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CRNA 143 | Mental Wellness

 

In the intense CRNA journey, mental wellness is your compass. Learn to say ‘no’ to stress and ‘yes’ to self-care, for a healthier, happier you. In this episode, our very own Jenny Finnell, founder of CRNA School Prep Academy, presents a crucial aspect of CRNA school: mental wellness. Jenny shares her personal experiences, addressing the trials and tribulations she faced during her time in CRNA school and beyond. She acknowledges the importance of mental wellness in the high-stress environment of CRNA school. Throughout the episode, she discusses several key topics such as: how to say no to say yes, the physical impact of stress, the power of awareness, and more. Whether you’re a future CRNA, a healthcare professional, or simply someone seeking guidance on mental wellness, this value-packed conversation has something for everyone. Listen now and take the first step towards a healthier and happier you.

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Mental Wellness In CRNA School

I’m going to share a very special episode on how to manage your mental wellness while in CRNA school. This topic is very close and dear to my heart. I want nothing more than for you to embrace this journey that you are about to embark upon with mental wellness in mind. I have been asked to present this lecture for different cohorts and anesthesia schools. I’m excited to bring this to you. I thought it would be a great opportunity for me to share this. I will warn you, it is lengthy. It is about an hour long, but I hope you guys enjoy this presentation. I’m rooting for you. Cheers to your future. I’m so excited that you’re getting ready to embark on your own CRNA journey. Even if this CRNA journey is far down the line, you can never start too soon working on your own mental wellness. I hope you guys enjoy it.

I am so excited to present this topic of mental wellness to you. I know you’re all sitting here and you have worked so hard to get here. I hope you’re incredibly proud of how much you have achieved. I am very honored and grateful to be the one to help you embark on your CRNA journey with mental wellness in mind.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Jenny Finnell. I have been a CRNA for nine years now. When I say that, I still get tripped up a little bit because it has gone very fast. I’ve been practicing for nine years. I’ve done open heart. I now am a pediatric CRNA, but I’ve also done OB. I’ve done a lot of regional at an outpatient orthopedic hospital. I love everything about being a CRNA. It is the best profession, so congratulations, you get to be a part of that very soon. I am a mom of three, and we are welcoming two more children into the world here very soon. We are pregnant with identical twins.

I am also the Founder of CRNA School Prep Academy. For those of you who may know me from CSPA or the podcast that I do every single week, I am welcoming you back and I’m excited to get to see you here in a seat in anesthesia school. That’s so exciting. I’m excited to present this topic to you because it’s something that is very close to my own heart and something that I feel like, as humans, we all struggle with mental wellness.

Do You Feel Worthy Enough?

The first thing I want to kind of bring up is, do you feel worthy enough? The reason why I wanted to start here is because a common theme is this imposter syndrome. If you’re experiencing imposter syndrome right now, I bet you probably have someone in mind who you think has it all figured out, who is a rockstar and probably feels so confident. Maybe that same person is equally feeling the imposter syndrome, and you may not even have known. They may feel the same way about you.

As humans, we’re good about projecting and then hiding how we truly feel. We project how we want people to see us and we hide how we truly feel. That’s how it feels to have imposter syndrome. I want to ask you, do you feel worthy enough? I want you to face this head-on. Most problems in life need a head-on approach. Imposter syndrome is one of those. You need to ask yourself why you’re feeling this way and remind yourself that you are here because you are deserving, you are worthy, and you are capable.

Going into CRNA school, you have to own the fact that you have earned this chance to be here. You are on the same playing field as everyone else in this room. It doesn’t matter how you got here, but you are here. You all have the same opportunities for growth that lie ahead and you’re all in this together. I can’t stress enough how important this is to your classmates, if you look left to right, back and front, your classmates are going to get you through these next three years. They will understand all your emotions, the things you’re going through, and your struggles. You need to lean on them now more than ever.

It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, but I guarantee you’re probably going to find at least a couple of lifelong friends in this program. At the same time, you’re going to bond because you’re going to have something that’s going to connect you that’s unlike anything else. I know this is new, and you’re probably like, “I don’t know anyone.” It’s okay, that new feeling. You don’t have to go into this having BFFs in your program. Trust me, that relationship will form over time. You’re here together and you are worthy. You are here. You made it. Congratulations.

To get into our topic for your mental health, this is so important. Dr. McPherson, thank you so much for allowing me to talk to your class about this important topic because this is something that should not be neglected, especially now that you’re in a CRNA school and at any point in your life. Now more than ever, the fact that you’re starting your journey, it’s important to address this topic in a very meaningful way. Maybe you think you have, but I would love to explore this a little bit and challenge you on maybe you haven’t. Maybe you haven’t fully experienced what it is like to evaluate your own mental health.

I know I sure had not. Mental health is a journey. It starts from the time of awareness and it goes throughout your entire life. It never ends. It’s not something that you could fix and go away. It’s a continuum that you have to always be aware of. Your mental health doesn’t define who you are. It’s something you experience. Every person in this room will have a different mental health journey in their lives. Every day, you experience something new, different, familiar, and unfamiliar. Your experience can shape your mind. It’s how you take an active approach toward your own mental wellness that can shape how you experience life and the joy and satisfaction you get from life.

