1. Doucette, Jeffrey N. DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, FACHE

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Q I'm concerned that I'm feeling less and less engaged the longer the pandemic goes on. What ideas do you have to help me get back on track?

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I was reading something the other day where someone said, "I can't wait until we go back to precedented times because I'm so tired of being in unprecedented times." Leading our teams through a historic pandemic has been the biggest challenge of our careers for most of us. We've talked a lot in this column about the need for self-care, but I want to say it again for all of you in the back of the room-we must put our own mental health and well-being at the center of everything we do. As leaders, we need to have a full bucket to fill the buckets of those around us.


We're all beginning to clearly see the effects of the pandemic on our operations, workforce, recruitment and retention, quality, safety, and reliability. We know that we aren't yet back to our prepandemic volumes, and we still don't know what the postpandemic world is fully going to look like. To ensure their financial future, many organizations are making difficult decisions. Examples include cost-cutting measures, such as reducing contributions to retirement funds, temporary reductions in leader salaries, the deletion of positions from open position reports and, in the worst-case scenario, layoffs. All these decisions are incredibly stressful for leaders, but they're also taxing for the organization in general. As leaders, we must be fully connected to our people and the plan so we can better understand the potential impacts on our teams.


So, let's review some of the techniques you can use to stay fully engaged as a leader and lessen stress. First, you must decide what your work-life effectiveness is going to be. Set limits and boundaries and call it quits for the day when you reach them. You get to decide how much of your energy you're going to give to work and how much you give to your responsibilities outside of work. Be sure that you're paying close attention to how you're meeting the limits and boundaries you set and don't be afraid to take time for yourself when necessary to keep your bucket full.


Second, find a mindfulness practice that you can do in the moment. We know that in-the-moment mindfulness alters your body's chemical response to stress by decreasing the amount of cortisol released into your bloodstream and increasing levels of the antistress hormone DHEA. For example, many studies have shown that the simple practice of gratitude for 10 to 15 seconds can change your stress reaction, allowing you to make better decisions. If you're having trouble thinking of a way to practice gratitude, I'll share mine. At the beginning of each morning, I have a mindfulness moment where I think about three things: something I'll let go of, something I'm grateful for, and something I'll focus on for the day. I think about those three things every time I find myself under stress. This helps me set the tone for my day and gives me an instant solution to stressful moments as they arise.


Finally, know when to say when and don't feel bad about it. There are times when you're just going to have to go to your boss and say, "I've had all I can take for today, for the week, for the month, and I need a break." You need to be kind and loving to yourself, treat yourself with compassion, and learn how to have these conversations without fear. The more you can communicate with your boss about where you are on an everyday basis, the easier it will be for your boss to help you find time to decompress. When you do disconnect, don't feel like you must be available all the time or even at all. Have someone cover for you so you can rejuvenate, recharge, and come back prepared to face the next challenge.


As we continue to lead in these unprecedented times, I hope for a future that's full of precedented times sooner than later. Thank you so much for all you do to lead our teams during this critical time. Hang in there! There's light at the end of the tunnel.