Nursing can be physically taxing work, yet the emotional toll of nurses’ careers can be equally as significant.
Many nurses face death, illness, violence, tragedy, stress, bullying and burnout on a consistent basis, and a focus on emotional wellness is key to a nurse’s professional longevity and personal wellbeing.
Nurses See It All
In nursing, the reality of human suffering is a constant, and an empathic nurse may experience deep feelings about what they see. Nurses must somehow steel themselves against the pain while remaining open to their feelings and the feelings of others.
From physical suffering to emotional turmoil and psycho-spiritual distress, nurses see it all. Traumatic physical injuries are common in the emergency department, and traumatic emotional injury will be seen in the mental health ward. All can be felt deeply by the sensitive nurse.
Professional boundaries are a source of self-protection that can be a useful tool when used with conscious self-awareness. Some nurses may seem completely detached from what they experience at work; this type of separation can appear healthy, however trying too hard to not feel anything can itself be its own form of suffering.
While professional boundaries are important, nurses’ boundaries may at times need to be somewhat permeable. For instance, sitting with a dying patient can be personally fulfilling if the nurse allows him or herself access to the feelings welling up during the hospice experience. This can inform how he or she interacts with the patient and their loved ones.
A nurse may choose to very carefully disclose selected personal information as a form of therapeutic use of self in the interest of relating to a patient or their family members. Then again, in certain circumstances, remaining a passive and unemotional observer may be the protection the nurse needs from his or her own inner experience, at least until such feelings can surface in the safety of the nurse’s own home.
Seeking Solace and Support
Considering the challenges experienced by nurses, seeking solace and support is another aspect of self-protection and wellness.
Nurses must find healthy ways to process all they witness. Psychotherapy or mental health counselling are crucial tools in the process of self-discovery and self-healing. Faith leaders can offer the solace that eases a nurse’s suffering heart. Colleagues can also be sources of support; after all, who else can better understand the life of a nurse?
For some, solace is sought in nature, exercise, travel, family, cooking, reading, or art. Time with animals and children may soothe the soul. Support can come from other people, but it may also come from fruitful and inspiring experiences. Living a rich life outside of work can prove to be the greatest form of self-protection and self-healing, convincing the nurse that life and beauty exist outside of the workplace.
A Sense of Balance
Nurses can make their own emotional wellness a priority, and each nurse’s wellness manifests in its own way and time. Focusing on boundaries and self-care is important, as is the creation of optimal physical and mental health.
If the challenges of work can be kept from bleeding into and impacting the nurse’s personal life, that is indeed a victory. Learning effective and healthy self-care and self-protection practices can contribute to a successful nursing career, a satisfying personal life, and ultimately a sense of balance between the two.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a holistic career coach for nurses, award-winning nurse blogger, writer, podcaster, speaker, author, and popular career columnist. With two decades of nursing experience, Keith deeply understands the issues faced by 21st-century nurses. Keith’s two podcasts, RNFM Radio and The Nurse Keith Show, offer inspiration and practical support to nurses seeking to create meaningful, satisfying lives and careers. Keith’s message of savvy career management and professional satisfaction reaches tens of thousands of nurses worldwide. Keith can be found on many social media platforms---including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Instagram---as well as at www.nursekeith.com and Digital Doorway.