I truly feel you have the answers. We’re going to get more into that later because you’re probably thinking, “I don’t know about that.” Embrace that part that you have the answers. I’m coming from someone who is probably a “there’s no way I have all the answers” kind of person when I first started trying to do this mental wellness journey myself. Let’s get back to that once we can go into more depth.

First, I want to go into emotions. I know you all know what emotions are. Emotions are a part of the human experience. I want you to ask yourself, how does reality feel right now? Literally, right now, as you sit here in class, some of your first weeks of CRNA school, some of your first months, how do you feel? Are you in the green with exciting, endless possibilities, adventure, growth, achievement, and advancing your skills and knowledge? Do you have some of the red or both? Do you have red like overwhelmed, anxious, fear, you feel busy, unsure, you can’t keep up, or it becomes unenjoyable?

You probably more than likely have a mixture of both. You probably always will to some extent have a mixture of both of these experiences. However, I encourage you to become aware if you fall more into the red and less into the green. You have to keep a balance. You have to create awareness of how much red you’re experiencing and how much green you’re experiencing. You want ideally to have more green than red. You’ll probably always have red, but when you experience red, you have to ask yourself why. You have to ask yourself, “What is causing this? What emotions am I putting into this experience that is making me feel this way?”

I’ll give you an example of something that I caught myself doing quite often. People would ask me, “How are you?” The very first thing without even thinking that came to my mouth was, “I’m so busy.” It wasn’t until I had a coach myself that pointed this out to me. They’re like, “You’re always telling me that. Every time I ask you how you are, that’s all I get.” It was a little disturbing when I realized that they were right and that’s not a positive thing to say about my life. Maybe that’s partially why I’m creating this overwhelming anxiety for myself because I’m saying that I feel so busy all the time.

This approach that I had to deal with this busyness feeling all the time was taking a different approach to how I felt about my life and the emotions that I associated with it. I have a lot going on, but that’s because I’m fulfilled and that’s because I have accomplished a lot. I’m proud of that. I’m proud to have a lot going on because I’m fulfilled. I have created this life for myself. Can you see how that creates much more positive emotions behind it than saying, “I’m busy.”

Now, when someone asks me, “How are you doing?” I say, “I’m doing well. I have a lot going on, but I have a lot to be thankful for.” That’s truly how I feel. Three kids. I’ve been juggling two full-time jobs between running CRNA School Prep Academy and working as a CRNA. They could say that’s a lot to put on your plate, trying to be a wife, a friend, a sister, a daughter, and all of those things juggling life, but that’s so rewarding. That is incredibly fulfilling. I have wanted this. I have created this for myself. I’m so proud of that. I’m so grateful for that.

Instead of saying I’m busy and having this negative emotion about what that means for me, I choose the opposite. I choose to say I’m fulfilled and grateful for all of the things that I have in my life. This is one example, but you can do this for multiple areas in your life where you have these reds. This is what helped me reframe that mind work. I know it can help you too.

The Fight Or Flight

I told you we would get into how I feel that you guys have the answers. Let’s first get into the fight or flight. I have often heard this referred to as the lizard brain, which is funny, but it is true. It’s not the creative brain. It’s not the complex problem-solving part of your brain. It’s truly the part of the brain that says, “Get out, you’re in danger. Remove yourself. Stop.” It is a knee-jerk reaction type of your brain. When you lean into this lizard brain or the fight or flight part of your brain, you create this human experience that is a very knee-jerk reaction. Have you ever heard of the term, “Get out of your own way?” That’s where this comes from.

You can essentially hinder yourself from making progress because you won’t get out of your own way. You keep roadblocking yourself because of fear, anxiety, and the unknown. You block it because this fight or flight takes over and you’re too afraid to embrace the unknown or embrace the fear that maybe lay ahead of “Can I do this? Am I capable? Am I going to be okay?” It doesn’t have to be physical pain. It could be emotional pain that you’re avoiding, meaning, “I don’t want to face the fact that I could fail. I don’t want to face the fact that maybe I could get embarrassed or feel silly or stupid.” These are real fears that your body sees as threats to your emotional well-being. You are creating these roadblocks in your own life without even knowing you’re doing it.

Everyone is guilty of this to some extent. The more awareness you have around this aspect, the better. The more you’re aware that you’re creating these roadblocks for yourself, the more you’re able to break down those barriers, fight through them, and see what’s on the other side. It’s so easy to miss this because it becomes reflexive, meaning you just do it without even thinking. It’s like the fight-or-flight quick thought. It’s the knee-jerk reaction. You don’t even think about it. It just happens. It’s your body’s way of saying, “No, this is not safe,” and then you move on and you don’t even experience it. It’s about creating awareness around, “Am I giving myself the chance that I need to be successful? Am I putting myself in uncomfortable positions?”

