“It’s been brewing. Moral injury around the unsustainable ways of doing things when it comes to work. The effects have just been compounding. The great resignation is now a hot topic, but I’m not surprised. We saw this coming because something had to give. It just took the pandemic to smack a little bit of reality in our faces. And to begin prioritizing what’s most important,” said Susan Wilkinson, Mental Health Educator, Nurse Practitioner and Entrepreneur.
The great resignation could be referred to as the great retaliation. Against a way of life and work that was incompatible with our mental or physical health. Moral injury is a term that’s often used in the aftermath of war. People often suffer emotionally when their values and choices are misaligned.
And pandemic working, forces more uncomfortable tradeoffs. Particularly for parents. So, many are now making bold changes. And you may be eager to improve your lifestyle. Big decisions can be stressful. But there are several ways to stay emotionally grounded, when making shifts in this changing environment.
We Often Agonize Over Resets
Society’s narrow success template often clashes with the realities of parenting. Which is simultaneously consuming, chaotic and beautiful. But our sense of identity also co-mingles with ambition. And all of it seems incompatible with the type of self-care and reflection that underpins mental wellness. After years working in hospitals and with Veterans as a Psychiatric Nurse, Susan decided to start her own mental health practice. Which has grown rapidly during the pandemic.
She’s often coaching patients through behavior change. How can we apply some perspective through our own career or life transitions? Susan said, “I want to validate that we’ve never been in times like this. So, this context is all new and unique. And what makes it even more challenging is that everything is shifting day to day and there is no sense of certainty. We’re used to planning. We are a country that plans. And now that goes to the wayside.”
But it’s Okay to Change Your Mind
Susan explained, “I remember in 2018 when the first lady Michelle Obama came for her book tour. She shared about how she hated being a lawyer. And she followed by encouraging us with the idea that, you have the right to change your mind. If you trained for something, that made sense in that moment. And that choice is currently taking away from your quality of life, you have the right to change your mind on everything concerning your life. It does not make you weak.” Amen.
And many of the pandemic changes, to how we live and work, are about getting closer to purpose and joy. With more flexibility while doing so. Susan said, “That is self-preservation. I’m not saying to jump around from project to project and never complete anything. But there are certain things in life where you get to that point and begin questioning what you’re doing. That’s a sign maybe to step back and reevaluate.”
And Accept Despite the Uncertainty
Susan said, “I don’t want to use the words ‘new normal’ because there’s nothing normal about this. But there is a new way of doing things. And it’s going to be a lot easier to navigate if we apply acceptance.” Whether it’s career, care for kids, parents or self, people continue to feel conflicted. And unsure about what the ‘right’ priorities are.
Work often becomes the default because careers provide financial and emotional stability. But different routines, whether from forced change, like a layoff. Or a planned upgrade, still feel disruptive. Susan said, “There is something about feeling like everything is just a moving part that can be destabilizing. That lack of structure and control overall. Some of my work around that, is really about gracefully accepting.”
Feel Your Feelings
Susan said, “A lot of us are not quite ready to give up that control. There’s something distressing about that. And the next phase of learning, is to sit down with your own feelings. And slowly, intentionally train your body and mind to feel! Because for the longest time we’ve been on autopilot. So, learning not to run away from those negative feelings, of frustration and distress, is going to go a long way to liberate and empower us.” Yes!
She added, “When I’m working with patients, those are the things that I try to share. By validating those same feelings of frustration. And encouraging people to build resilience one layer at a time.”
While You Learn to Adapt
Susan explained adaptable thinking based on a recent conversation with a patient. Who was stressed about the everchanging pandemic conditions on his career and upcoming vacation plan. She suggested that he focus on the steps he could take, to mitigate risk and better manage stress.
She said, “You can train your brain to know and accept that it’s okay. Even if we don’t know when things will rebound. That’s part of giving up control. We came up with a few simple steps he could use for grounding and to feel more comfortable. It doesn’t have to be big mind-blowing ideas but rather, simple alterations in your life.”
And Reward Yourself
Transformation, in the form of new behavior, is among the hardest things for humans to do. Susan, who also works with people to overcome trauma and substance use, wisely suggests we show ourselves kindness. “Pick an activity, once a day. Or ideally, more often if you can. Where you show yourself some love. And reward yourself for living through the day. Maybe that’s the little bit of control you have in this new routine and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
In our culture, we tend to focus on and worry about what we could have done. Including the things, we haven’t done. Susan added, “Right! And forget to celebrate what we have done.” Absolutely. We often chastise ourselves over perceived missteps. But that’s not the best way to support yourself through change.
Susan reminds us to build flexibility with small shifts that become consistent. She said, “When things don’t go the way that we planned, flexibility plays a major role in adapting to whatever it is. Remember, it’s better to thrive than survive. Sustainable thriving might be hard initially. But over time, you gain the tools you can use to really sustain it.”
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Many thanks to the talented Susan Wilkinson!
Susan Wilkinson, MSN, RN, PMHNP-BC. Susan Wilkinson is a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner as well as a serial entrepreneur. She completed a Master of Nursing from Boston College and is a board certified Psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner. She has expertise and a passion for substance use disorders (SUD) awareness, treatment, and community sensitization. Beyond being a trained professional, Susan also has had personal experience taking care of loved ones struggling with mental illness and substances use. She has worked for some of the major Medical Centers in the Boston area- engaged in clinical work, research, leadership, and teaching responsibilities. Among those institutions in the Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System (Jamaica Plain Campus) where she was an attending clinician. She also worked at Boston Medical Center where she was the behavioral health consultant in the Family medicine clinic as well as working in the outpatient clinic.
In May/2018, Susan founded Ally Integrated Healthcare, PC. a private practice in Boston. The practice has since grown to five clinicians (soon to be 7) with an additional office in Harvard, MA. She also collaborates with and consults for various psychotherapy groups in the metro Boston area. Additionally, Susan is a clinical preceptor for Boston College and Regis College- to date, she mentored and graduated 5 psychiatric nurse practitioner students. In her clinical work, Susan assesses, diagnoses and treatment plans for individuals and families struggling with a wide range of mental health conditions as well as substance use disorders. She has completed numerous trainings related to substance use and mental health treatment, most recently certification in the Invitation to Change (ITC) model.
As a passionate global health advocate particularly global psychiatry and substance use disorders; she is the founder and president of Your Ally Foundation, Inc; a 501c (3) non-profit registered in Massachusetts. Her global health work includes volunteering as a substance use treatment clinician in Uganda and Zambia where is licensed to practice.