the bottom of our own physical and emotional well of resources. All of us have different ways to re-charge—for some, it is a brisk walk, a yoga session, or a dinner out. For others, it is a good book with a latte or a long bath. Whatever your way to plug in to the re-charge setting, it is necessary in order to be a great nurse!

Feed the Spirit

As de Chardin said, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Sometimes we forget that. However, you see spirituality, sometimes acknowledging that our spirits need tending can be a big step forward. The old native American story tells us that we are made up of two wolves, the light one and the dark one. Which one wins? The one we feed.

As I pulled away from the home, I clicked my computer shut. With the click and the sign-off on my note, I tried to leave the sadness behind. I knew I had done what I could to help. For now, I needed to reframe my thoughts. I put the car in gear and drove through the fog. I could see a break in the clouds just ahead.

Joy is a Faith Community Nurse with 35+ years of experience in nursing in a variety of fields

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