The more you're aware that you're creating these roadblocks for yourself the more you're able to break down those barriers and fight through that and see what's on the other side. Click To Tweet

Have you heard of the term, “Get comfortable becoming uncomfortable?” That is the truth right here. You will experience a lot of uncomfortableness over the next three years, but you have to seek that out. You cannot shy away from that. That is where the growth occurs, where you’re uncomfortable. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay to feel like you’re a novice. It’s okay to be the newbie learner on the block. This is what you’re here for. You’re showing up for that. That’s where the fulfillment and the rewards are going to come. It is by putting yourself in uncomfortable positions.

Do you have a choice on how you think and feel about events, experiences, and expectations in your life? The answer is you do have a choice. Sometimes it may not seem that way because this knee-jerk reaction reacts negatively to scary unknown things, but you do have a choice. You have a choice to say, “I don’t like this. This is scary, but maybe this is a challenge. Maybe I can rise to the challenge. Even if I don’t conquer, I will at least have more experience under my belt so that next time, I can do better and be more successful.” It’s trying to look at things differently and trying to not put that fear and anxiety, and trying to see, “How can I spin this in a positive way? How can this be good for me?” Try to look at it that way.

Another thing that is very common when you experience this fight or flight is creating distractions. How many of you do that? I’m raising my hand double time here. Create distractions to keep yourself busy, so you do not have to think about how you feel or how you’re handling the situation. It’s a very common coping mechanism to not deal with others or yourself. I want you to also create some awareness if you catch yourself doing this. This may be something you don’t even know you’re doing, but we are some of the best people at doing this.

If you have made it here this far, you are good at creating a lot of distractions in your life. Do you know why? It’s because you’re probably a type A personality, more than likely. There probably are some type B personalities out there, God bless you. I would say the majority of people who have the ambition and drive to push themselves to go to CRNA school are probably type A. Type A people tend to take on more. While that’s great, that has created a challenge for you, sometimes it can mask dealing with emotions and other things in your life, whether that’s dealing with yourself or others, because you want to stay busy so you don’t feel unfulfilled. You cannot sit quietly with yourself. You need to ask yourself why that is. Why can’t you sit quietly? Why can’t you have nothing to do?

I’m guilty of this so bad, but creating that space in your life to be quiet and at peace. Think about who you are. Why are you doing this? What got you here? Who are you to other people around you in your life? These questions will help you make more out of your own life and help you create so much joy and satisfaction for others. You need to take a deep breath. You need to find a quiet space and self-reflect. If you find yourself creating distractions and staying busy just because there’s something hollow within you, that is a big sign that you need to look at that empty space, and you need to work on filling it.

If you find yourself creating distractions by staying busy just because there's something hollow within you, that is a big sign that you need to look at that empty space. Click To Tweet

If you do not start that process now, I promise you, it’s not going to get better by the time you’re done with CRNA school, because you will be busy. That gap or that hole, whether that’s there or not, you need to make sure you look at it and know what’s in that hole. Assess how can you fill up your own cup because you’re getting ready to pour into others, pour into your academics and your career. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Love Who You Are

Distractions, you need to understand that that is what you’re doing to replace something that is not fulfilled internally. This is a part of a coping mechanism. We all do it to a certain extent, but you have to look at who you are and love who you are, own who you are, flaws and all, because we all have them. You need to lean into that. There’s no fault or fear around doing that because we all have them. I guarantee you have loved ones in your life who love you regardless of all your flaws. They will tell you that over and over. Similarly, you love them. You know they’re not perfect.

Embrace the fact that you’re not perfect. Know that you’re loved regardless. Look at yourself in the mirror and try to love yourself. Not even just try, do. You need to love yourself, but the first step starts with looking in the mirror and giving yourself the chance to be loved. We all go into this as achievers. When we don’t achieve, sometimes we take that the wrong way, or maybe we don’t feel as worthy. I want you to start combating that now because you are worthy, but you have to believe it yourself. You have to want that for yourself.

A woman sitting at a laptop looking at her phone
Mental Wellness: The first step starts with looking at the mirror and giving yourself the chance to be loved.

 

That starts with looking in the mirror and loving yourself. You have to start today. You have to fill that hole, whether that’s there or not, but you have to assess what’s in it. We probably all have some self-love to give to ourselves. I don’t think we practice that enough. Make sure that you’re not filling the void with a bunch of distractions and that you are focusing on yourself throughout this journey. I want you to make sure that you’re not just focusing on what makes you feel good on the outside. You have to focus on what makes you feel good on the inside.

The people around you who love you want that more than anything, so let them. Let them fill you up. The hardest thing to do too when you’re used to being self-sufficient is to rely on others to make you feel good. Ask for a compliment. It’s not a bad thing to say, “Can we make this a daily practice where we give each other a compliment or tell each other how you have made me happy?” If my husband did something nice, I say, “Thank you for taking out the trash. I’m grateful for you that you took out the trash.” Whatever it is, just practice gratitude for one another.

Whether that’s family or friends or whoever is in your life, make it known that you want to start this daily practice of gratitude towards one another for the little things that they do throughout the day. “Thank you for giving me that smile. That means a lot to me right now. Thank you for that hug.” Just little things like that. Create that space in your life to let others fill you up and let it be known that you need that as well. You will need that from your significant others, from your friends, and from your family. You will need them to be able to pour into you. My challenge to you is to accept the love.

