If I was standing on stage in front of an audience of nurses and said something like this: raise your hand if you have been victim to a toxic environment, addicted to anything: i.e. alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, food, sugar, social media, gaming, or your phone, to name a few, depressed, lonely or, been fired for your lousy/threatening attitude; I would venture to say, most if not all of us would raise their hands including me. As a matter of fact, I just described the first 15 years of my nursing career. You may not all be overachievers like me but most of us have been subject to some of these things and they cause us to suffer in a myriad of ways that we are totally unaware of.
If you are sick of dealing with depression, addiction, anxiety and other mental health issues, poor health, lack of sleep, chronic pain and multiple other physical ailments, relationship issues, feeling unfilled, unmotivated and or watching your dreams evaporate; that’s a list of the things I coach/write about so you are in the right place. Believe it or not, no matter where you are on that list the cause of all of those things is nearly universal for nurses and it’s called chronic stress. We must learn better ways of coping with stress or we will continue to lose ourselves in the quicksand that our lives and careers have become.
I think most of us know that stress can be effective in our lives and we need a certain amount of it to live and grow happily. However, when stress becomes chronic, it’s no longer an effective tool in our lives. According to the American Psychological Association in an article titled Understanding Chronic Stress;
"Chronic stress can occur in response to everyday stressors that are ignored or poorly managed, as well as to exposure to traumatic events. The consequences of chronic stress are serious, particularly as it contributes to anxiety and depression. People who suffer from depression and anxiety are at twice the risk for heart disease than people without these conditions. Additionally, research has shown that there is an association between both acute and chronic stress and a person's abuse of addictive substances."
Before I get to my 5 ways to overcome chronic stress I want to give you an introduction to what we’re going to do with these 5 things. I love writing to you, my people, but I also want to coach you. This stuff saved my career and my life so I want to share it with others. Human beings learn in three ways: through our senses, by practicing it, and by repeating it to others. To put it my favorite way I learned in the military, see one, do one, teach one. Each one of these 5 solutions has a tool to help you incorporate it into your life.
1 - Habits are Magical Tools
Habits are magical tools that help you get your brain on board with what you’re doing to improve your life and meet your goals. Before we start building new ones we need to find out the ones you already have by, preforming an inventory.
Habit inventory- the best thing about habits is you don’t have to think about them but sometimes they get away from you and can be ineffective without you even being aware that you’re doing them. The inventory is a way to find out which habits you have and whether they are ineffective, effective or neutral, this is just an inventory, no judgment allowed.
Now that you know what habits you already have, you can start to make small changes a little at a time that will build up into amazing powerful routines. I like to start with the morning routine for two reasons: everything you do in the morning sets the tone for the rest of the day so if you win the morning you win the day!
2 - Control is a Natural Human Instinct
Control is a natural human instinct but there are some things we have NO control over and trying to control them is contributing to your stress. This tool is an amazing way to learn to differentiate between things you can and cannot control and how to deal with both.
3 - Eating Affects You Physically and Mentally
Eating affects you physically and mentally and the effects are not always positive. If you want to elevate your mood, think more clearly, be healthier or have more energy to do the things you want, upgrading your nutrition plan will move the needle in ways you never dreamed possible even if you consider yourself healthy. What you eat effects more than your weight. This tool will help you listen to what your body needs and act accordingly. Your body speaks to you in a form of biofeedback mechanisms. You can judge how to care for yourself by how you Sleep, if you’re constantly Hungry, what your Mood is, your Energy level and food Cravings. This tool is called the SHMEC scale.
4 - Movement and Exercise are Not the Same
Movement and exercise are not the same things. They also do much more important things throughout your day than burn calories. We were built to move not to sit around all day except for the 1 hour you hit the gym for a workout. Consistent movement throughout the day makes us happier, clears our brains and balances our hormones. Having an active job counts as regular movement, such as floor nursing but movement is meant to be balanced, therefore you could be doing too much which can throw you off as well. I am not knocking exercise but we need to use it as a hormone balancer, not a calorie burner and that takes knowing what your body needs at all times. We will use the same tool as #3 for movement and exercise.
5 - Accountability and Integrity
Accountability and integrity with the person you spend the most time with, yes, you. My hope is that now that you have read down to number five it has dawned on you that you can win over depression, fear, loneliness, not feeling good enough, your health, and anything else you feel is holding you back by making the choice to take action. This tool is one that I learned in early recovery from addiction. This is the evolved version since I have been using it for almost 20 years. It’s called the accountability mirror. It is designed to help you learn to be your own best friend, to trust yourself again, to show compassion to that amazing person in the reflection, and above all fall in love with the person in the mirror again or perhaps for the first time.
Making changes in your life can be overwhelming but there is no need to do all of it at once. Small changes will help you feel better and start to pile up before you know it, creating an amazing lifestyle for a vibrant, healthy, fulfilled life. Going forward, each tool will be described and you will have daily activities available to you here.