Side Hustle: Peg Below Helps Fellow Nurses Find Respite with Wellness Coaching
As Peg Below began advancing in perioperative leadership, it dawned on her that she wasn’t taking care of herself very well. Rest, exercise, and eating right were becoming more and more elusive.
“I just wanted to learn more about how I could improve my self-care,” Below says, currently working as an interim director at a Philadelphia-area hospital. “In the past, I was seeking out holistic and wellness conferences to develop better self-care skills.”
Below began her wellness coaching practice in 2013 and completed her Ph.D. in mind-body medicine in 2017. Since then, her practice has solidified into a holistic program using mind-body techniques (hypnosis, biofeedback, guided imagery) to help people identify and understand their self-care needs so they can create a more integrated lifestyle.
Below has carved out a niche; most of her clients are healthcare providers, including nurse leaders. Since the pandemic began, demand for her services has increased, with requests for a more individualized experience. Currently, her practice is virtual, and she is planning to transition to small group workshops pending revised social distancing recommendations.
“As people re-prioritize their lives, some realize they’re not so sure they want to be in the profession anymore, which challenges their value system and identity,” Below says. “Most of us get into nursing because we’re natural caretakers and it feeds our souls.”
Clients have told Below that they find value in her extensive nursing background because she can relate to their experiences. She understands their stressors, the expectations of the job, and how physically and emotionally draining it can be.
“The literature tells us that burnout is a symptom of the inherent complexity of healthcare systems, which contributes to its prevalence among providers,” Below says. “There are many steps that must be done for things to go smoothly, and any error has high visibility.”
She gives kudos to organizations for offering ways to help nurses decompress, whether it’s healthier food in the cafeteria, walking areas, chair massage stations, or a more robust structure of support such as an integrative health resource for staff. However, clients tell Below they are reluctant to talk openly about their challenges.
“They’ll do the chair and hand massages, but as far as sitting down and talking to someone about how they feel and what is at the root—the stress of the pandemic, a tough time that will pass, or aging in the workplace—that conversation makes them vulnerable.”
Below uses a methodology centered in narrative research, where a client’s description of their experience is synthesized for themes in their story. She then uses mind-body techniques to discover the wisdom of healing within the body. This leads to further understanding of how stress is held in the body and how it impacts self-care.
“Once we get the narrative, identify their strengths and values, I then take them out of their verbal space by using mind-body medicine,” Below says. “The mind is very rule-based, centered on checklists and routines. But the body is authentic and when you tap into the information that comes from the body, it’s powerful and real.”
Below says healthcare providers are now managing even more stress in the current environment. The ongoing challenges with vaccine compliance, rising COVID infections, and the unpredictability of childcare and keeping kids safe in schools, all influence the ability to tend to self-care needs. The confluence of these issues compounds the strain of a job that is already inherently demanding. She encourages leaders and staff to seek support however they can and start with working on themselves first.
“Everyone is different, and one size doesn’t fit all. One person may need to go deeper and talk to someone like myself, or another may get a chair massage and that’s all they needed to realize how stressed they were,” Below says. “That’s why organizations should keep whatever support resources they have front and center, make sure people know they exist.”