Next, I want to go into how you measure success. This one is tricky. I’m going to pop over to my notes here because I want to make sure I don’t mess this up. I know everyone is different, but I think that a lot of people tend to compare themselves to others to measure their success. I know we’re all guilty of this, at least. I also know that you self-reflect on what your own achievements are and you put pressure on yourself to do things. If you achieve or you don’t achieve, that could be how you measure your success.

I want to stress to you so badly that you can’t live your life comparing yourself to others because it takes away your own joy. You do need to self-own everything you do, and not look at anything that you do that hasn’t achieved or is a failure as “you’re not successful”. That is how you become successful. It’s through failures. It’s through not achieving. You learn from those things to figure your way out to success. You don’t become successful without failure. Remember that. It’s key.

You can't live your life comparing yourself to others because it takes away your own joy. Click To Tweet

I also want to stress too that you cannot make your happiness contingent on achieving the next achievement. A higher salary, becoming a CRNA, or “I’ll be happy once I pass the board.” You cannot have your happiness rely on the next thing. You have to live in the moment in what you are and what you currently have achieved. Be proud of that. Otherwise, you’re going to be seeking constant fulfillment from doing so, and you’re never going to be truly happy with who you are currently. It’s never going to feel good. You need to take a deep breath and be proud that you’ve made it here. You made it to CRNA school. Own that. Sit with that. Be okay with that. It’s where you are and that is what you’re so incredibly proud of.

Measuring Success

Do not feel like, “I’m not going to be enough if I don’t graduate. I’m not going to be enough if I don’t do this.” That has not even happened. We’re going to get into that a little bit at the end. You shouldn’t worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Be proud of who you are now. You are successful. Every day that you’re on this earth, you’re successful. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, last week, last month, last year. You are a success. You are here. You are showing up for yourself. That is a measure of success. You are here. You are doing the things. Be very cognizant of the pressure you’re putting on yourself for success in life. Make sure that you’re owning and living in the moment, and that you’re proud of who you are now.

Two healthcare professionals high-fiving each other
Mental Wellness: You are successful every day that you’re on this Earth. You’re successful. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday, last week, last month, last year. You are a success.

 

The truth is what you say it is. We all look for the truth. We don’t say, “I believe this,” if I know it’s not true. You don’t take something that you know is not true and say, “I believe it.” You typically believe what you believe because you believe it to be the truth. You don’t purposely believe things that are false. We all look for truth. Even though our vision is ten times better than reality, sometimes we can still think, feel, and wish for it. Have you ever had those daydreams where you’re like, “I have this and this.” Even if those daydreams never truly come true, it’s the joy of thinking about it. “What if this can happen? It makes you feel those emotions, that excitement, that drive, and that passion to achieve. That pushes you forward. That helps you create that faith that you can. That’s a healthy thing to do.

We need to start looking for the fact that we’re looking for meanings in our goals and achievements, but we also look for the meaning behind our own emotions, experiences, and expectations. It’s because we learn from them. We gather insight from those things. We understand who we are by doing that. Creating space in your life for reflection of your experiences and your expectations, you’re going to allow yourself to see, “Is this realistic? Am I being too hard on myself? Have I set realistic goals? Maybe there is something else I can do differently so I don’t feel overwhelmed by this goal and maybe break it up into smaller steps.”

You need to look for the meaning behind things, especially when things go into that red column, as I said earlier of the anxiety, overwhelm, and fear. Look for the truth behind why you’re experiencing these emotions related to the experiences in your life. We’re always looking for the truth to gather insight. That should be no different when you’re exploring your own thoughts and emotions and how you feel day-to-day.

Cause and effect relationship. We’re always looking for the reasoning behind the why. I love this because we’ve had little kids now. Between ages 3 and 4, the whys are like, “Why, why, why?” Sometime around ages 7 and 8, that starts to fade. It almost seems to happen when they start school. We teach our children to be more self-sufficient to learn why yourself and to figure it out. People have a lot of pride in being able to figure it out themselves and not ask. I noticed from a young age that the questions stop when you get to a certain age. You should never stop trying to understand the why. You should always try to understand the why. Why do you feel this way? Why did this happen? Why do they react like that? Why does this not work? Why can’t I understand?

Similarly, how you reflect on your own emotions and the more you understand how and why you feel that way allows you to understand the cause-and-effect relationship. Asking why is a really powerful tool to do self-reflection and to understand why is it that you feel this way. Why do I feel so uncomfortable with the situation? Is there something I can do differently? Maybe you made a mistake. Maybe you took an action that made you feel bad or had a bad outcome. It doesn’t mean that you are bad. It means the action may have been. Anytime you’re doing any reflection on self-awareness, you need to make sure you’re separating self from action.

A woman reading a tablet and smiling
Mental Wellness: Anytime you’re doing any kind of reflection on self-awareness, you need to make sure you’re separating self from action.

 

We are human. We are who we are. We take action. Sometimes those actions are not good or they don’t pan out the way we think. Don’t put that negativity on you. Put it on the action. It’s so important to do that because otherwise, you’re going to be beating yourself up and making yourself feel bad. That actually won’t help you move forward because you’re going to feel fearful to move forward in it because you don’t feel confident about yourself and who you are to even tackle it.

