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  • Writer's pictureMegan Filoramo

4 steps to save yourself when understaffed and underprepared

When was the last time you felt underprepared to do what you needed to do, when you felt un-confident and overwhelmed?

Does even thinking about it make you physically uncomfortable? Just writing about it gives me pressure in my chest and tightness in my jaw.

I hate feeling that way.

And yet, for many of us in nursing, this is how we feel every day when we show up for work. Before anything even happens, before we even walk in the door, we have the physical sensations of stress building. We brace ourselves for what’s to come next. By the end of the day, we are exhausted and drudge home, the emotional weight of it too much to bear.

Then we crash, try to sleep, and go back for more.

But don’t worry, I’m not here to make you feel worse. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. We can start to change this pattern and restore ourselves to the point where we can totally manage, even if the situations at work aren’t going to change in the foreseeable future.

Just these 4 steps will shift everything, I know because I’ve done them.

Step 1: Shift your focus inward (wait, what?).

This may seem counterintuitive but before you do anything, focus on you. Focus on why you are there.

Why did you become a nurse? What drew you to doing this type of work? I became a nurse because I have a passion for helping other people, I have a true desire to decrease suffering in the world.

Take a minute and think about your reason.

When you have it, say it over and over and see how that feels in your body. Do you feel compassion? Love? Service? Purpose?

Step 2: Shift your focus outward.

After you anchor yourself in the physical feeling of your why, THEN shift your focus outward. Focus on the patient. Focus on how you can fulfill the purpose of you being a nurse in that one interaction.

A word to the wise: when you shift your focus outward, it doesn’t mean let all the stimuli in. We want to keep a sense of focus on what we are there to do, use the patient as the beacon to remind you.

Step 3: Don’t be a mean girl. (Please excuse the genderism, I use it to bring up a visual…)

Not sure what I’m talking about?

Stop saying you can’t do it, you are doing it.

Would you tell a friend that they can’t do something hard?

Would you tell a friend that they aren’t doing a good enough job, that their hard work doesn’t matter, that what they are doing isn’t going to work?

Of course not!

So acknowledge that when you say these things to yourself, that you are just being mean.

Knock it off!

You ARE doing it.

You are showing up every day to do hard work.

You are showing up every day for those patients who need you.

You are staying the course…and it matters. It matters to every person whose life you touch. It matters to your coworkers who need you.

You are learning as you go.

You are gaining new skills every single day, which is super impressive.

You are doing the best work that can be done in a less than super situation.

You are the perfect person for this job.


(yes, I'm shouting)

Stop reading for a minute and say that aloud to yourself.

“I am the perfect person for this job.”

How does that feel?

Breathe that emotion into your body.

Which brings us to the final step.

Step 4: Don’t forget about that awesome bod of yours.

This may be something that you underestimate the importance of. We all know that exercise is important for our health and wellness but that’s not really what I’m talking about.

Unfortunately I’m talking about trauma.

Working in nursing can cause trauma (sadly, I’m not making this up), and many of us have a history of trauma before we even get into nursing.

But don’t worry, this isn’t a terminal diagnosis

Trauma gets stored in our bodies, not just our brains. The persistent activation of the sympathetic nervous system has physical effects and we need to do what we can for that as well. The first 3 steps talk about cognitive techniques but we can’t ignore the body any more than we can ignore how our mental health affects our physical health.

So back to that awesome bod of yours.

First, take a minute to observe how your body is feeling, not just aches or pains but how do your emotions feel in your body?

Here are some examples if you have no idea what I mean

Tightness/warmth/heaviness in the chest.

Restlessness in the legs.

Ringing in the ears.

Butterflies in your gut.

Lump in your throat.

Sweating or trembling.

Watering of your eyes.

Dry mouth.

See if you can just observe these physical sensations with curiosity and not judgment. This is the first step to releasing them instead of resisting them, just observing without trying to push through.

The second step (once we acknowledge that these emotions are physically in the body) is to work some intentional physical movement into our day. Being present and mindful of our bodies while being active can help release the trauma caused and stored by the fight or flight response triggered at work.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be formal. While yoga has been shown to be particularly effective for trauma, dancing, walking, or literally just shaking it out can help. If you’re a runner, run. If you cycle or zumba, then do that. Just pay attention to your body while you do. Feel the present moment.

Being in the present moment slows down the trauma response and releases the misplaced sensations of being in danger.

Maybe some of this needs to be done at home. That’s ok. Unfortunately the trauma will stay stored until you are ready to work through it. But on the go you can do a quick stretch of your arms above your head, do some neck rolls, or stand with your arms stretched out as wide as you can. Let your body open to the parasympathetic response with a few slow deep breaths, extending the exhale longer than the inhale.

That’s it.

Your body and your soul will thank you.

Of course I would be remiss to imply that all trauma is easily resolved. If you have major unresolved trauma, please please please seek out the help of a mental health provider that specializes in trauma. You do not have to remain tethered to your trauma for your whole life and there are therapies that can help you move through it.

The steps outlined above can help you build resilience to trauma, they can help you do the hard work WITHOUT the overwhelm, they can help you recover from the stress you experience day in and day out.

And never forget, you are the perfect person for this job.


Not feeling like the perfect person for the job? Does this all SOUND good but you don’t think you will actually do it.

Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

Join me Feb 6th through10th for a 5 day challenge where I am going to break this all down into bite size actionable pieces. We will connect daily (either through email or Facebook: user’s choice) and get you feeling better now. I’m not going to ask you what you have to lose by trying this, I’m asking you, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO GAIN?

Wouldn’t it be amazing to feel better at work? Let that settle in. Sign up here and I will see you on the 6th.

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