Rest, Unwind, and Reflect so You Can Lead by Example

May 31, 2022 by Chizobam Obi RN, BSN, CCRP

Many nurses, even those in leadership, believe in the misconception that well-being is an indulgence or luxury they cannot afford, but this simply isn’t the case: it’s an investment that can improve your effectiveness, especially as a leader. 

As a nurse in a new leadership role, I quickly realized that I had to take care of myself first. Although health care is a place of wellness and healing, providers as well as patients can be inundated with stressful and challenging situations. Although leadership gives nurses endless rewards—educating and coaching the next generation of nurses, managing practice finances to ensure affordable care, maintaining patient outcomes and satisfaction, and so much more—those rewards can also be stressors. Here are some of the evidence-based well-being practices I incorporated and many other nurse leaders may find helpful, too.

Rest

High levels of stress directly contribute to a decline in empathy. You might find yourself being short with your colleagues or not actively listening. Studies have shown that taking time to rest, including getting a good night’s sleep, increases variability in performance, particularly for alertness and vigilance, which are important leadership skills. Stress also increases cortisol levels along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which serves as an energy mobilizer. Ironically, however, chronic stress can lead to HPA axis hypoactivity that dampers cortisol levels, leading to increased fatigue, exhaustion, and burnout. 

Rest allows you to relax and confront your stress. A rested leader is a calm and active listener.

Unwind

What mindset or activity helps you unwind? It’s different for all of us: you might enjoy cooking or dancing, whereas others prefer meditation or knitting. Someone else might like something even more demanding like rock climbing!

Many nurses and leaders say, “I don’t have time,” and “I have too much on my plate,” but if you deny your well-being practices, you risk burning out and not bringing your best self to your team. Research conducted by the National Institutes of Health has linked relaxation to several health benefits like an increase in focus, problem-solving, and memory.

Reflect

Reflection is a powerful tool that can improve leadership outcomes, but it’s only effective when we slow down and dedicate quality, uninterrupted time—which can be difficult for nurse leaders until they view it as a responsibility rather than a luxury. 

Practicing reflection helps you understand challenges or successes of the day and tomorrow’s opportunities. When you reflect away from all the noise and stressors, you can reconcile the past, anticipate the future, and innovate ideas or solutions to problems. Sometimes, a quiet mind can be a hub for creativity.

Model the Way

Leaders often tell their teams to take time off, rest, and care for themselves, but they must also model those practices. Foster a culture that normalizes well-being, and incorporate various aspects of body, mind, emotional, and spiritual health in the workplace through activities and discussions. 

When you demonstrate that taking quality time off for yourself does not diminish your value on the team, it encourages your staff to do the same. Your team will see that you prioritize not only the work that they do but also their life and health outside of work. Develop processes and tools to ensure that when you are taking time for yourself, the team can still function effectively, and vice versa.

Remember that successful leadership requires well-being. As the saying goes, you cannot give what you do not have.


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