Starting today, promise yourself that you will honor and acknowledge your feelings on a regular basis, because only then will you achieve balance in your life. Put this priority on your critical list!
As I interact with both medical professionals and the general public, a typical deficit across all groups is a lack of attention to what I call your “emotional bank account”. Being aware and honoring your feelings is a rule that extends to everyone. In my book, Enrich Your Caregiving Journey, I write about the emotional journey of caregiving - this journey also applies to nurses, doctors, and other professionals. But medical professionals, including nurses, often think they need to hold their feelings back. Unfortunately, holding feelings back can turn into ignoring them altogether. We know that not expressing feelings can lead to health issues- the research is replete with studies pointing to the need to be honest and to acknowledge how we feel. So how does the nurse maintain a balance, show feelings and stay professional?
The first step to honoring and acknowledging feelings begins with finding a quiet place each day for about 10 minutes. Twice a day for 5 minutes each works well too. Try both ways and determine which one works best for you. Then, take yourself through the following steps to create a place of peace and balance:
- Sit back and close your eyes.
- Get comfortable and take three really deep breaths.
- Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
- Identify what you notice about yourself. What is happening to your body?
- Focus on any areas of tension in your body and tell them to relax.
- Notice the sounds around you.
- Continue to breathe deeply and allow your whole body to relax.
- Thank your body for those feelings.
- Take another breathe and open your eyes.
As time goes on, you will settle more quickly into a calm and peaceful state, and the result of your quiet time will leave you refreshed and refueled emotionally.
The second step to honoring and acknowledging feelings is to express them to others. Expressing feelings should occur both while you’re on duty and off duty at home or with friends. I find it useful to use “I” messages. As a nurse, some examples of “I” messages might sound like this:
- "I am so sad for the Olson family because they lost their Mom."
- "I feel so much relief for Karen that her diagnosis is finally
With friends, your use of “I” messages might indicate concern, love, even frustration with them, but in each case you will be honest and true to yourself. Avoid using “you” because that will just put family and friends on the defensive. Positive “I” messages might include:
- "I feel very frustrated that I wasn’t heard when we selected a restaurant", rather than, “You didn’t hear me”.
- "I feel really down today so I’ve decided not to go to the party”, rather than, "You go alone, I don’t want to go".
Honoring and acknowledging your feelings, both to yourself and to others, will bring you into balance and will certainly keep your “emotional bank account” in balance with the credit it deserves.
Finally, you won’t know it, but you’ll be having a huge impact on your fellow nurses as a role model for them. Your behavior that models taking a few minutes to center yourself and your emotions will not go unnoticed. And your behavior with patients and their families will not only impact their lives in important and productive ways, but will also serve as an example of how to be a nurse leader.