“We want patients to get better, and being part of that process is important to us. When you’re focused on people getting better day in and day out and that is not happening, it can be grinding. This is a profession where you give and give. At a certain point you have no more to give. Your cup is empty. But the people who need a drink don’t go away, not at work or at home.” Jen Simmons, nurse at John Hopkins Hospital surgical intensive care unit. This a quote is from an article in the December 2017 issue of Psychology Today titled “The High Cost Of Caring” written by Diane Cole. Diane highlights several careers where “empathy, vigilance, and compassion” were leaving workers “drained and traumatized” similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) nursing being one of those careers. As nurses, we have a front row seat to pain and suffering. Sometimes we have the power to ease that suffering, and sometimes we are powerless and can only offer our comforting presence. Regardless, we have to stay on our toes every moment and continue moving on to the person who needs our help, and the next, and the next. The need for what we provide never ends. Ms. Simmons says it perfectly when she points out that our cups can eventually run out and those who need a drink never stop coming. Cynda Rushton, a professor of clinical ethics and nursing and pediatrics at John Hopkins University, has identified that this type of experience, when continually repeated, can cause nurses to become “angry or hypervigilant or to shut down or numb out so they aren’t able to engage.” These symptoms in caregivers are now being called Secondary PTSD.
Nursing school does not prepare us for the emotional toll this career can have on us, nor does it prepare us with any tools that we may need to help care for ourselves when we are starting to feel emotionally burned out. Furthermore, our career teaches us to have superhuman emotional composure and emotional endurance. We are the face and the hands of care for our patients and their families. They look to us for strength and comfort when their worlds are falling apart. They don’t realize that there is an emotional and physical price that we pay in order to be that strength. They don’t realize that we may not be equipped to hold that emotional space for them in a way that does not harm our soul. They don’t realize that we may be feeling the pain right along with them, but they would never know because we are masters at disguising our emotions for their benefit.
I have been in the nursing profession since 2003, and I can definitely relate to being emotionally shut down and unable to engage both at work and in my personal life. There have been periods where I have been happy with my career and have felt satisfaction. There was also a time I faked a cold and called in sick to work 3 shifts in a row, because I was emotionally devastated by the way I was physically and verbally attacked by patients while on duty. I have never been cursed at and verbally degraded the way I am when I am at work. I was never warned that I would be hit, kicked, scratched, bitten, spit at, or intentionally urinated on just for trying to help. In the course of my career I personally know of four co-workers that have successfully committed suicide. The fact is, we are taught to hide our emotional pain and be strong. The price is sometimes pain so horrible that suicide seems like the only way out.
This sobering fact is unacceptable. Through the course of my career I have identified six character traits that all nurses have in common. They are: Emotional Composure, Emotional Endurance, Selflessness, Tenacity, Nurse Humor, and Empathy. Each of these traits make us excellent nurses and may also be the cause of stress in our lives. I have created a Six week Stress to Strength Seminar And Coaching Event for nurses only where I examine each of these character traits and identify how these traits lead you to stress. I also provide tools and exercises with each week that will help nurses create awareness and set boundaries to move you from stress to strength. To learn more about the Stress to Strength Seminar for Nurses, come visit my website at www.jessicasmithrncoach.com. You will also find a free mini video training on how to harness the secret of ENDURANCE in your own life as well as a free “Daily Dose” newsletter that is delivered to your inbox for daily inspiration and encouragement.
Reading Cynda and Jen’s insights in black and white gave me hope that this extremely important issue is being taken more seriously. Until and if the external conditions of our industry improve, I am here to help give nurses the tools, acknowledgement, and support we need to cope with the psychological stress of the job so that we can walk away from work feeling appreciated and have the confidence to enjoy our lives with a sense of joy that energizes us from the inside out. First, we must support ourselves. Then, we must support each other. Then we can support others without taking any s**t. It is time for the world to realize that nurses need nurturing too.