Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads of NurseTogther.com: “Be honest with yourself”

Be honest with yourself: spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to check-in with yourself and take your “emotional temperature”. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, sit or lie down, close your eyes, take 3 deep circle breaths, and just feel. Do you feel content? Sad? Lonely? Frustrated? […]

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Be honest with yourself: spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to check-in with yourself and take your “emotional temperature”. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, sit or lie down, close your eyes, take 3 deep circle breaths, and just feel. Do you feel content? Sad? Lonely? Frustrated? Scared? Happy? Feel your own feelings, and if you are feeling bad make an action plan for more self-care.

Many ancient traditions around the world believe ‘wellbeing’ or ‘bienestar’ is a state of harmony within ourselves and our world, where we are in balance mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As a part of our series about “How We Can Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Jenna Liphart Rhoads Ph.D., RN, CNE. She is a nurse educator and freelance author and editor. She earned a BSN from Saint Francis Medical Center College of Nursing and an MS in nursing education from Northern Illinois University. Jenna earned a Ph.D. in education with a concentration in nursing education from Capella University where she researched the moderation effects of emotional intelligence on the relationship of stress and GPA in military veteran nursing students. Her clinical background includes surgical-trauma adult critical care, interventional radiology procedures, and conscious sedation in adult and pediatric populations. She currently resides in Texas with her husband and two children.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I was born and raised in Byron, IL, a small town in northern Illinois, where I lived with my younger sister and my parents, who were also raised in the area. I grew up playing barefoot outside with my sister and played various sports growing up. I was an avid reader and very social as an older child. As a kid, it was the kind of town where crime didn’t really happen, and you could play outside until the porchlight came on. I have always been fascinated with the body and health and felt that helping others was the most important work. I experienced my fair share of trauma as a teenager and young adult and now channel those lessons into my work.

What or who inspired you to pursue a career in helping others? We’d love to hear the story.

There are two people who influenced me growing up to pursue nursing and education. I had terrible asthma as a child and was in the elementary school nurse’s (Cathy) office a lot. I struggled with feeling different and left out when my friends played at recess and I needed to sit inside and take asthma treatments. The school nurse was always warm and friendly, and she made the time I spent in her office comforting. She also created a “lunchtime learning” club for the kids in the school with asthma and I enjoyed going to that… it made me feel special and included. The second person was a high school teacher named Margie who ran the school’s career exploration program. In high school I was convinced that I wanted to be a middle or high school English teacher, and Margie was NOT convinced that it was the right career for me. She made me a deal; I would do a job shadow with critical care nurses and she would indulge me by allowing to also shadow the 7th grade English teacher. Well, she was absolutely right! I was incredibly bored in the English classroom and immensely enjoyed shadowing critical care nurses. I immediately switched my career goals and I have Margie to thank that I’m not teaching middle school English right now.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

Hands-down my mom gave me the most help and encouragement along my career journey. She would (and still does) throw all of her energy and thought into helping me achieve whatever I have strived for. She has driven me an hour each way to take tumbling classes when I was in competitive cheerleading, she helped me research nursing programs and look for jobs, she showed up to every single concert/performance/ceremony I have ever been in, and when I desperately wanted to quit my dissertation, she encouraged me to keep putting one mental foot in front of the other because she knew I would regret quitting.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of pursuing your passion? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Right before starting nursing school I got really nervous that I was making a huge mistake and turned down acceptance into two incredible nursing programs along with two scholarships. I took a hard left turn and decided I wanted to be a microbiology major. Within eight weeks into that course, I was regretting my decision and had a mini “crisis” where I fluctuated between wanting to be a photographer for National Geographic and a dolphin trainer. Finally, my mom was able to pull be back to center and I got back into a nursing program where I was the happiest. I learned two things: it’s a monumental task to ask 18-year-olds to make the big life decision of choosing a career, and just because you make a mistake it doesn’t mean that you can’t right the wrong.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“I know that when God makes me wait, He is strengthening my heart” Psalm 27:14

By far my biggest struggle in all areas of life is my lack of patience with myself and with my circumstances. I have a tendency to want the change to come or the good to happen NOW, not next week or next year. I have found that slowing down and focusing on the “why” of the season or space I’m in makes me appreciate it more instead of always looking to the future to hurry up.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I am continuing to work as an expert with NurseTogether.com, which is a website dedicated to being a resource for nurses in their professional lives. This passion project is important to me because I want to help nurses continue to fall in love with their chosen profession over and over again. I am also working on brainstorming a book.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In my writing, I talk about cultivating wellbeing habits in our lives, in order to be strong, vibrant and powerful co-creators of a better society. What we create is a reflection of how we think and feel. When we get back to a state of wellbeing and begin to create from that place, the outside world will reflect this state of wellbeing. Let’s dive deeper into this together. Based on your experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I am someone who prefers to practice “moving meditation” through running, cycling, and barre practice. I have a difficult time sitting still and have found that moving my body actually helps my mind to focus. When I’m moving my body, I can focus on a mediation mantra, pray, and critically think about a problem instead of constantly battling a wandering mind. The great thing about meditation is that it can look different for each person’s personality and needs.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Consistent sleep schedule- waking up and going to sleep within an hour of the same time every day helps regulate the circadian rhythm which results in falling asleep faster and waking feeling well-rested.
  2. Consistent exercise — you don’t have to become a runner or take up CrossFit (unless you want to!) to reap the benefits of exercise. What matters in the long run is consistency, so pick an exercise that you truly enjoy and make it a priority in your schedule 4–5 days a week.
  3. Drink water — most people are astounded by the amount of water that it is recommended by experts to drink in one day and even more surprised when they note how little they actually drink. Most experts agree that adults should drink 0.5–1 oz. of water per pound they weigh every day. Being adequately hydrated helps to clear skin, reduce mental fog, improve digestion, and maintain a healthy weight.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are some great ways to begin to integrate it into our lives?

