We have a dangerous mindset in healthcare. We believe we are all supposed to show up 100%, 100% of the time. When we make mistakes, when we are tired, when we just don’t know the right answers, instead of facing our errored humanness and our internal struggles, we shame ourselves for not being available to everyone, all the time with a full tank. As the surge approaches in Chester County, and as we enter the Superbowls of our careers, we really need to get out of this mindset. If we ignore the emotions of fear, the scarcity and the overwhelm and combine it with the shame of not being good enough this is going to be a toxic and dangerous combination.
I want to share some ideas of how we can “fill our tanks” before we jump into the marathon. So I am not talking about healthy food, bubble baths, and exercise, which of course are important, but doing a little brain preparation is essential. I just heard Brene Brown talk about how she and her husband check in with each other and state where they are in mental energy as a means of communicating their ability to contribute to the household. It is rare that each has 50%. If Brene states that she is at 10% her husband either states he is totally at 90% and can help or if he too is at 10%. When they see a gap, they come up with a “gap plan” to fill that other 80%.
I think this concept would be brilliant to apply to the teams in the hospital. Of course, the first step is just being self-aware enough to know where your gas gauge is. As healthcare workers, we are so used to denying our empty tanks that this may take some practice in becoming self-aware.
4 Tips on filling our mental tanks:
- Avoid pretending you are 100% when you are not, check in with your own fears, feelings of overwhelm and give yourself some grace and forgiveness for feeling this. You are a human being and this is a beautiful thing. Just pause, jump into your own body and just allow yourself to feel fear or whatever emotion is there for a minute.
2. Once you are done feeling the feeling, then create a 2 column piece of paper. In column 1, List out all the problems, obstacles, issues at home and at work each week or even each day if needed. For instance, my list is kids do their homework while I am at work, not having time to cook dinner, laundry, daughter is getting depressed not being allowed to see her friends, etc…just list ALL of it, get it out of your brain and onto paper, then you can decide if it is actually a problem you need to solve or if it is an item you can just cross off. Then next to each problem, in column 2, let your brain come up with a solution. If your brain says “I don’t know how I am going to solve this” then just tell your brain, “What if you did know how to solve this problem” Give yourself a good 30-45 minutes to do this. I like to do my list every Sunday evening. TOTALLY worth your time to work it all out ahead of time. Writing things on paper frees your mind of having to hold on to all these things to worry about and frees up the space you are going to need. Once you have a list of solutions you want to accomplish than just put them on your calendar and DO THEM! Learning to trust yourself to solve even simple problems, like doing laundry every Thursday, is a lifesaver, or more accurately a “brain space” saver. LIke for me, knowing ahead of time what I am going to eat for lunch every day (which is the same thing every day) just saves me the space to think about other more urgent decisions. Listen, your brain is going to argue that deciding ahead of time what to do for lunch or when to do laundry is ridiculous in a time of crisis, but honestly deciding the simple things like this ahead of time accomplishes 2 things; it saves brain energy and gives this situation some normalcy. Since this is going to be a marathon, we can’t stay in crisis mode any longer, that adrenaline of crisis is already running out. We have to be smart, strategic and pace ourselves here.
3. Once you cleared all the “problems” out of your head, now you have the space to decide and think ahead of time how you want to think and feel. Set up a guidepost for your brain that will carry you through the day. This is also a game-changer. Every decision you make during your day will be much easier as we work in this new, sometimes chaotic and challenging environment that is going to look very different than our normal routine. Deciding ahead of time to feel the emotions of focus, confidence, concern…are some emotions I find helpful going into work, even on a normal day, are just a few suggestions. Deciding how to think ahead of time, intentional thoughts that can elicit desired emotions will help keep your tank full as well. I am choosing to think the thoughts; “I will stay healthy”, “I will protect myself, my team and my patients” “ I will look clearly at each patient” “I already know how to take care of patients” are guideposts that will help keep me out of “overwhelm” and fear and in the emotions of focus and love.
4. Stop wasting brain energy being concerned about how other people are behaving or thinking. You cannot control the other humans. They are going to behave and think and do stupid things and sometimes they do really thoughtful things. It is okay. It is not your job to point out to others how they should be thinking or behaving. Instead of getting pissed at all the other humans, be an example. You can even be a guidepost for others. When you become the problem solver, the calm, concerned leader in your own head, it starts to feel natural to share that leadership and be the guidepost to others. If you are managing your own brain, you will be an example to everyone around you, at home and at the hospital.
You CAN do this. No one said it was going to be easy. There is no certified letter from the universe stating that life should feel like a vacation all the time.
Let’s do this together. Let’s have each other’s backs, pace ourselves for the marathon, and forgive our human brains for being imperfect, and needing some rest, space and time to refill our tanks.