Written by: Jen Barnes, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Are you a nurse who:
Collapses on the couch after shifts with no energy for anything except binging on Netflix and scrolling through social media
Knows you need to exercise, sleep and eat well but you just can't get yourself to do it
Doesn’t know how to feel better when the system you work in is so broken and doesn’t seem to care about you or how they treat you
If this sounds familiar, your body is protecting you in the best way it knows how from a problem that isn’t going away. It is shutting you down.
I get why you are doing these things. When we feel beat up, exhausted, and unheard with no end in sight it is natural to shut down. In fact, in the face of a threat that doesn’t seem to be going away, numbing, disconnecting, and shutting down is how our body protects us.
But the problem is, the natural tendencies we have in this shutdown state like binging Netflix and scrolling social media don’t really help us. They actually make us feel worse. They interrupt our sleep and steal time away from things that will help us feel better. And, they keep us from connecting with others so our supportive relationships feel out of reach or unhelpful because we’re too disconnected to take it in.
To be able to do the things you know would help you, first, you need to shift out of this shutdown response.
There are several ways to do this but today I will share three options to work with and identify if any of these are a fit for you.
Before we explore these strategies, it is important to assess if it is safe enough to shift out of this shutdown state.
Sometimes we genuinely need this response to protect us from what is happening. This may be particularly true if your home environment is unsafe in addition to the stressors you face at work.
When we don’t need to be shut down or being shut down is no longer effective, we can try some of these practices to shift out of this state when it is safe enough to do so.
It is important to note that sometimes when we shift out of this shutdown state, we may find ourselves in our fight or flight response. So I will review a tool we’ve practiced previously to help us shift out of that state as needed and into the ventral vagal state where we can rest and digest and where it is safe enough to connect.
What most people do from this shutdown state, is do things that amplify or match the shutdown state. They may numb out with food, alcohol, sex, their phone, or in some other way.
But the problem is, they will continue to be shutdown and feel disconnected and will struggle to feel good. And because of that, they numb and shut down further, never really feeling good enough to solve the problems they face.
So I am about to share how to get out of that shutdown cycle so you can do the things you know will help you or have the wherewithal to find them.
Since the shutdown state protects through immobilization, to get out of this state you need to engage in any movement at all.
One way to do this is to go for a walk. This walk can be around the hospital or clinic, outside around the block, or even on a treadmill. The point is to get your body moving to stimulate the vagus nerve.
Another option is to rock in a rocking chair. To keep the chair rocking, you will need to move your body again stimulating the vagus nerve.
You may be thinking: “But what if I have collapsed on the couch and just can’t get up?”
In that case, you can visualize movement. Even visualizing movement can stimulate the vagus nerve and help you shift out of the shutdown response. So visualize yourself going for a walk, dancing, swimming, riding your bike, or doing some other activity you enjoy.
If after you do one of these things, you notice some restlessness, anxiety, anger, or other agitation, you likely bumped into your fight or flight response. In that case, you need to apply a strategy to help you return to the ventral vagal state where you can rest, digest, and feel safe enough to connect.
I’m about to share one way to shift out of the fight-or-flight response. Since the fight-or-flight response is protection through movement, fluid movement with breath can shift you out of this state into the ventral vagal response.
Volcano breathing, a technique from Yoga Calm, is a simple and effective way to do this and tends to be a crowd favorite.
Take a moment to try it now.
Either seated or standing place your palms together in front of your sternum. As you inhale reach your arms overhead
As you exhale move your arms down around, by your sides, and back together in front of your sternum
REPEAT at least three times.
PAUSE and notice how you feel.
Now you know how to get yourself moving from that shutdown response. This will open the door for you to be able to apply other tools you have to feel better or be open to learning more.
If this was helpful for you, DM me the phrase “I’m UP” on Instagram.
If you’re wanting to learn more helpful tools to address the chronic stress you face, I’ve created a complimentary workshop just for you.
In How to Recover From Chronic Stress and Build Resilience in Nursing we will explore the four necessary steps for recovering from chronic stress and building resilience in nursing so you can feel good in your body, enjoy your life, and maybe even love nursing again.
Be sure to sign up today to reserve your spot. Even if you can’t make it live, sign up to gain access to the video recording.
Since I am a LICSW and this workshop will help you grow in your nursing practice by building resilience, you may be able to use this workshop for continuing education credits. For $19, upon completing a brief quiz demonstrating that you learned the key points of the workshop, I will send you a certificate of attendance to be used for continuing education.
Sign up here today. Click this link.
Jen Barnes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Jen Barnes is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Minneapolis, MN. She specializes in complex trauma, PTSD, stress, and grief. The daughter and sister of nurses, she has a passion for empowering nurses to build resilience. She has worked with nurses 1:1 hoping to expand her reaching to a broader audience. In 2021 she completed the Dare to Lead certificate program in order to more effectively address organizational challenges in healthcare. Most recently, she spoke at the American Association of Critical Care Nurses’s 2022 NTI conference on Building Resilience in Nursing.