As a Registered Nurse, I care for people when they are most in need, but who cares for me when I am most in need?
Nursing can be a draining, stressful job, but the work anxiety I experienced was debilitating, and I was too stubborn to accept it.
I ignored my mental health for longer than I should have, had it not been for the day when I was experiencing my worst panic attack twenty minutes before my shift and had already used all my call-outs in the first half of the year.
So I called my manager in tears, apologizing that I could not come into work and finally quit. It was simultaneously one of the best and worst moments of my life. While it felt devastating, I learned some valuable lessons of self-love and tackling anxiety about work (or just in general).
1. Be Honest With Yourself
Even though I care for patients struggling with their mental health needs, I felt compelled to keep silent about my own because of the existing stigmas in our culture. I crafted a mask to hide that I was not coping, and my manager was dumbfounded to hear about my anxiety, saying, “But you are doing so well! So why?”
“Why?” was a question I desperately wanted to answer, as I began experiencing panic attacks before work, which resulted in lack of sleep, emotional drain, and worsening of my mental health. I’d wake up hours before my shift with heart palpitations and a feeling of dread and doom that wouldn’t go away.
Calling a friend before and after work to vent helped curb my anxiety. It helped me understand myself more and forced me to confront my ineffective coping mechanisms and derailing mental health. It is also what encouraged me to schedule my first therapy appointment, which has brought dramatic improvements in my health, mindset, and life.
2. “Sucking It Up” Doesn’t Mean Resilience
Although I felt relieved after quitting, I was consumed by guilt and anxiety, criticizing myself that I was pathetic and couldn’t just “suck it up.” I later realized that was the catch though: I had “sucked it up” for so long that I finally exploded because I was ignoring the real issue.
How could I care for others if I could not care for myself?
While work drained me of energy, anxiety kept me from practicing self-love and care. It felt like my whole life revolved around work, but I had to keep “sucking it up” to find the energy to cook for myself or even take a shower.
Being truthful to myself about the work I am capable of and my emotions surrounding work is the most resilient action of self-love. I now think of myself as my own patient. If I wouldn’t tell my patients–or better yet, my family, friends, and loved ones–to return to something that harmed their health, then what excuse do I have for myself?
3. Set Aside Time for What You Love
When I found the space to pursue writing and integrate it into my life with my current nursing job, I started to feel whole again. I began blocking off time for myself, such as reading before my shift or taking bubble baths after work. It helped structure my life and remind me that there are so many moments in a day to be happy.
Anything will grow if you give it the time and space, whether that’s unbearable anxiety or blossoming mental health. So find time for something that makes you feel present, happy, and brings you back to life.