Can Nurses Change Course? Thoughts on Inertia

When I hear the word inertia, the meaning I think of is actually paralysis:

The loss of the ability to move (and sometimes to feel anything) in part or most of the body, typically as a result of

Take One Daily by jparadisi
Take One Daily by jparadisi


illness, poison, or injury; inability to act or function in a person, organization, or place.

The actual definition of inertia is:

A property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force. Inertia is the inability to change course.

Nurses experience inertia when we are unable to switch gears from the high emotional output of our jobs to the more “normal” activities of our personal lives.

I wrote about my difficulty changing course in “The Hostess With The Mostest.” In that post, I describe struggling to transform from on-duty nurse into a party guest at the end of a shift. The difficulty is not only in physically changing from work clothes to party wear. It’s also in retooling my brain for party talk. I have to remember how to talk about favorite restaurants, or the latest film I have not yet seen, instead of cancer nursing, blogging about nursing, or the other related things I spend large amounts of my time doing, casting a shadow over a perfectly good cocktail party.

I think about this while observing people who are not nurses enjoying themselves by taking funny pictures with their cellphones while I avoid being caught in any photographs I wouldn’t want an employer to find on Facebook. Do I worry too much, or is it this a characteristic that makes me a nurse?

It’s healthy for nurses, like myself, to avoid inertia and change course through external activities after leaving our places of work. I find it easier said than done, however, not because I can’t relax, but because “normal” life sometimes fails to hold my attention.

I suspect other nurses find normal life less interesting than their nursing roles, too. If we aren’t over-scheduling ourselves with committee meetings, working overtime, all the while being the World’s Best Soccer Mom, we don’t feel busy enough.

This point was brought home to me by a friend who commented that I seemed tired after I said I was going for a run after getting off a 12-hour shift early. I told her, “No, I’m not tired. I only worked eight hours today.” She replied, “For most people, eight hours is a full day’s work. Go home and get some rest.”

I didn’t. I went for the run. I do my best thinking while running, not meditating on a yoga mat. It’s hard to walk when you’re born to run.

Do you think preferring a busy and sometimes-hectic lifestyle is a characteristic of nurses?


  1. Great post! I know just what you mean about relaxing while running and about “normal life” not holding your attention…idle conversation can seem so irrelevant after spending a long and emotionally charged day at work. I think that must be something many nurses share, and it explains why I usually have the best time, socially, when I go out with other nurses. Not that we talk about work…we’re just on the same wavelength.


  2. Hey JP, great post as usual. I have always found it hard to relax and meditation is pretty much a joke for me but I’m trying. What I’ve found is that one of the few things that takes me out of my head is dancing. I’ve discovered Nia here in Aussie and what’s interesting is that the world headquarters is in PDX! Crazy! It really is a great way to switch gears. Anyway, if you haven’t heard of it, check it out. Lots of fun! Cheers!


  3. This was the story of every day of my life for the past 16 years as a critical care RN.
    Give me the difficult, fast paced, toughest assignment, and then give me MORE!
    Then, I learned to breathe. Not just to sustain my life, but to breathe to fill my soul with some calm. It helps, when I remember to do it, when I’m not running as fast as I can to get to the next thing!
    Thanks for your great insight!


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