I HIGHLY suggest integrating the 80/20 rule. The problem with a lot of diets or meal plans is that they are restricting and often don’t take into account individual dietary needs. In my opinion, no matter if you eat vegan, paleo, carnivore, gluten-free, dairy-free, etc., the 80/20 rule is a good one to follow. The 80/20 rule is 80% healthy foods and 20% treats, which can be applied to any sort of dietary needs or specialty eating plan. Allowing for treats or junk food also makes maintaining healthy eating much more manageable.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

These are habits that I share with my nursing students, but also could be used by anyone looking to improve their emotional wellbeing.

  1. Schedule time for yourself: it is so easy to allow your cup to run dry when its being poured out of all day long. Even in the midst of a pandemic, our culture never slows down and it can be difficult to find time to refill your own cup. Pick 3 things that are solely for your own benefit and literally schedule them into your week… and don’t cancel on yourself!
  2. Be honest with yourself: spend a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day to check-in with yourself and take your “emotional temperature”. Put down the phone, turn off the TV, sit or lie down, close your eyes, take 3 deep circle breaths, and just feel. Do you feel content? Sad? Lonely? Frustrated? Scared? Happy? Feel your own feelings, and if you are feeling bad make an action plan for more self-care.
  3. Ask for help: don’t be afraid to ask for help from your friends or family, or even from a professional. Our culture praises those who “tough it out” and condone those who seek help. You don’t have to tough it out or go it alone. If you are struggling mentally or emotionally, call a trusted friend or relative or make an appointment with a therapist.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellbeing? We’d love to hear it.

When I was a kid I was in the musical ‘Annie’ and loved the song “you’re never fully dressed without a smile”. The act of smiling tricks the brain into feeling happy even when you are not because of muscle memory and ‘feel good’ hormones. Smiling and laughing reduce stress and improve anxiety too. Don’t believe me? The next time you are in a bad mood, set your timer and smile for 30 seconds for a few times and feel your mood improve.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellbeing? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Figure out what you believe. As a nurse, I have attended and taught at a religious-affiliated school of nursing, worked in religious-affiliated hospitals, and had many conversations with patients, students, and nurses about spiritual aspects of humanity. I have found that no matter what people believe about spirituality, nothing is more jarring that being confused spiritually. My suggestion is to read some books, do some research, have engaging conversations with people you trust (even if they have different beliefs), and write down what you do and do not believe. These activities will be helpful in figuring out what you believe.
  2. Write out your gratitude. Being ungrateful can lead to spiritual discontentment and overall anger with life. Every week set a timer for two minutes and spend the time writing down as much as you can think of that you are grateful for. Even if it’s just “food” or “clothes”, those are still things that can spring feelings of gratitude. The more you engage in this practice, the easier it gets. Even when the world feels like its crumbling (like in 2020) there is always, always, always something to be grateful for.
  3. Give to others. We gain the most when we give and helping our fellow humans can bring new gratitude for our own situations. We feel connected when we give, and we feel that our own existence is important.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate overall wellbeing?

As a mom, I have noticed that my children are happiest, and literally more “grounded” in when they’ve spent time in nature. As a child and as an adult, being in nature has helped me feel more satisfied and connected. Besides the measurable health benefits of vitamin D from the sun and fresh air full of oxygen, nature seems to restore our souls. There is something about feeling grass on your feet, smelling the foliage, and feeling the warm sun on your face that just makes me feel at peace. A peaceful person is a happy person.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love to start a movement called “Give 5” or “High 5” which calls people to give 5 dollars to a charity a month, 5 hours of volunteering a month, and 5 small acts of kindness to 5 people a month. For most people, giving 5 dollars a month wouldn’t make much a difference in their overall budget, but it would be lifegiving to a charity. Five hours of volunteering a month would just be an afternoon but would help so many organizations make a noticeable impact. 5 acts of kindness are an opportunity to touch hearts throughout your month. Small, continuous acts of giving is what makes the largest impact.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Jillian Harris! She is a hardworking, down to earth, powerhouse of a woman with a huge heart. Her dedication to her family and passion for giving back to her community is so inspiring to me. I am reminded by her daily to work hard, love harder, and give just as much as you receive if not more.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow my work and life on my IG @RaisingRhoads and read my writing on NurseTogether.com

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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