Have you ever been on an airplane and really paid attention to the flight attendant that is acting out the proper way to put on your oxygen mask in case of an emergency? I am guessing the answer to that is “no.” I have a challenge for you the next time you find yourself on a flight to paradise. One of the reasons the flight attendant is demonstrating this necessary policy is because in order to help other people, you have to start with yourself first. The same is true when you apply that to your career as a nurse. We are not only taught but expected to take care of the patients, their families, and our colleagues, only to find out later that we forgot to take care of ourselves along the way too. This is a normal consequence of doing a good job for others but not for us. Is it possible to think that we count too? Or is that just being selfish? If we don’t put our oxygen mask on first, where does that leave us? On the plane with the others heading for a crash landing in a town called BURNOUT.
The best way to avoid stress and burnout as a nurse is to start by putting your oxygen mask on first so that you have enough to give to others. Also, you can only give what’s in your tank so it’s important to monitor this amount that you have at all times. You do realize I am using a metaphor here and that the oxygen mask is an analogy for taking care of yourself, right?
Stress and burnout are rapidly increasing all over the world in every helping profession out there. In schools, burnout is not even talked about which is sad. Nurses are often overlooked for all the hard work they do and at the end of the day, we are expected to take care of our families at home and friends in need. All of this is possible, as long as we take care of ourselves and don’t run our bodies on empty. When our oxygen tank is no longer in the green and is heading straight for the red, it’s time to jump into self-compassion mode! What is self-compassion anyway?
Self-compassion involves 3 key components that can ease our stress by far. (Neff, 2003) Start by treating yourself kindly like the way you would treat a good friend who is suffering rather than using harsh judgment on yourself. Two, try to see your own experience as part of a larger human experience instead of isolated and abnormal. We are not perfect and neither is life. Third, become aware of what you are feeling emotionally and let them be as they are instead of suppressing them for a later date. On a physiological side which is a great side for nurses to understand, when we are being self-compassionate to ourselves it releases the “feel good” hormones of oxytocin and opiates. Similarly, if we are self-critical when we have a bad day, it threatens our defense system and cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream making us feel even worse. We become irritable, tired and stressed. Do you see the road sign that is up ahead? Burnout. Unless you make a change soon, that is where you will end up. So how do you change?
Practice the 3 key components of self-compassion and give yourself a time out or a break. When you are able to do this, several things will begin to occur such as a greater desire to learn and grow, higher motivation, less frustrations, increases in life satisfaction, connectedness, gratitude, more effective coping skills, more caring and supportive relationship behaviour, more conscientiousness and improved health and wellness.
I am highly supportive of nurses all over the world who work so hard not only at work but also at home. Give yourself a big hug for being such a compassionate person to others and then give yourself another hug for being a compassionate person to yourself. You count too and not just during nurses week! Remember, whatever you do, don’t forget to check your oxygen tank and put your mask on first! -JJ