recognizing our emotions

How to Recognize Our Emotions as Nurse Practitioners and the Role They Play

As a practicing nurse and healthcare educator I have come to understand that being able to recognize our emotions and the role they are playing is very important. 

 I see this most commonly in the clinical environment. For instance, passing medications, rounding with doctors, changing a dressing, educating patients, talking with anxious significant others–often within the same minutes or hour! Yes, many emotions can be elicited. Thus, why is it important to recognize our emotions especially in intense and challenging work environments

The ability to recognize emotions, especially in a negative sense, can be the catalyst for de-escalating interactions or situations. For instance, think about a recent clinical interaction that quickly became emotionally charged and ended in emotional turmoil for you and possibly the patient or other registered nurses and healthcare workers. Could this type of outcome be prevented? How?  

When Our Emotions Get the Better of Us

I’m prompted to reflect upon the following scenario that was witnessed recently during a patient code. The code occurred within ten minutes of the change of shift which delayed the oncoming critical care nurse about 10 minutes.  

During this 10 minutes, the night shift critical care nurse performed her responsibilities along with the other members of the code team. Once the oncoming critical care nurse arrived in the patient’s room, the night shift nurse (20 minutes remaining until the formal end of the shift) loudly and abrasively blurted out “where have you been, it’s time for me to leave” and promptly left the room. 

The oncoming nurse looked stunned, didn’t verbalize a word and immediately and effectively assumed her responsibilities. It should be noted that the night nurse then spent at least 10 minutes in the hall talking to nurses not involved in the code. One can imagine the pieces of the conversation! 

At the completion of the code and successful patient care, the oncoming nurse quietly said, “I got here as fast as possible, the elevators were so slow.” She then quietly said, “I feel so bad for making her mad.” 

Based upon the above scenario, the oncoming nurse recognized her emotions during the night shift nurse’s verbal outburst. As a result, recognizing the night shift nurses’ perception and highly charged emotions diffused the situation. The oncoming nurse did not attempt to justify the timing issue, and instead professionally assisted the code team in providing quality based interventions, as applicable. The oncoming nurses’ approach diffused emotions and avoided escalating the situation. 

Another key piece to this type of emotionally-charged scenario is to be able to understand our emotions. Understanding emotions during stressful situations can be a catalyst for building trust and avoiding negative emotions and outcomes. For example, the night shift nurse may be dealing with a situational crisis at home, requiring her to meet specific timing elements, like taking a child to school, etc.  

Unfortunately, nurses and health care workers deal with this type of situation on a consistent basis. The ability to develop self awareness and hone in our emotional responses, including not taking things personally, is important, yet challenging. Emotional awareness can assist professionals to deal effectively with their emotions without suppressing them. They do so respectfully, in ways that recognize and respond appropriately to the emotions of others.  

The Importance of Self Awareness

Just think of potential negative outcomes if the oncoming critical care nurse would have responded in the same loud and abrasive tone. The night shift nurse was obviously overcome with frustration. She failed to recognize that her frustration was mounting and did not take steps to regulate it. Instead, she let her emotions motivate her actions. The result was an emotional explosion that negatively affected those around her.

In all likelihood, that verbal explosion served as a release valve for the nurse, but the relief was no doubt temporary. The outburst did not serve her or anyone else in a productive manner. Is this type of behavior likely to be repeated? Yes, it is safe to assume she will feel similar frustrations on another shift and the cycle of negativity may persist. Conversely, the nurse could increase her level of self awareness, reflect upon her actions, recognize the power of emotions and manage emotional outbursts in the future.