Stressed? 5 Ways to Find Your Smile

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Stressed? 5 Ways to Find Your Smile

Come to work healthy, breathe, meditate, laugh and think positive!

By LeAnn Thieman, LPN, CSP, CPAE
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Trish had been promised a position working days in the ER, her dream job. However, when she got to Hawaii, all that was available was a night shift on the orthopedic unit — which she took, even though she hated night shifts and disliked orthopedics. The floor was very busy and the hospital was understaffed. Nurses were constantly running, always behind on just about everything.

Night shifts were even worse. It was hard to administer meds quietly in a dark room, so Trish often woke patients without meaning to, either by bumping into something or by shining her flashlight too close to someone’s eyes.Night shifts were even worse. It was hard to administer meds quietly in a dark room, so Trish often woke patients without meaning to, either by bumping into something or by shining her flashlight too close to someone’s eyes. All in all, it was very stressful and it made Trish cranky. She knew it and tried to make up for it, but with limited success. She staggered home at the end of every shift thinking that her patients deserved better.

One night, Trish was doing her usual stealth routine when her patient suddenly sat upright and said, “Here, this is for you.” (Amazingly, she did not scream or drop the medication she was preparing to administer.) The patient was a young Hawaiian man who had come in with a persistent skin infection on one side of his face that had extended into his jawbone. He was being treated with IV meds. The right side of his face was painfully swollen and disfigured, but that didn’t stop his impish grin as he handed her a folded piece of paper. “I wrote this for you,” he said. “Read it later.”

Trish forgot about it until she was cleaning out her uniform pockets at home. She sat down to read what the young man had written: about how nice it was to see someone smile. “Wahine [Hawaiian for woman], always smiling” was part of his message. Trish forgot about it until she was cleaning out her uniform pockets at home. She sat down to read what the young man had written: about how nice it was to see someone smile. “Wahine [Hawaiian for woman], always smiling” was part of his message.

For the next few nights, the patient was awake for his 2:00 a.m. dose, so he and Trish had a handful of short, whispered conversations. His positive outlook was quite amazing; there wasn’t a bit of self-pity.  They talked about her smiling. She couldn’t believe anyone thought she was smiling all the time. “But you always smile,” he said. “You must love your job.”  She had to leave the room because she was crying. Trish still has that poem — she drags it out and rereads it when things are particularly stressful — and she still smiles.

We can all relate to stressful days. We live in a busy, hectic, sometimes chaotic society. Stress is unavoidable in our lives; we can’t escape it, but we can learn to cope with it.We can all relate to stressful days. We live in a busy, hectic, sometimes chaotic society. Stress is unavoidable in our lives; we can’t escape it, but we can learn to cope with it. The impact that stress has on your life is not determined solely by your exposure to stress, but also by your stress response. My mama was right: She always said, “You can’t always control the situation; you can only control your reaction to it.”  Life is inherently stressful. Some of that stress we can identify and eliminate. What we do with the rest is our decision.

Big stressors can kick us into “fight or flight mode,” an ancient survival mechanism that causes the body to produce extra adrenaline so we can run away or defend ourselves from attack.  Our bodies are designed to produce adrenaline to get us through a crisis and then calm down. We can usually bounce back pretty well from fight-or-flight mode as long it doesn’t last too long or happen too often. It’s when we never get the chance to settle down that problems begin to develop. Chronic, persistent stress with no recovery periods between crises can do real damage. 

The happiest, healthiest, most productive people aren’t ones who have no stress in their lives — they’re the ones who successfully manage the oscillation between stress and recovery. They work hard and play hard; go fast and then let go; and follow active periods with opportunities to rest and relax. Today, nurses are working longer and harder than ever, doing more with less …again.

So, how can a nurse stay upbeat in a stressful work environment? Here are tips that are easy, effective and even fun! 

1) Come to work healthy. 

This means eating right. We know and teach this to others, but often neglect to consume the quantity and quality of food our bodies need. It also means exercising 15 minutes a day, every day, and sleeping eight hours a night. (Yes, most people can if they turn off technology.) 

2) Breathe.

Deep relaxation breathing releases not only stress and tension, but also endorphins, our brain’s “feel good” medicine. Breathe in slowly to the count of four, then out to the count of four, three to four minutes at a time, three or four times a day.

3) Think positive. 

When we expect positive things, we act accordingly and then get positive things in return. When we expect failure, we usually fail. When we expect success, we tend to succeed. When we expect health, we make healthy choices. Our lives move in the direction of our most dominant thoughts. Ignore the grumblers and complainers — develop a positive attitude at work.

4) Laugh.

Volumes are written today on the therapeutic benefits of laughter. It’s rhythmic and a great endorphin releaser too. Little kids laugh 400 times a day. One study showed grownups laugh only 11 times a day; another said only four. Try a laughter bulletin board at work for funny cartoons, old prom photos and good jokes. Laughter is good medicine and it’s free, with no side effects. So is smiling.

5) Say a prayer or meditate. 

Yes, even at work, you can take a moment in the med room or bathroom to breathe, relax and say a prayer or repeat a meditation phrase. Studies have demonstrated that prayer and religious rituals can relieve stress. Praying or meditating for 10–20 minutes throughout the day can decrease heart rate and blood pressure. It’s hard to stay upbeat in a stressful work environment when we are depleted physically, mentally and spiritually. Post these tips on your bulletin board at work and engage your coworkers in creating a fun and positive workplace where you care for yourselves and each other.  

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Do you have too much stress? This list helps identify the toll that stress takes on your mind, body, and spirit. Which apply to you?

PHYSICAL: Appetite changes, Headaches, Fatigue, Poor sleeping, Frequent illness, Digestive problems, Pounding heart, Teeth grinding, Skin rash, Restlessness, Foot-tapping, Finger-drumming, Nail-biting, Increased alcohol intake, Smoking

MENTAL: Forgetfulness, Poor concentration, Dull senses, Lethargy, Boredom, Low productivity, Negative attitude, Anxiety, The “blues,” Mood swings, Anger, Bad dreams, Irritability

SPIRITUAL: Emptiness, Loss of meaning, Doubt, Martyrdom, Loss of direction, Cynicism, Apathy, Abandonment, Worry, Isolation, Distrust, “No one cares” 

LeAnn Thieman, LPN, CSP, CPAE is a nationally acclaimed professional speaker, author and nurse. She is also the coauthor of the Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul series. Learn about her transformational yearlong SelfCare for HealthCare program at www.selfcareforhealthcare.com.

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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