Nurse De-Stressing Tips
Part Two – The Mind

By Aila Accad, RN, MSN

Click to Read Nurse De-Stressing Tips Part One – The Body

The Mind is a wonderful tool for observation, conceptualization, processing information and in short - thinking. However, when the tool becomes the Master, stress is inevitable.

Like a computer, your Mind holds an enormous amount of data. It also has a program to organize that data. Each mind programs the input it receives through unique perceptions and interpretations of life experience. The mind forms a template in early childhood for cataloging experiences and interpreting life. This template is your mind’s operating system until you choose to change it. The child’s outdated beliefs sow the seeds of mental stress. De-stressing involves becoming aware of and updating these beliefs.

Let’s explore two core beliefs - Who you think you are (self-concept) and Who you think you ‘should’ be (self-ideal). These beliefs evolve from what we hear, see and experience as children. You do not knowingly choose the self-images, which are the foundation for Self-Esteem, the value for yourself and Self-Determination, the power to make free choices. Striving and failing to achieve your self-ideal, which is inevitable (I call this the Perfection Myth), and believing you have limited power to choose freely, creates DISTRESS.

The basic categories of response to distress are fight or flight. Is your tendency to run, hide, and internalize the stress in isolation, passivity or depression; or, to lash out, attack and externalize stress in aggression, domination, or anxiety? Either way, the core issues and solutions are the same. The tips that follow are simple, logical and doable. Implementation can be challenging though. Additional resources, which can support you in using these tips, are at the end of this article.

Tip # 1 ~ Sort

The key to mental de-stressing is recognizing the areas of life in which you have or do not have control. The answer is simple and not easy to accept depending on your mental program. (Before you read on, get a piece of paper and pencil. Take note of the thoughts that arise as I explain this simple sorting technique. These notes will be important when we get to Tip # 3.) You have NO control of anything outside yourself. You have TOTAL control of everything inside yourself. This does not seem earth shattering until you look at daily reactions.

If you are like most people, you blame everything outside of you for your stress, and direct most of your precious time and energy into fruitless efforts to control the uncontrollable. A short list of uncontrollables includes: * Time - Not enough, what happened in the past, worry about the future. * Nature – illness, aging, death, weather. * Other People - what they think, feel, say, do.

Put your time and energy into exploring the one area where it will pay off, where you have total control and power to direct your life – in YOU - In knowing how you think and feel, and making choices about what is important to you.

Why it works ~
Sorting what you can and cannot control helps you see clearly in a structured way where to place your attention. Although the conditioned mind (ego) does not accept change easily, it does like structure. When you provide a new way to sort thinking that makes logical sense, the mind is more willing to consider it.

Tip # 2 ~ Focus

Now that you have sorted what you can and cannot control, it is important to focus your attention on the power to make choices. You make choices in the present moment. This is the only time in which you have control. The past is a memory and the future has not arrived. You are here now. You can make informed choices by learning from the past, and today’s choices influence the future. Choosing consciously what you do in this moment is the most powerful thing you can do. There is a finite amount of time in a day. You control what you choose to do with it. Prioritizing what is most important to you is essential. Then, it is easier to see what must either be delegated or dropped from the ‘to do’ list. Life becomes much simpler, less stressful and more productive when you are realistic about what you can do and take responsibility for acting on that priority in the present moment. Outcomes are in the future and not controllable; present actions influence outcomes. Focus on being aware of your choices today and notice how outcomes change.

Why it works ~
You are the only person who has control of your choices. Choosing not to take action is also a choice. In consciously choosing, you have the power to influence the direction and satisfaction of your future. You also influence - not control - everyone around you by the choices you make. Making a difference in the world begins within you. A change in any part of the whole, changes the whole.

Tip # 3 ~ Observe

What reactions is your mind having to this information? Fight - resistance, looking for flaws in the logic. Or, flight - distraction, not wanting to continue reading. The mind resists changing core beliefs. Observe its resistance. This function of the conditioned mind often referred to as the inner critic or bully is a powerful force against making changes in your life. In childhood, your mind formed ideas about how to be safe in the world. The conditioned mind (ego) is all about safety and survival. It gets scared when you decide not to play your life by the old “safe” rules. Like a parent, it is still telling you what you should or should not do, and judging your performance, often harshly.

Although the survival functions of the brain are important, you are no longer a vulnerable infant or child. Fight and flight are limited strategies for managing adult life and relationships. Observe these mental directives. What are the words your mind uses to keep you in the old rules? What is the tone of voice? Whose voice does it sound like? Mom? Dad? Someone else? Keep a journal of your observations. Looking over your journal can give you clues to the pattern, or specific “rule” that still informs your choices today. One of mine was, “If you say what you really think; people won’t like you”. Then, my mind would ruminate over things I had said, constantly judging the potential impact. This rule was time wasting, relationship stifling, and professionally defeating - all with the good intention to keep me “safe” from criticism.

Why it works ~
You are not your thoughts or your mind. These are tools designed to support your decision-making, not control it. While the original unconscious program was useful in keeping you safe as a child, you must consciously update that program so it can serve you in being a powerful, responsible adult. Observing on how the mind works, puts you back in the driver’s seat of your life.

Tip # 4 ~ Stop, Drop & Replace

Take decisive action to Stop the Inner Critic. Whenever you hear that inner voice spouting its shoulds, shouldn’ts, or judgments (negative or positive) take action to stop the thought. Each inner voice is unique. If yours is aggressive, or hostile, you will want to stop it with some force. You can think or say aloud “Stop!” or use more colorful language. My inner critic is manipulative, with a tone of helpfulness. My approach is, “Thank you for sharing.” then promptly let it go.

Drop the Image of who you think you ‘should’ be. This is a composite made up by various people, none of whom lives your unique life. A helpful strategy when you hear the words ‘should’ or ‘should not’ is to ask the question: “Who made that up?” Realize that the laws of nature are few. A human being or committee of them made everything else up. Some beliefs are useful for living comfortably in society. Choose the ones you want to keep and let the rest go.

Replace the old rules with supportive ones. From my earlier example, “If you say what you really think; people won’t like you,” I counter with, “By speaking my truth, others can connect with me and connect with their truth.”

Why it works~
The conditioning and images are not the truth about who you are or ‘should’ be. They are unconscious programs running your precious life as if you were still a child. The mind, like a computer, uses an operating system. Your life is continuously changing. How would your computer serve you if you never updated the operating system to keep up with changing technology? The mind requires continuous monitoring and updating in order to serve you in consciously choosing the life you want in this moment.

© 2008 Aila Accad

For more details on de-stress strategies mentioned in this article and many others, see the “The De-Stress ToolBox™”

This article was published in The West Virginia Nurse, Vol. 11, Number 1, February-March-April, 2008, pp 5-6

Next – Nurse De-Stressing Tips – Part Three – The Emotions

Aila Accad, RN, MSN is a professional Speaker, Trainer, Well-Being Coach, and expert in Nurse De-Stressing . She would love to hear how these de-stress tips are helping you, and areas in which you would like more information. You can learn more or contact her for speaking , workshops , retreats and personal coaching

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