If you say, “That action or the way I thought about this caused this outcome, maybe I can change the way about this to cause a different outcome. Maybe I can take a different action.” Those are things that you can control, that you can do differently, that don’t necessarily make you feel bad about who you are, but allow you to say, “I had a lapse in judgment. That judgment was my action. How can we reshape that? How did this come across to someone else? How can I repair that relationship? How can I be more self-aware next time so I don’t come across that way so we get a better outcome?”

These are all things that take time. They don’t happen instantly. They’re things daily that you have to work through. As humans, that’s to be expected, but you have to understand the cause-and-effect relationship that comes with day-to-day interactions with peers, coworkers, classmates, professors, or your clinical preceptors. They’re all going to play a role in creating what your daily experience is going to be like. Also equally, creating emotions around that.

The experience. The experience can be two different things. As you get older, if you think about when you’re younger, when you have an emotion, the experience is usually related very closely to that emotion. Screaming, anger, throwing things. These are completely crazy outbursts. As you get older, you learn social perception, how to behave in society, and how to control your emotions from what your actions are. Just because you feel anger, fear, and anxiety doesn’t mean you’re always acting those things out. It doesn’t mean you’re not experiencing them. It doesn’t mean you’re not dealing with them internally. This is an important thing to recognize. In a conscious mind, you choose to do so or not. You judge if that reaction is appropriate for the situation.

Just because you feel anger, fear, and anxiety, doesn't mean you're always acting those things out. Click To Tweet

Sometimes you do lash out, and then what? You also have a consequence on that end where then you have to try to mend that relationship or try to fix whatever trust was broken because you lashed out. If you don’t lash out similarly, you have a problem dealing with those internal emotions that if you neglect and you don’t deal with you, it could make your whole day sour. You go on the rest of your day and you’re bitter and angry because you had a bad experience in the morning. Everyone else on the outside thinks, “They’re not being very friendly. What did I do to make them mad?” They don’t understand because they don’t know what happened two hours ago.

All of these things can play out in a very negative way. Just because you act out or don’t act out does not mean the emotions are not there and the consequences are not there. They are. You need to deal with them. Your thoughts will definitely cause emotions. Whether or not you act on those emotions is a different story. Either way, they need to be addressed. How many of you are experiencing stress? Probably everyone is raising their hand right now, I’m assuming. The lovely word stress, I wish they could make a different word for that. I’ve grown to just hearing the word “stress” stresses you out. Nonetheless, it is a very common human experience.

What do you do? That’s the big question. When you feel stressed, what do you do? Do you cry? Do you scream? Do you lash out? Do you close up? Do you talk it out? Do you go for a run? Do you get organized? Do you make a plan? Do you ask for help? The last does not mean the least important. Do you ask for help? How you handle your stress, how you experience stress, and what you do because of it can make or break your experience. Be cognizant and aware of when you’re stressed out. Find an outlet that is conducive to moving forward.

One of the things, I know I made a big mistake in school. You look back and you reflect and you’re like, “I remember I just didn’t want to talk because the emotions that came with talking out my stress caused more stress at the time.” I remember feeling very emotional like I’d cry and I didn’t want to cry. A lot of times, I was crying by myself alone because I didn’t want my husband to think there was something wrong with me, even though I was definitely not okay.

I got to a certain point in school when I realized this was not healthy and I was starting to have a lot of panic attacks. When he would notice I was quiet, he would say, “How are you doing?” I would say, “I can’t talk about it right now. Let’s talk about it later.” That gave me a way to say, “He’s addressing the fact that I don’t feel good. I told him I didn’t feel good, but I couldn’t talk about it right now. Maybe later tonight over a glass of wine or something, I can open up.”

I started trying to create safe places where I felt more comfortable versus in the moment. When I was in the moment and dealing with my stress, I couldn’t talk about it. There’s usually a different point in the day where I could talk about it and we would then talk about it at that point. That was helpful for us to get to that point versus me not talking about it at all. I encourage you to address that early on because that was something that went on for quite some time. It felt lonely to be in that position where I felt like I couldn’t talk to my own husband about what was stressing me out. Find a space that is safe and that you feel comfortable opening up and talking out.

Whatever helps you cope. I would workout a lot too. Go for a run. Do what you need to do. Find a hobby. I’m getting organized. I call my life organized chaos. Getting organized can make you feel so much better about what you have going on. Making a to-do list and keeping a monthly plan. What is it you want to accomplish this month? What are some things that are must-dos, things that you want to do, and things that can wait? Make sure you’re prioritizing all the things in your life, not just with school but in your personal life too. Are these things that have to happen this month or even this week? Making a priority of whatever you have going on can make you feel a lot more organized when it comes to making decisions.

The Power Of Saying ‘No’

I know I point this out a lot on our show, but remember, every time you say yes to something, you’re equally saying no to something. That was something that was hard for me to come to terms with, but once I embraced that fact, I started saying no more often. When I thought about if I’m saying yes to you, what am I saying no to? That helped me say no. A lot of times what I was saying no to was things for myself, my children, and my spouse. Those are not the people in my life I want to say no to. I started saying no more often. It felt hard at first, but when I reminded myself what I was then saying yes to, I felt okay. Think about that as well. Hopefully, that helps you.

