Managing Emotions Under Pressure

Negative emotions regarding your own personal life can affect your compassion for, and care of, your patients. As a nurse, part of your job is to heal with yourself. Your attitude, your feelings, and your touch can all directly impact the health of your patient.So how, when conflicts arise in your personal and professional life, can you avoid bringing those feelings into your patient care? The answer: become a patient and care for yourself first. Just as you were taught in nursing school, you can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself.

When you meet a new patient and diagnose “anxiety,” what do you? You talk to the patient, you listen, you empathize. You take the patient through a series of interventions with an expected outcome. So, before you enter a patient’s room carrying your own anxiety, you must do the same for yourself.

Assess your mood. Label the emotion and feelings. If you’re anxious, use distraction or talk to a colleague. Get empathy. Get advice. If you’re able, get a breath of fresh air.  If you’re angry, talk to someone. Chances are they have a few things they’re angry about, as well, and they’re probably more than willing to offer you a solution or support in order to get your head back to patient care.

Stay in the moment. Refocus your energy on the challenges you have at hand and the problems you can solve. Whatever distractions you have, you probably can’t resolve them while you’re working anyway, so push them to the side for the moment and focus on the patients. Making a difference in their lives can sometimes help you put your problems in perspective.

Keep yourself busy. If you have some downtime between patients, or you’re all caught up on your work, offer to help someone else who might be buried. If it’s a slow shift, look around, there’s always stuff to be cleaned and supply closets to straighten. Bringing about order can be a cathartic and calming activity, and it is often used with confused and anxious patients. Any nurse who has ever brought a confused patient out to the nurses’ station to fold washcloths knows this.

Finally, release your expectations. Being upset is often the result of unmet expectations. You may have a vision of how something should go in your life… a relationship… your job… a new car purchase… but that can set you up for disappointment when the reality falls short of the fantasy. Whether you feel as though you’ve been a “bad nurse” because you can’t accomplish all that your patients needed during your shift, or feel that you’re a bad parent because you missed a child’s soccer game due to work, these negative feelings stem from the notion that you, or a situation,  must be perfect. The reality is that some things are beyond our control; we’re human, and stuff is going to happen.  Remember to temper your expectations to better manage your emotions, especially when your focus needs to be on patient care and making a difference as a nurse.

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