Pandemic Front Line Work, PTSD, and Recovery with Samantha Alvarez

Samantha Alvarez has done a lot of different work over the course of her career. By her count, she’s had 65 jobs.

She also finds herself now pursuing two parallel tracks professional —nursing and sales — along with a few more passion projects that she takes very seriously.

I intended to get into all of that. But this conversation went a surprising and unexpected direction.

Samantha has spent the last 15 months on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, in hospitals and ER’s around the united states. I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to hear more about that experience, how she’s processing it, and how she’s moving from it.

This conversation was so fun and unexpected. It definitely wasn’t the conversation that I anticipated having, but it was such an exciting and relevant experience to explore that I couldn’t help myself.

We’ll have Samantha on in our next episode to dig further into her work journey.


Listen in here:

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In this episode you’ll learn:

  • What Samantha does
  • The four pillars of her life
  • How she earns a living
  • How she’s processing Covid trauma
  • How mental health became her fuel in battling pandemic
  • The experiences she witnessed in the field
  • The stress and trauma a frontline worker experiences everyday
  • How to recovery from the trauma of pandemic
  • How to fight PTSD while working in the field
  • How to manage being workaholic
  • What is a “Mind Gap Exercise”
  • Tips in managing panic attacks

Resources Mentioned:

Samantha’s website

The Burnout Recovery Guide by Samantha Alvarez

Software Generated Transcription:

Dan

Samantha, thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the Meaning Movement podcast.

Samantha

Thank you so much for having me, Dan. I’m really excited to be here.

Dan

Likewise. The question I like to begin with is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?

Samantha

So the first thing I do when people ask me that is never words. It’s actually a facial expression and like, oh, my God. Really? Yes. Because there are so few ways to explain that. I ended up with four different degrees in school in different things. And I’ve done 65 different jobs for money, not necessarily just to support myself, but I’ve done a lot of health care, I’ve done a lot of sales, and I do a lot of well, actually, the way that I talk about it, as I talk about four things, there are four things that are really pillars in my life.

Number one is relationships. Number two is music and or languages. Languages and music are either number two or number three. And number four ended up being communication similar to relationships. Now put communications with relationships. And then I will say that number four is actually health and health care and education. So those are the pillars of who I am. And what I do are relationships, communication, music, language and education.

Dan

I love it. And so how do all of those things start by answering at this moment in time? How do those things relate to to money for you right now? Meaning what is the manifestation of all of those things in your in your life when it comes to work right now?

Samantha

So I have two major things that I’m doing right now for money. The first is that I am a sales coach and consultant, so I, I help online entrepreneurs have better conversations around money. And so that takes lots of different paths. Right. I do consulting and build things for people. I also do coaching to help them break through things and mixes of the two. So I do that for money right now. And I also do I’m a nurse practitioner at the moment and I just spent the past 15 months working six to seven days a week fighting covid.

So that’s been very both meaning making and financially helpful for me.

I was working in orthopedics and doing sales before the pandemic started, but of course once the world exploded, there was no work in orthopedics and it was not fulfilling to me to sit in an empty office. So I said, I’m leaving. And I went to New York City in last year of April to start working the pandemic. And I actually just stopped a couple of weeks ago. I’d been working full time plus for most of the past year. And the level of fulfillment and meaning I get from that is just it’s immeasurable.

Dan

Wow. If I have no idea what that looks like day in, day out. But my assumption is that it’s very intense, but it has been very intense indeed.

Samantha

And I spent a couple of months doing covid testing in a hospital in New York City. I then spent a couple of months in an E.R. in Vermont at a VA. I then spent a couple of months in Texas in an E.R. and I spent the past three months in an ICU back in New York City, all of it directly with people who have covid and are critically ill with covid. It’s been a it’s been a trip.

Dan

Yeah, wild. So you mentioned that that’s just been extremely meaningful for you. Can you say some more about that?

