It’s the beginning of Week 3 of Quarantine in Boston.
We continue to find ourselves in uncharted territory, fighting an invisible enemy, and feeling under-equipped for this war. Since there is no clear timeline or end in sight, I wanted to share how I manage stress after a tough day at the hospital.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I found this simple routine is a way for me to decompress and process, so I can head back to the hospital again tomorrow.
Hopefully these tips will be helpful for you as well.
1) Start Early. Ideally as you are leaving the hospital.
As soon as I leave the hospital, I start decompressing from my day. I walk out the front doors, and imagine my worries and stresses just falling to the ground behind me.
In the car, I’ll put on a positive, uplifting podcast or upbeat music. If you need a podcast idea, try Happier or The Perfectionism Project, these are my go-to’s. Sometimes, if it’s been a particularly hard day, I’ll drive home in silence.
I make it a point to avoid the radio or any talk radio where the focus is on providing continuous news updates. I need a few minutes to separate from my day and prepare to see my loved ones. It’s a conscious effort to stop the stream of news and virus related information headed my direction.
I’m also fairly certain there is no breaking news or updates I haven’t already heard during my day. With the sheer volume of emails, articles, and notifications streaming to my phone, I feel certain I haven’t missed any new developments. There’s also no shortage of friends and family sending me articles and updates.
When I feel over-saturated with the news, it’s nice to just be alone with my thoughts. If you’d prefer to make your commute productive, but still decrease stress, I wrote a post about ways to do that too!
2) The ‘3 S’ Cleansing Ritual: Strip, Shower, Scrub.
When I get home, I strip down, throw my clothes in the washing machine, and then immediately shower.
I shower with what I lovingly refer to as my ‘really harsh soap’ and a pair of exfoliating bath gloves. This combo helps me feel like I am getting things really clean and am washing away a layer of yuck from the hospital.
As I scrub, I visualize myself cleansing away the stress, the germs, and the uncertainty of the day. It’s relaxing to watch the suds go down the drain, as if it’s washing my fear and worry away as well.
My strict adherence to this strip, shower, scrub ritual is one small way I can minimize potential exposure to my family and loved ones. I’m never really sure what I ‘pick up’ from a day at the hospital and I don’t want to pass anything to those I care most about.
3) Shift your focus to a creative outlet or something positive.
After my shower, I consciously redirect my thoughts to something other than the hospital or anything work-related.
I try to pick something artistic or productive to focus on, even if I’ve got a limited amount of time. The goal is to consciously distract myself from the stress of the day, by doing something fun or entertaining. Promise yourself you’ll do something positive and uplifting for at least 15 minutes, ideally 30 minutes or more if you can.
Some things that have worked well for me: dancing around the house to old 80’s and 90’s songs, doing a simple paint by number project, reading a few pages of an inspiring book, or re-ignite a long abandoned hobby. I recently rediscovered how much I love black and white photography. Depending on how much time you have, you can also done a little decluttering or spring cleaning.
I honestly try to avoid mindlessly consuming social media or getting sucked into a Netflix series as soon as I get home. Don’t get me wrong, Netflix is absolutely on my list, just after a little mindset work and productivity.
Before we move onto Step 4: I’m going to preface it with the fact that I have been self-medicating a bit more frequently than normal with a glass of wine after work.
I usually only indulge on weekends, but things have changed, the future is uncertain, stress is at an all-time high, and the occasional extra glass of wine has been happening.
However, I made an agreement with myself that I cannot have any wine unless I’ve done step 4.
4) Process what’s going on.
Give yourself time to process your feelings. Don’t just numb with alcohol or other substances. There is a LOT going on right now. It’s normal to feel stressed, overwhelmed, helpless, hopeless, or a variety of other feelings. Everything you are feeling is valid. All of it!
We do nerve-wracking work under very uncertain circumstances every day! Who wouldn’t be stressed taking care of patients when we don’t truly know who’s sick, or when we will get more test kits (or results), or when our PPE or ventilators will run out, or when we could get the dreaded phone call that we have been exposed, or that a family member or loved one has been exposed. There are so many different stressors.
Give yourself time to process, to cry, to vent, or whatever it is you need to do. Just make sure you get those emotions out so they don’t consume you.
I’ve started journaling daily as a way to process the current situation. I use the same few prompts, and make myself write something for each one.
Some days the words flow more easily than others, but consistently writing helps me sort out my frustrations and anxiety. When I reflect on what I’ve written, it helps me see what is actually in my control and how I can better channel my energy to make a difference.
This cycle of writing and then reflecting is what helps me go back to work the next day, refreshed and recharged.
If you’re interested in the journal prompts I use so help sort through my day, be sure to let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to share!
5) Commit to a Nightly Routine.
My nightly ritual is one small way I can set myself up for success the next morning. I give myself a strict technology cut-off time, usually around 9 pm. I turn my phone on silent and plug it in to charge (I charge it outside the bedroom).
This helps me limit screen time, but more importantly gives me time away from any news, updates, or notifications.
My anxiety has been spiking at night, and I was having trouble falling asleep. This is not necessarily a new thing for me, but it has gotten much worse since the virus outbreak in the US.
Previously, whenever I was super anxious, I would do nightly stretching routines, take sleep supplements, or listen to meditation music. All of those things were helpful, but my results were inconsistent.
As my stress started ramping up, these things didn’t work very well anymore. A co-worker suggested I try something called progressive muscle relaxation.
If you aren’t familiar with progressive relaxation, it’s a body-wide practice that focuses on one part of the body at a time, where you methodically tense and relax it.
The point is to focus on the relaxation phase and feel the tension and stress fade away as the tension releases.
It took a little trial and error to create a routine that worked for me, but now I have a full-body practice that I do before bed each night. I am unwinding a bit easier, falling asleep more quickly, and sleeping more soundly. It’s been a game changer.
Muscle relaxation techniques are a great way to decrease stress, lower cortisol and stress hormone levels, and help prime your body for rest and relaxation. If you haven’t tried it before, I highly recommend it.
I hope this article is helpful for you. These 5 steps are the blueprint I use to consistently manage my stress, recharge for another day, and prepare to handle the unexpected.
I’m not sure how long this is going to go on for, but I feel confident I have the routine and processes in place to weather this for the long haul.