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Feeling Stressed?

Control what you can and move on

Our flight finally landed, an hour and a half late. Everyone was eager to get off, especially the family ahead of me, parents with three young sons who looked to be between 5 and 9 years old.  As they gathered their belongings, the middle boy was becoming increasingly anxious. The father said, very calmly, “Control what you can, and ignore the rest. Just control what you can.” I don’t know if it helped his son, but it resonated with me. I would tweak it just a bit so it becomes: “Control what you can, plan for the unexpected and move on.”  In general, what a great way to navigate everyday stresses.

But some days, reasoned calm seems impossible. A colleague was preparing to meet with the new efficiency expert, a proponent of the Kaizen 5S model: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. For Rebecca, who had a major federal grant deadline later that day, her reality was a different set of 5 S’s: “STRESS, Stacks of paper everywhere, Sweet Tea handy, Support Letters, and Sleep Deprivation.“ When she told me, we commiserated while laughing.

We’ve all had those days, or weeks, or months. Yet, generally, we can embrace the challenge, figure out what we can control, create workarounds, and move forward – a duck paddling madly underwater while, seemingly serenely, progressing upstream against the current. There are days when we may get uncomfortably close to reasoned panic. Panic breeds chaos. Knowing what you can control and owning that responsibility fosters order and accomplishment.  As the father on the plane told his son, control what you can and move on.

In our multiple roles as leaders, mentors, preceptors, faculty, and providers, we provide a model for how to manage stress. Being mindful of our own stressors and how we react to stress, and being aware of warning signs that we are anxious, is essential for good mental and professional health.

I recently attended a continuing education course for mental health professionals: “Changing How We Feel by Changing How We Think.” The focus was research on the brain-mind-gut connection, evidence-based treatment for anxiety spectrum disorders, their relevance for mental health professionals and for personal well-being. Two topics were particularly pertinent to our work as mentors and models: Martin Seligman’s 1991 work on optimism and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi ’s 1997 work on “flow,” which together have resulted in the theory and practice of positive psychology. A core component of positive psychology is mindfulness and reflective practice as a mechanism to improve one’s quality of life.

The Consortium’s Accreditation Standards encourage reflective practice as part of the curriculum – having trainees reflect on their personal journeys as NPs. But we who strive to be models of good leadership and excellence in practice, with a semblance of work-life balance, rarely talk about the benefits of mindfulness and reflective practice for ourselves.

Accordingly, I’ve made a vow to begin each day with a few minutes of reflective practice, focusing on being thankful and identifying specific desired positive outcomes. If you are not already doing this, I hope that you’ll join me.  And write comment or two about what impact, if any, it has on your life or the lives of others.

On that note, Spring has finally arrived. Let’s celebrate by listening to Pharrell Williams’s “Happy”.  Enjoy! Wishing you a joyous spring where you control what you can and make time to enjoy our world’s annual awakening!