Samantha

I can. You know, a lot of people question me because I you know, I’ve done so many things in my life. I am an entrepreneur. I started businesses in language learning. I did one in health care, helping people with burnout.

Can’t even remember half the stuff I’ve done because, of course, most of it is you start a thing and see if it works. And if it doesn’t, then you move on to the next thing you know that, yes, that’s the life of an entrepreneur, huh? I also did Digital Nomad traveling for about four and a half years until I burnt out on the travel itself was actually what burned me out. And I missed patient care. Yeah.

So the two main moneymaking threads in my life right now are sales and health care. And I actually I love doing both, but I don’t want to do like pharmaceutical sales or sales within health care. I really enjoy them separately.

Yeah, I create amazing stories with people through my sales work and I absolutely adore doing it. It’s super fun.

The really deep level of fulfillment I get from the health care work, though, like the sales work, I find more fun. The health care work I find more fulfilling and also the health care work is just really, really intense and challenging. And you can I can only handle so much of it before I start to burnout. And so I need some kind of a way to step back from it in a way to be away from it for a while and do something that.

That fills my cup in other areas of my life, but, boy, you know what, I’m. In an E.R. and somebody comes in and I had a I I don’t think I’ll ever forget this person like, you know, I watch lots and lots of people die in the past 15 months. Like, you know, we don’t we don’t need to go there. That’s not really what this is about. Certainly it’s meaning making. But like I watched lots of of really difficult things in the past 15 months.

But some of the times when we were able to you know, we had somebody’s mother come in and she was actively in the process of dying and we were able to get her son there. We were able to get him in there despite covid. And he was able to spend the last 45 minutes of his mom’s life with her and share those final moments with her. And we were able to protect him in such a way that none of the covid stuff mattered, none of the stuff matter and everything was going on around them.

But we were able to protect him and her in that time. That just there’s there’s something ineffable about that that you just cannot produce for me any way anywhere else like those those most stressful, most difficult moments when I have the education, the ability, the capacity, and I’m in the right time and place to facilitate that happening. You just go home knowing like I did a really special thing today. I made somebodies life today. And that’s just it just gives me chills.

Dan

Wow. Yes. It feels like so much of all the rest of what we do pales, you know, in light of moments, moments like that, where you really just I don’t know. It’s like, what else matters?

Samantha

The deepest stories that we sorry. The deepest stories that we tell ourselves as humans in that we tell other people like we’re meaning making creatures. Right. This is something that you certainly know and talk talk about daily. I expect I expect certainly often. And there are certain moments in our lives when everything else falls away, you know, everything. And there is absolutely nothing in our existence except for this moment, you know, and there’s lots of mindfulness meditation practice around that where we try and create those things, which I do lots of.

And that’s wonderful. And there are some times also when life puts that in your way, like you literally, you know, that that man, he was, I don’t know, fifty years old, you know, and he’s there with his mom. And it was a Herculean effort to get him there for lots of reasons and to and to protect him while he was there. It was also a Herculean effort. There was absolutely nothing else in his life for those 45 minutes.

And the fact that I could help him create that she was my patient. It was my room. Like I created that space for him to have that moment. He will carry that for the rest of his life and so will I.

Dan

Mm. Wow. Wow.

Yeah, that gives me all kinds of feelings. It’s really beautiful. Feels sacred in many ways. Like a good offering that you’re offering that to other other other people. Wow. How do you carry so much intensity and even I don’t know, I guess even the sorrow and pain of loss and all of these things that you’re experiencing. And of course, maybe it’s not your personal loss. And at some point, it becomes your part of the job, but it’s also like it affects you.

I think the question is around self-care and how do you recover from the last 15 months?

Samantha

So, in part, to be perfectly honest, you don’t. You know, I have and will carry with me some form of trauma and PTSD type reactions after this experience, and there’s just no way out of it. So in some respects, some of this is simply unrecoverable. You have to learn to live with the fact that you have been through this experience and it won’t go away.