Stress can also cause physical symptoms. High blood pressure, anxiety, and panic attacks. I lost my hair. I had peptic ulcers. I physically was not doing well. I wish I would’ve had a lot of the self-reflection that I’m sharing with you now. I didn’t have that many years ago when I was in CRNA school, unfortunately. This is why it’s so great to talk to you guys now about this. Stress can cause a lot of physical symptoms that are very unpleasant to experience. It’s a real problem physically. Think about it, when you’re now physically broken down and you feel awful all the time, it doesn’t help your emotional state. It’s important to address your emotional well-being because it can have physical symptoms down the road if it goes unaddressed.

A nurse sitting on a bench outside with her head in her hands looking stressed.
Mental Wellness: It’s important to address your emotional well-being because it can have physical symptoms down the road.

 

Here is where I wanted to get into that you have answers. The answers come from awareness. If you’re like me, black and white, yes and no. That’s what I like, but it doesn’t always exist. The gray area always made me feel so uncomfortable. I had to ask myself why. Why does not knowing make me so uncomfortable? A lot of it comes down to maybe me not feeling like I had the confidence to find the answer or being unsure about my own resourcefulness. I had to ask myself, “Should I feel that way about my own ability to be resourceful or find the answers?” I look back historically and I’m like, “Have I always been okay? Have I always been able to figure it out?”

The answer was yes. I always eventually figure it out. Maybe not right away and maybe I made the wrong decision because I didn’t know, but then I found out that that was not the right decision, and then I knew. Even though it doesn’t always go on a clear, straight, and pretty path, sometimes you bounce around a little bit, the gray is where you get the most growth. The gray areas of your life where you don’t know are what forces you to be resourceful and what forces you to grow both knowledge-based and personally. It’s a very good thing. You don’t always want gray because that would be very stressful, but not having a direct yes and no or black-and-white answer is actually a good thing for you, as a human and as a person for growth and for future accomplishment.

The answer is you do have the answers because the answer is you might not know the black-and-white answer yet, but you know how to get there. The steps you need to take to be resourceful, to figure out the answer, to ask the questions, to do the things, to try different techniques, and different strategies to figure out the answer. You technically always have the answer. Similarly, you can make decisions on how you feel about something. Like I said before, do I want to feel busy or do I want to feel fulfilled? I get to choose. It’s my choice.

People in a hospital room and two healthcare professionals are high-fiving each other
Mental Wellness: The answer is you do have the answers, you just might not know the black and white answer yet. But you know how to get there.

 

Even though sometimes I know you might feel out of control that you have no say in this, you have a say over how you feel. That’s the only thing you do have control over in life at the end of the day. Almost everything else is out of your control, other than how you feel about what is going on and the emotions you’re associating with the experience. Can awareness go wrong? Yes, it sure can go wrong. Awareness mostly can go wrong when that awareness turns into judgment. Do not make this about you. Make this about actions or thought processes that you have done that can be changed. You don’t want to say, “I stink. I’m stupid.” If you feel that way about yourself, aren’t you going to want to learn how to not feel that way? Aren’t you going to want to learn how to do something different? You’re going to be all shriveled up and not feel good about yourself. You’re not going to want to move forward because you’re going to feel icky.

If you say, “That result didn’t happen and maybe I didn’t study long enough or maybe I didn’t understand the concept or maybe I didn’t ask questions. What did I do? What actions did I take that I could potentially change? Maybe I should have asked a different question. Maybe I should have used a different resource. Maybe I should have asked that surgeon to double-confirm. Maybe I should have done a more thorough preoperative assessment.” Whatever it is, you are not bad because of that thing. You just know next time that you’re going to be asking these questions differently or doing a different process, that’s going to lead to a better outcome. That’s the way you move forward.

You cannot put negative emotions towards yourself when you don’t do something that you do or you don’t have the outcome you wish. That’s how awareness can turn into judgment versus the why behind your perception. You need to make sure you’re checking that and making sure you’re not beating yourself up, essentially. There’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t achieve your goals. It’s actually a good thing. As I said before, failure is the beginning of a win. That’s actually a good thing.

I know it seems weird to celebrate a failure, but so much can be learned from failure only if you take the time to reflect on it and look at it in a way that’s not judgmental. If you look at it as a failure and you judge yourself, you are not going to be able to win from that. You will only win from a failure if you take it away from yourself completely as an action or an event that you can do something differently about next time. That’s how you win. Athletes make it to the championship game. They make the NBA. Do you think they started off day one that way? Do you think they had a lot of failures along the way to get to that level? I guarantee they had a lot of failures. Every failure, they measured themselves in a way that was not self-hurtful, but how can I do something differently next time? That is how you win.

Taking Ownership And Learning

That’s similar to all aspects of life. You cannot beat yourself up. The only way to move forward is to separate yourself from action and take a different action next time. Remember, it’s about acceptance of the action, even if it wasn’t a good outcome. Taking ownership of that, and then taking a different action. That’s the simple process of going from failure to success or from self-acceptance to self-growth. You have to be able to be okay with being not perfect and being human, and making the mistakes right in order to move forward. Everyone makes mistakes, every single person. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay. It’s more about taking ownership of that, being okay with that or acceptance, and then taking a different direction next time.

