We always make it through the day, even the super rough ones. Sure there are times we say we won’t make it through, there are times when it might not be pretty, there are times when we get out late and barely make it to the car before the tears come. And then there are the other days, the uneventful, routine, get-your-work-done kind of days.
And we never know what is going to happen ahead of time.
Because of this, it is easy to feel dread as you get to the last few days of vacation or on Sunday afternoon when you have to go back in after your weekend off.
And dread feels awful and uncontrollable (and reasonable).
It would be easy to say that because we always get through it, the dread is unfounded.
It would be easy to say that the dread is because the work is so hard and emotionally draining.
But these thoughts don’t often help us feel better. These thoughts can make us feel guilty for feeling dread in the first place (after all, we WANT to be nurses, right?) or they can make us feel justified and validated, but justification doesn’t ease the pit in your stomach or the poor sleep.
So what CAN we do about the dread?
The real problem isn’t the hard work or the bad days, it’s the feeling that we don’t have anything beyond this. It’s the feeling that we can’t possibly do anything after work or outside of work because we will be too tired.
Follow this through with me. It is a typical path of what seems to be a reasonable thought leading us to where we don’t want to go.
I don’t want to go to work.
By the time I get out of work I am too tired/stressed to do anything and I really want to ____________ (insert goal here… see my mom, exercise, eat right, see my kid’s soccer game).
This is where the feeling of despair/dread/lack of control comes in.
Here’s a question, when you feel despair, do you typically get motivated to take positive action?
No? Me neither.
Despair doesn’t lead to pre planning healthy meals or actually looking at what you want to accomplish and setting up a structured plan.
Despair leads to a feeling of “what’s the point.” We decide ahead of time that it won’t work because we will be emotionally and physically exhausted after work. We are afraid to make a plan because if we don’t follow through exactly we give ourselves a lashing for not following through. We don’t plan to exercise because if for some reason we don’t do it we chastise ourselves and sit in shame.
So, despair protects us from all of this.
If we don’t plan, we can’t fail.
If we can’t fail we don’t have to feel shame.
Only this is all a mirage. By believing that we can’t do anything outside of work, we give away all our power and control (fail #1).
By not coming up with a plan of how we want to structure the rest of our lives, we FAIL AHEAD OF TIME. And when you fail ahead of time, you fail 100%. Even a shoddy plan with a 30% follow through rate is better than that.
How amazing would it be to actually do the tough job AND have energy and ability to do other things too?
I have some tips to make this easier.
1. Make a plan that is nice to your future self, one that you won’t resist too strongly when the time comes.
What would feel great to do Monday after work? I want to get back to running but deciding that Monday after a 10 hour shift I am going to start Couch-to-5K is not so nice to my future self. Maybe I will just plan to walk for 15 min. As soon as I get home. In my scrubs. If I am already walking, maybe I will jog for 1 refrain of a song (ok I may get changed out of scrubs if I am going to jog- although that would be a funny visual).
Maybe I decide to do one load of laundry and wipe down the bathroom counters before I watch a movie. Even little things like this give you direction and help you know what to do next.
MAKE A NICE PLAN! And make sure it has some down time too.
2. Remember that the plan is a gift to yourself, not a punishment.
You get to decide what you want to do. This is what we forget when we live in reaction to our life, when we live in dread. You are strategizing how to have an awesome life even after a tough work day.
3. Plan for obstacles and don’t change your plan in the moment.
This goes hand in hand with making a nice plan. I want to do business work after my clinical day but I have found that sitting on the couch generally leads to me falling asleep at my computer, not productive work. So I now do something moderately active after dinner and then do the computer work. This seems to work better for me (unfortunately I’ve learned I can’t do it on the couch). I know if you ask exercise gurus, exercise after eating at night may not be prime but this is where a 30% success is better than not planning for exercise at all (aka 100% fail ahead of time).
4. Frame your plan as a “Ta da” list instead of a “to do” list. This is my favorite.
“To do” sounds obligatory and annoying. It screams “If you don’t do this, you suck.”
A “Ta da” list is much more fun. It tells you exactly how you will feel when you follow through on what you have decided is important to you.
Keep in mind that pride is not the only feeling that can come from accomplishment. One equally amazing feeling is relief. Relief that something is different. When is the last time you felt profound relief? It feels like 100lbs being taken off your chest. It is truly the antidote to dread.
At the end of the week, take a minute and see what worked and what didn’t.
This is not for judgement but for tweaking. This is for making an even nicer plan next week.
I know this doesn’t sound like it will cure the dread of going to work. After all, it doesn’t address work at all. But mull it over. I think you will realize that the dread of work is often because you feel like it is taking away the joy of home. And we have 100% control over that, even with poor staffing or pandemics. After all, you are getting through the actual work. You ARE making a difference in people’s lives.
Now what about your own?
Want to find out more? Check out my podcast interview here.