Today in the chart

Heavy Backpacks

As we fight for a brighter future in nursing, let us remind each other that we carry heavy backpacks, and it is okay to take them off because we are worthy of being cared for as we care for others.

Vivek Murthy, our National Surgeon General, recently declared loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection an epidemic harming individual and societal health. As a nurse, it has felt very lonely in the past, holding the stories of loss and grief with my patients that no one else can understand. When I was working in the ER and at a party or a social gathering, people would inevitably ask me what I do for a living. When I told them I was an ER nurse, they always said, “Wow, I could never do that.” At this moment in the conversation, I knew I couldn’t share anymore about my work, as their threshold of just imagining what I did as a nurse was too much for them to comprehend.

As an ER nurse, we see very traumatic things, and I don’t remember having spaces where I could say, “Today was really hard – one of my patients was a 13-year-old who hung himself and died.” or “ I took care of a woman today who was raped.” It always felt big and traumatic and too much to share with anyone – so it felt lonely. I didn’t know where to lay down all the intense emotions and traumatic experiences I had witnessed. It felt like my backpack of work-related trauma was getting heavier and heavier and heavier, and eventually, I couldn’t carry it alone. Once I realized I was never supposed to carry it alone, I was opened up to a new way of looking at what I was carrying. 

I realized that I needed to release the trauma, remind myself and others that I needed care, and define what it meant to me to rest.  

Release, Remind, Rest


To release the trauma, I would talk about how I was feeling, find other nurses, and share my experiences with them because they get it. Also, I found other trusted people in my life who could let me share without trying to fix me and what I was feeling. Another way to release is through journaling – writing out all my experiences with as much detail as possible, allowing the traumatic events to leave my body. Trauma exits us through movement and somatic processing; even using one hand to write is processing through movement, and it can be so healing. Other movements I love are dancing, running, walking, and playing – all of these move the emotions and trauma through us, opening space for healing.


Remind my leaders, co-workers, family, friends, and myself of my beautiful humanity that I, too, can break and have needs by modeling and choosing to ask for what I need. Maybe this is taking a day off, asking to work in a different area of the ER for the rest of the week, asking your partner to make dinner for you on the nights you work, or prepping your dinners the Sunday of your big work week so you don’t have to think about it when you get home from a 12-hour shift. Once we remember our needs, because that makes us human, it is also easier to remind others around us. This is how we combat loneliness through connection. 


I used to think rest for me was moving my body, but then I realized that moving my body helps release, but it wasn’t giving me proper rest. I don’t know if I still know how to rest, but I think this question—what truly brings you rest – is important for us all to answer and prioritize for ourselves. Now, I tell myself to go outside, find a spot to sit, and stare at the world. Eventually, I will see a bug or a bird that I look at and begin to notice in the moment. It is very different to rest and allow the world to come to you versus rushing out into the world. In these spaces of just being without purpose, I am learning how to connect to myself and listen to what my heart, body, and mind need.

As our backpacks continue filling, I invite you to take some time to journal. Find a moment to ask yourself these three questions: 

  1. What can I release? How can I release it? What is my favorite way of releasing? Is it verbally with another nurse, friend, or family member? Through movement?
  2. Who can I remind that I need care? How do I remind them? Is it a text, an email, or a phone call? Could it be an emoji that you send when you can’t say anything else? How can I care for myself right now – what do I truly need? How can I prioritize this care right now?
  3. How can I find true rest right now? Define what true rest is for you, and then ask yourself what that would look like daily.

 As we continue to release, remind, and rest, we hope that our systems start to put policies in place that protect us from too much trauma. Our leaders help us feel seen, heard and cared for as we care for others. Based on the data and literature, we can create safe staffing ratios and safe staffing situations that honor who we are and what we are holding. We hope that our systems start to reflect the brilliant and resilient humans we are and not take advantage of our resiliency and care. As we fight for this brighter future in nursing, let us remind each other that we carry heavy backpacks, and it is okay to take them off because we are worthy of being cared for as we care for others.

Tara Rynders, The Dancing Nurse Educator and Nightingale Luminary, is the CEO and Founder of The Clinic.

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