We’re wrapping this up and I want you to know that mental wellness is an evolving journey. It’s going to fluctuate. Your mental well-being is going to fluctuate. It’s okay to need external help. In fact, I would expect it. I got help. I had postpartum depression. I had a therapist for a while. I’ve also had other mindset coaches myself, especially over the last few years. All of it has helped tremendously. There was a period of time when I felt bad about that. I felt like, if I can’t handle myself, what does that mean about me? That’s when I had to catch myself. Why am I beating myself up over needing something else from others and needing some other type of perspective on life? That was not going to help me move forward past that.

It’s okay to get external help. It’s okay to need prescription drugs for a while to get yourself better. It’s okay to need therapy. All of it is okay. We’re all human doing the best we can. If you need something, it takes courage and bravery to ask for help. That’s something to be proud of, to say, “No, I’m not okay.” Good for you because that takes a lot of courage to do. Don’t be ashamed. You can always find someone out there who can help you. You just have to be willing to put your hand up and say, “I need the help.”

You’re going to fluctuate. It’s okay to need help. Create that awareness piece that you’re going to need to identify when you need this help. You need to recognize who your support system is and recognize what you can do for yourself to help in times of need. Recognize when you need it, who you would go to, and what you would do. Mindset. Turning those negative emotions into positivity. The busyness to fulfillment. The overwhelm to, “I have a lot going on, but I created this for myself. I am successful. That is why I have a lot of overwhelm because I’m successful. I have a lot going on. That’s something to be very proud of and that makes me feel good, not bad.”

Try to reframe the negativity that could be there with certain emotions and try to make it into a positive in your life. Think about it too. If you think about when adults retire from their careers, it’s all they’ve known and they put a lot of self-worth on that career, and then they have nothing to do. Equally, they find themselves going into a spiral of depression. They don’t feel fulfilled anymore because they need that career to feel fulfilled. That’s a problem too. You need to create things in your life outside of your career, your personal life, or everywhere to feel fulfillment. You need to be aware of that throughout your journey in life because it’s going to come and go.

As I spoke to you before, knowing who you are. Where is your whole? Is your cup full or empty? Addressing that first. I guarantee if someone retires and their cup is full, they’re not going to feel empty afterward. Similarly, when you’re in CRNA school, you’re going to be busy. If your cup is empty and when you’re done, you’re going to feel like, “I feel like a shell of a person.” That feels icky, to work so hard to get done with CRNA school only to feel like you don’t know who you are after. You have to fill your cup. You have to address who you are, love yourself, and own the things in your life that you want to do to fulfill your own fulfillment. Taking action. Action is important. Being aware is one thing, but if you’re willing to sit on it, it’s never going to change. Action is what drives results, so you have to take action.

I want to share this breathing technique that has helped me tremendously. Panic attacks right here, I definitely suffered from those. I had my first panic attack when I was in college in my freshman year. I remember thinking I was having a heart attack, not knowing what the heck was going on. I ended up figuring out that that was what a panic attack felt like. I went on to experience those for many years, including grad school. I dealt with insomnia. I’d go days without sleeping. I let anxiety play a very large role in my life. It wasn’t until years ago, when we had our first child, I started having issues with my blood pressure because of my anxiety and I was having tachycardia. It caused some problems in my pregnancy.

That being said, they want to put me on all kinds of drugs. I tried different drugs and it all made me feel icky. They never really helped. I started saying, “What can I do differently to try to control these emotions and try to control this anxiety that I feel all the time?” I started breathing. I started meditating even though it was hard for me. Breathing is what works the best. It’s because it’s a physical activity. Meditating is hard. It’s an amazing skill. I would highly encourage you all to try to meditate. I still try even though I still feel like I’m better at breathing than meditating.

Breathing is a form of meditation, at least how I see it. I am a very go-go person. I need something physical to keep me engaged. Breathing is a physical enough task for me where I can settle, which is why I want to share it with you. I feel like this is one thing that I wish I had this tool when I was in CRNA school. It would’ve helped me so much because now over a period of time, you can trigger your body to instantly relax by taking a few deep breaths. I also use guided imagery when I do my breathing technique. For me, you could pick whatever you want, but I use calm water.

For whatever reason, like a babbling brook or calm water, I picture calm water. Now, when I picture calm water, I instantly feel this relief and I calm down. I don’t even have to be breathing. I could just picture the calm water. I would pick something that is very stable. Don’t pick something that you’re emotionally tied to. I have dogs too and I love dogs, but don’t pick your dog because then those can be emotionally tied when your dog gets sick or whatever. Pick something that’s very stable and that’s not emotional. Maybe it’s mountains for you. Maybe it’s the feet in the sand. Whatever it is that would always be a constant, that could be there, that wouldn’t be an emotional tie that would calm you down. Pick that as a guided imagery to do the breathing technique.

