Nurses and the emotional tightrope
Thursday, February 15, 2018
From the moment an aspiring nurse enters school, the slings and arrows of a nursing career can begin to be felt. From study stress to the challenges of working in novel clinical experiences, the pressure is all too real.
Soon enough, the novice nurse graduates, takes their exam, attains licensure and enters the job market. It is here that we perceive the potential for great satisfaction and challenge in a career that demands task-based work coupled with the need for consummate human kindness and connection.
Nursing students and professional nurses may be sensitive to criticism, emotionally vulnerable or otherwise open to the difficulties that will eventually come to pass in the course of a long career. An array of tools related to personal wellness can help in this regard.
Nursing education begins the story
In nursing school, a novice with or without prior healthcare experience is thrust into an environment with completely new language, skills, concepts and theories. Digesting untold amounts of information and instruction, the nursing student embarks on a journey that may prove to be enthralling and maddening in equal measure.
It is during the months of nursing education that the specter of impostor syndrome first rears its head. Aspiring nurses may not feel personally capable and may judge themselves as frauds.
Nonetheless, the student learns to give a bed bath, insert a catheter, perform injections, complete a head-to-toe assessment and interact with patients and families in a therapeutic manner. It is an immersive time, and the student veritably lives and breathes the concepts of nursing.
The development of emotionally protective practices can save the nursing student from the unnecessary psychic bruising that may result from the challenges of balancing personal life with that of an earnest student. Self-protection and self-care are key to successful survival of an intense life chapter.
Walking the tightrope
When working with patients who are dying, suffering and susceptible to despair, the nurse needs to avoid unnecessarily internalizing that suffering. Compassion and empathy are powerful tools indeed, and nurses must learn the tightrope walk of being fully present while practicing techniques of self-protection.
Without highly developed skills of emotional and relational intelligence, the frightened nurse may turn to callousness as a protective mechanism. Many of us have encountered nurses known by their colleagues as "old battle axes." While their stony exterior may seem impervious to fear or sadness, their insides may be writhing with unprocessed pain.
Nurses wishing to be successful clinicians must combine their technical skills with the ability to maintain healthy emotional boundaries in a job that demands seemingly superhuman displays of authentic empathy and human connection.
A system of survival
Luckily, tools exist that allow the nurse to survive the challenges of a career that demands a great deal of emotional, mental, physical and spiritual fortitude.
Emotional intelligence: This essential aspect of personal well-being entails awareness of one's own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Increasing one's "EQ" (emotional quotient) can be key to nurses' psychological stability and emotional self-regulation.
Relational intelligence: Nursing is built on relationships with colleagues, patients, families and others, and increased relational intelligence is a powerful tool when coupled with a high EQ. Relational intelligence fosters the setting of personal boundaries, assertive communication and management of complex relationships.
Self-care practices: Nurses who maintain positive self-care can more navigate the rough waters of their careers. Good nutrition and hydration, physical fitness, empowering spiritual practices, effective use of time off and other forms of self-awareness will keep the nurse ready for the next trial. Setting personal boundaries and other strategies outlined above also belong in the self-care category.
Global awareness: In the course of a nursing career, maintaining global awareness is essential. This means that the nurse consistently evaluates the current course their career has taken, makes adjustments and keeps an ear to the rails of the profession. Success is predicated on our ability to stay aware and afloat. Learning new technology, pursuing a certification or seeking a higher degree can all assist a 21st-century nurse to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, whereas staying stuck in the old ways can unwittingly transform the nurse into a less marketable dinosaur.
The tightrope as teacher
The emotional tightrope of a nursing career can be our greatest teacher. If we stay on our toes, read the writing on the wall and maintain our standing as a nurse attuned to the times, our ability to have a satisfying career is heightened.
Emotional, psychological and spiritual stability can be the engines of a nurse's success and happiness. Thus, the prudent nurse uses those engines to his or her own advantage, setting the stage for a life and career well lived.
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