responding versus reacting

Responding Versus Reacting: How to Handle Difficult Situations

Impulsivity, reactivity, resistance to change, and tantrums are things that come with the territory when raising children. Children, of course, don’t have the self-awareness or self-control to understand the connection between feelings and reaction; they don’t have the skills to modulate their behavior. The task of parenting or caregiving involves helping them grow in both awareness and self-control.

What are the connections across the Age Continuum? 

When a nurse’s frustration rises as a result of a busy and chaotic work environment, reactive behavior may result. For example, let’s take a look at Kate’s journey.

As a new nurse, Kate struggled with consistent interruptions while attempting to administer medications within designated timeframes. At one point during the end of a busy twelve hour shift, she abruptly yelled out “I can’t do a hundred things at one time, and I am sick of this place!” This was Kate’s form of a tantrum and reactivity.

As a result of the above scenario, Kate has to make a choice, although she may not be aware of it. Interruptions during critical tasks are certain to continue, as are other stressors in the often chaotic world of clinical care and other nursing venues. Non-work-related stressors are also bound to continue. 

Thus, Kate must choose a mindset. Will she decide that, given the stressors in her world, she is entitled to stress-releasing tantrums, or will she decide she needs to grow up and learn self-control, courtesy, and professionalism?

After self-reflection, Kate was mortified by her behavior. As she drove home from work, she replayed the embarrassing scenario again and again in her head. Kate had dreamt of being a nurse since she was a child and had imagined herself nurturing patients and encouraging them as they healed. And here she was, barely off orientation in her first nursing job, screaming in the hallways.

Once she got home, Kate phoned her Aunt Nell, who she had always respected, and told her the whole sorry story. Gently, Aunt Nell reminded Kate that her father had always been a yeller and that everyone in the family had learned to tiptoe around him whenever life became tense or frustrating. Kate’s father had owned a neighborhood bakery and was known to bark at his employees as well. The idea that Kate might be unconsciously following in her father’s reactive footsteps upset her.

Aunt Nell assured Kate that she could learn skills to manage anger and frustration more productively. She suggested that Kate ask for guidance from an experienced nurse she admired on the unit. Kate decided to talk to Cathy, a nurse who consistently seemed calm, professional, and respectful to those around her.

Although she might not have known the appropriate term for it, Cathy was a model of an emotionally competent nurse. While Cathy encountered her share of pressures, as well as disrespect and even bully like behavior at work, she was determined to behave professionally. This decision was connected to her self-awareness and personal moral code.

Thankfully, Cathy was happy to mentor Kate and discuss strategies for managing her strong feelings. Unfortunately, she did not have a magic bullet. There’s no one right way, and certainly no easy fix, to manage the pressures in healthcare. Cathy shared some general observations before talking about the specific issues around administering medications.

Take-a way points:

During our busy schedules, we can fail to see how emotions affect our behavior, including reactions to situations. For example, Cathy embellished the opportunity to share the importance of being emotionally proactive rather being reactive. As a result, new nurse Kate gained perspective and a mentor!