We all experience challenges when it comes to working with, and managing, difficult people and situations. Our days are filled with stress and anxiety, and it can get to the best of us if we don’t learn how to self-regulate our response to things that we cannot control. It doesn’t help that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, and at a time of much needed reform to address the great racial divide in our country.
You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying; what you can do is calm yourself,
the storm will pass. (Timber Hawkeye)
This has been a year of being tested on many levels… emotionally, physically, and mentally. We have all been under quarantine for several months during the Covid 19 pandemic, and most recently, the great racial divide has come to a blistering head, and we are faced with the harsh reality that even in 2020, all men and women are not being treated equally. There is a deep pain that has been centuries in the making, and countless events of injustice that have been normalized for far too long.
How are we handling the stress and loss of control that surrounds us on a daily basis? I, for one, am struggling. I find myself feeling anxious from the minute I wake up and listen to the Morning News, to the minutes that I finally lie down in my bed, trying to shut my brain off from the noise that is somehow silent on the outside, but deafening, and relentlessly loud on the inside. But it is the time in between those hours, when we are at work, and trying to do the best that we can to carry on with our lives, that can be the most difficult. We struggle to block out the “noise” and strive to make a difference with our patients and their families during a 12+ hour shift. We also have our own families who need us to keep it together, and function in a somewhat “normal” capacity, during a time where nothing is “normal”, and hasn’t been for a while.
To say that I am a little on edge, well, that may be the understatement of this really challenging year. Unfortunately, as a nurse, we have to try to remain calm when everyone around us is screaming. Yes, during an emergency we focus on the task at hand, and trust that our training will automatically kick in when it’s necessary; that’s the easy part. The hard part is when we are not in an emergency, and we “lose it” over something that may not have triggered us so easily before… maybe over an error with the schedule, or sitting in traffic, or scrolling through social media and reading a post that angers you to the core because you thought your friend was smarter (and better) than that…yeah, it is in those moments where you start to have your own personal “storm”, and it isn’t pretty, and it definitely doesn’t cast a beautiful rainbow in the aftermath. This kind of storm can get you into some hot water if you are unable to reel it in.
I think we all manage stress, fear, and anxiety differently, but for some of us, loss of control is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome; at least it is for me. I’ve always told my daughter that you can’t control how other people act, but you can control how you respond, or react… that advice is on point, and easy to say, isn’t it? However, it is not always easy to do. Sometimes we don’t know how we will react until it happens to us… we can respond differently depending on the circumstances of the moment. For example, we may be able to remain calm and composed if we are in a great mood and slept for more than six hours… or if we are working with our favorite nursing team… but maybe the words (themselves) are not the issue, but the tone is what rubs you the wrong way? Maybe you just want people to care more, and be more accountable… like you… maybe that would make things different and more palatable?
I’ve been doing some research and soul-searching to identify ways that I can try to improve my own ability to manage stress, and react in a calm(er) manner when faced with a situation that makes me want to scream a few expletives at an unsuspecting person. I sought advice from two of the smartest people that I know, and they gave me great insight into actions that I could do (immediately) to improve how I respond to either (a) prevent the “storm” from happening, or (b) how to de-escalate it if that ship has already sailed. One of them is a friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Stein, who shared with me some things that have worked for him and are based on conjecture, bitter experience, and frustration with other approaches; they are:
- Identify what the current problem is, and determine what you want to happen to fix it
- Find common ground in whatever the dispute is
- Nobody likes being told they are wrong, even if you prove it with facts (especially if you prove it with facts, I may add)
- Imagine being them, and try to determine what they are saying, and why they are acting that way; in most cases, they are afraid, and in over-their-head with the problem, and they want someone to help solve their difficulties
- Offer to help figure out the problem with them
- Provide a compliment, or kind word to them about something that they did that was good
- Lastly, and he couldn’t stress this enough, bring in doughnuts from a good bakery, “not just Dunkin’”; sharing food breaks down barriers, and has always worked for him when interacting with a potentially difficult person or group
Dale Carnegie (1981) believed that the only way you could get someone to do anything was to (somehow) make the other person want to do it. Carnegie (1981) also quoted John Dewey, a great American philosopher, who believed that the deepest urge in human nature was the desire to be important. I believe that with this kind of thoughtful insight into human nature, if one can take a few minutes to process some of the issues that have led to a dispute, and strategize how best to address it, in a positive manner, the outcome would be far better than if you allowed yourself to show anger or frustration.
In the end, no one really “wins” an argument; according to Carnegie (1981), the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it altogether, because even if you “win”, you still “lose”; making someone feel bad, or inferior, will cause resentment, and that is not a battle worth winning.
My last thought on this subject is to try to be mindful of some of your own control issues and triggers; not everyone has the tools in their toolbox to manage extreme periods of stress and environmental obstacles that are out of their control. We are in unchartered waters when it comes to coping with being bombarded by tragedies and heartbreak in the News and many social media outlets on a daily basis. We need to take time to embrace silence, and focus on being mindful of our own needs, while showing empathy to others. No one truly knows what others are going through in their personal lives. Please be safe out there, and may tomorrow bring us closer to peace, equality, and justice.
Carnegie, D. (1981). How to Win Friends & Influence People: The Only Book You Need to Lead
You to Success. New York, NY:Simon & Shuster. (originally published in 1936).
This article was published on Allnurses.com