The breathing technique is the 4, 7, 8. You breathe in for 4 seconds, and then you hold it for 7 seconds, which can feel like a lot, but the biggest catch is you want to exhale over 8 seconds. You have to purse your lips in order to do it that slow. It does feel uncomfortable. It does feel like you want to release all that air right away but don’t. Exhale over 8 seconds. The concept of breathing out slowly like that flips your parasympathetic nervous system. The way you know it’s working is you’re going to start to yawn. That is exactly how I know it’s working. I’m like, “I’m tired now.” You feel more relaxed. Your chest opens up. You feel more like you can deep breathe. You instantly feel your whole body tingle and relax.

This breathing technique flips off your sympathetic nervous system, turns on your parasympathetic nervous system, and brings down your heart rate and your blood pressure. It gives you feelings of calmness, peacefulness, and safety. It can do wonders for anxiety. I encourage you to look into this breathing technique and practice it. I do it in the car. I do it in the shower. I do it when I’m cooking dinner. I do it probably 5 or 6 different times throughout my entire day every single day. Originally, when I started doing it, I would do it when I felt anxious, but then it wasn’t helping because I was like, “My anxiety is already there. My chest is already tight.”

The trick is to do it when you don’t have anxiety. The trick is to do it several times a day every day. I know that takes a lot of remembering. Trust me, you’ll feel so good from doing it, you’re going to remember to do it. I used to wear a little tiny necklace that would look like a whistle. That would actually help me with the breathing technique before I learned how to do it on my own. There are tools out there you can use. I encourage you to do it. I promise you it gets easier and your body will naturally flip into it much quicker to where I don’t have panic attacks anymore. I don’t have blood pressure issues, tachycardia issues, and insomnia issues anymore. It made a huge difference in my life and I hope it can make a huge difference in yours. It’s simple and it’s free. I wanted to make sure I shared that with you.

Some closing thoughts are to not worry about things that haven’t occurred yet. I know I mentioned that earlier. This was huge for me because I’d worry about things that hadn’t happened. I’m like, “What if this happens and this happens?” That didn’t do me any good. Worry about what is currently happening. Be aware of what could happen, but don’t worry about it. Don’t plan for doomsday. Handle your life one day at a time. You have too much going on to worry about things that haven’t occurred yet. Don’t worry about, “What if I don’t pass this test?” Worry about you right now. Worry about the test you’re taking today or tomorrow. Don’t worry about next week or next month or next year or boards or anything like that. That is a thing that hasn’t occurred yet.

If you always put a potentially negative outcome to something that hasn’t occurred, how is that helping you? I would question that. I know it’s hard to stay positive when you’re overwhelmed with the possibility but you have to stay positive. Believe in yourself that you are meant to be here, that you are capable of doing this, and to not worry about things that haven’t actually occurred. Do you live your whole life worrying that, “I’m going to get cancer. I know it.” No. How miserable would that be? That’s a miserable life. You don’t want to live your day in, day out like that. It hasn’t even occurred. It may not occur. If it does, you’ll deal with it then.

There are a lot of things that are going to be out of your control and you can’t worry about them because they haven’t happened yet. Focus on today. When you start getting yourself negative, overwhelmed, and anxious, start trying to focus on the positive things that you can think of to make you feel better about what’s going on in your life. Accept the fact that some things are out of your control. Do not place self-blame because of that. You can’t control everything. What you can control is how you feel. You can’t control a lot of external things. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Don’t play self-blame.

In The Arena Of CRNA School

Remember, you’re in the arena. Do not let the bystanders take your joy. Behind me here I have The Man in the Arena, it’s by Theodore Roosevelt. I highly encourage you to look up this quote. It’s a great quote. I need it so many times. That being said, there are going to be naysayers and bystanders who are not outdoing the things. You’re the one in the arena doing all the things to get to your career goals. You cannot let others take away your joy. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about saying, “No, I can’t go to that family gathering. I can’t go to that friend-outing.” You are in the arena. You’re doing the things. Those bystanders are going to be bystanders and they’re naysayers, whatever you want to call them, so don’t let them take your joy and your pride for what you’re doing. You earned it. You deserve it.

Those are my closing thoughts. I also want to leave you with some resources. These are books that I find incredibly helpful that I have read throughout the last couple of years. One of the best ones or some of the ones are probably my favorite. I like Mindset by Carol Dweck. That one is a great book. She focuses a lot on a growth mindset. Another one that I love is Dare to Lead by Brene Brown. It’s so amazing. It’ll be an inspirational book for you to listen to.

All of these are great books. Sustain Your Game, if you’re into sports, you’ll love that one. A lot of athletes focus a lot on mindset to get where they are and to achieve what they’ve achieved. Alan Stein, I’m not a super huge sports fanatic, but he’s some ex-NBA coach. I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s a good book. Those are some fun things to lead you with. Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you. Wishing you guys the best of luck and excitement going forward. Thank you so much. I appreciate you. Until next time, take care. Cheers to your future.

That summarizes this episode. I hope you enjoyed and I hope you found some valuable tips and tools that you can use when thinking about your own mental wellness going forward from here. I appreciate you tuning into the show. If you wouldn’t mind leaving a review, I would so very much appreciate that. Until next week, take care. Bye.

 

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