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You Know, the One Thing that Keeps You Awake at Night?

by | Feb 22, 2015 | No Comments

“Now that all your worry has proved such an unlucrative business, why not find a better job?” ~ Hafiz (14th Century Poet)

Last week I woke in the middle of the night with a patient on my mind. It’s not the first time, of course. The worst was years ago as a home hospice nurse. I lay awake questioning whether or not I clearly explained to a daughter how to administer her mom’s morphine.¬†Unable to let go of this thought, I made my husband drive me at 2:00 in the morning to check on their house. I’m not sure what I hoped to find, but the solution was not out there on the dark street.

The neuroscience literature reports we have about 2 seconds for one of these thoughts to be picked up by our thinking brain where thoughtful reflection on the situation can actually take place. But these worry thoughts are quite tricky and fast, and most often they slip past the prefrontal cortex and become like worms burying themselves into the emotional brain or our lower survival brain. And once that happens, a particular “worry thought” cycle begins.¬†For me with that hospice patient I wondered, “What did I say? Did I explain the dosage? Why didn’t I have her show me herself administering the med. Oh, wait. I think I did do that. I must have. Of course I did. But what if she didn’t understand?”

If you are like me, this is familiar territory. Doubting, reviewing, and mentally rewriting a different beginning or ending of a situation so you can go back to sleep relieved everything will turn out O.K. But at midnight these “unsupervised” worries are in the driver’s seat and it’s hard to sort out what’s real. What I discovered that night as the root cause of my worry, was that during my explanation to the family, my conscious mind wasn’t fully present.

Body memory and habits as a professional accumulate with experience. And this is good. It often means, especially in an emergency, that you can act quickly. And every day activities don’t have to be broken down into distinct parts. But if you rely on this when you’re busy to the exclusion of your mental “body”, you may miss something. In a health care environment, it becomes even more important to be fully present, mind and body.

Today, check in with yourself periodically and notice if you are fully present mentally and physically. So in the night, your memory will be anchored in both mind and body leaving worried thoughts no toehold. And if some midnight you find yourself awake worrying, you can use this moment to be kindly and fully present to yourself. Bring your mind to the sensations of your breathing, feel your body supported by the bed. And when you notice your attention wandering away from your breathing to the “what ifs”, gently reconnect, mind and body together. If 95% of all worry is unnecessary, then being connected in mind and body might help sort out what 5% really needs our attention. And you’ll have found Hafiz’s “better job”.

As always, much love for all that you do every day in service to others and in caring for yourself,

Jackie

P.S. My hospice patient? Just fine. In fact, she had a great night’s sleep. If you have thoughts to share, I’d love to hear from you. Reply in the comments below!

Jackie Levin

RN, MS, AHN-BC, NC-BC, CHTP

(206) 304-7703

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