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This site is for student nurses or nurses starting out. Letters to a Young Nurse are blog posts written like letters to help you find your way and make your journey as a nurse less difficult. 

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Don't React, Choose Your Response

Updated: Jul 23, 2023


As you might have guessed I love quotes. This one I found years ago and when I read it, I had an "Aha moment". When you are practicing mindfulness breathing you breathe in for a count of 4, hold for 4, then blow out for count of 6 (just an example, there are other ways to do the breathing). The most important part of this type of breathing is you pause between the inbreath and the outbreath. That pause helps to slow your breathing down and change your brain. The respiratory center is in the brain and the first response by our reptile brain is to make our breathing shallow and fast. But if we train our brain to slow down by increasing the length of the pause the brain will follow suit. It's the old adage, "fake it until you make it".


An example is you get all of your tasks done and you are sitting down after 7 hours to chart. You answered 800 call bells, educated patients and their families, hung IVs, took down IVs, emptied a hundred bedpans and urinals. You didn't have time to take lunch and you can't remember if you went to the bathroom since you walked on the unit. You sit down, slip your shoes off and concentrate on charting so you can get out on time. Then, "BOOM" another call bell. The stimulus is the call bell and all of the requests that patients can possibly make. Your response could be to throw your pen down, put your shoes on and march loudly down the hallway to the patient's room, fuming and steaming since you had been in that particular room MANY times. But what if you responded to the stimulus by taking deep breaths and pausing before making a decision about how you will respond? Mindfulness breathing is simply giving you time to focus on the present moment. To break the cycle of negativity you pause for 1/2 a second or less between the inbreath and the outbreath which has been shown to change a reaction to a calm respone. Try it and let me know if it works.


There are so many videos of meditation practices online. One of my favorites is by Sylvia Boorstein on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippet. Find a quiet place, put your phone away and listen with your heart and soul. I have this recorded on my phone so when I am in a crazy, stressful situation I find a quiet spot, close my eyes, breathe and listen. This is a non-denominational, non-religious breathing practice. Sylvia's laugh always makes me smile and this simple meditation has worked to get me out a negativity "funk"!


There was a story recently on the radio that reported on NY City elementary students that are using meditation to help with stressful situations. It works so well that the Mayor of NYC is making meditation (mindfulness breathing) required in all of NYC schools. If it works for kids, don't we owe it to ourselves to try it? ‘Mindful Breathing’ Will Now Be Required in New York City Schools


Between stimulus and response there is a space and in that space is OUR power to choose. Emotions or how we are feeling DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT have to lead to behavior. We can choose how to behave. There is a beautiful scene from Eat, Pray, Love when Richard (Richard Jenkins) is talking to Liz Gilbert or "Groceries" (Julia Roberts) about missing a boyfriend and her failed marriage. The line that has given me great solace is when he says, "send him light and love every time you miss him and drop it". But we have a tendency to hold onto those feelings and "perseverate" about it for hours and days. How much better would it be to send that person light and love, knowing that we cannot change the circumstance and let it go? Rather than grabbing a drink or taking mind altering drugs or using retail therapy let the feelings go and move on. As Richard says, you have to do the work, meditate and clear out all of the crap in your brain that is keeping you from being happy.


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