I’m not not that one in particular them that, you know, that was a beautiful story and a beautiful experience. And I was able to make it into a story that I can share with people. And that’s a big part of how I relate to it and recover from it myself. I have a village. I absolutely have. At that point, I was working six days a week, 14 hours a day in a very busy E.R. There is absolutely no time or energy or space to protect yourself.

You’re just in survival mode because it was in the height of the pandemic. It was in the summer in Texas when everything went downhill last year in 2020. And it was simply get through it. But as you survive and get through it, there are the other people who are I’m a nurse practitioner. I was working there actually as a registered nurse, which many of us NP’s have done back and forth during the pandemic because nurses were actually in hired in the need of nurse practitioners.

And so I had eight or ten other nurses at all points in that E.R. who were either dealing with the same stuff or helping each other deal with the same stuff. So we guide each other and protect each other and provide space for each other. If you are the one who needs to walk out the door and be gone for 15 minutes and just sob, that’s just what you have to do. And people would take care of you and they’ll take care of your patients and make sure you’re going to be OK if that’s even possible for me.

I’m such a creature of story.

I’m such a creature of meaning and meaning, making that my way of dealing with this is to create a meaningful story out of it, like the one I just told you. And generally for me, once I tell a story, a sorrow, a story or a misery story or a pain or a hurt story three times to three different people who truly understand that story and hear me, I no longer feel the stress or the strain of that. And you know that that’ll take care of 80 percent of it.

And I have probably five or seven people. And I’m very blessed to have a large support network of people that I that really know me well and that I care about that, you know, whether it’s a bad news in my business or a bad thing happening at work. I have different people in different parts of my life that understand those challenges where I have that conversation with them and they just hear me and say, wow, that’s hard. That’s really hard.

And I said, yeah, that’s really hard. Thank you for hearing me. And I just have that release of catharsis.

Dan

Yeah, yeah.

Well. Know, I think I just feel like so, so grateful for your work, uh, you know, through the pandemic and, you know, making those spaces like it’s it’s, um. I can’t imagine the things that you’re seeing and just I’m just grateful that in the midst of all of the pain and difficulty and struggle that and loss that many people felt and suffered over the last year, that there were people like you creating spaces to facilitate, you know, those connection moments to to make it meaningful and to, I think, help help it end well as well as possible and all of those things.

So I guess just feel some sense of gratitude for for your work.

Samantha

Amen to that. And I think this will help you and also help your audience if I share something that is pretty personal to me. I have a history, a long history, family and personal of mental health struggles, particularly with depression and anxiety. And so when the pandemic hit and I was sitting literally in an empty office for a full week seeing no patients in March of last year, I knew that the mental health effects of this pandemic work had the potential to be devastating for me personally.

And so I did a lot of soul searching in that first week, you know, when I wasn’t staring at the news going, oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God. In that those first couple of weeks of March, I was thinking about myself and my situation and I realized, like, this could potentially kill me. And I’m not talking about the virus itself. I’m talking about the effects of quarantine, the effects of isolation, the effects of me as a as a a raging extrovert who really needs other people, who lives alone and walks 200 feet to work.

Like I had almost no contact with other people except through my work, which I was. It was a new job and everything. And I said to myself, I realized that that was happening and that for my own good, I needed to go be part of the solution. I needed to be around people who were allowed to be around other people, because as a nurse, you have to that’s what you do. I was going in and out every day, dozens of times a day into rooms of people with covid knowing that, hey, I might get it, but I’m young, I’m healthy.

I have the capacity to do this. And this is also for my own health and good, even though I’m risking myself my physical health. It was such a boon.

It was such a protection to me for my mental health to be around people who are part of the solution that I feel very, very grateful, intensely grateful, like it brings me to tears sometimes when I think about it, that I was able to be part of the solution, that I can be like, hey, I was able to do something instead of having to be at home dealing with the isolation in the in the quarantine and the helplessness that so many people have said to me about that time period and that, you know, of course, I I shared a lot of things with a lot of people as it was happening in.

A lot of people were really appreciative of that, that were that were following me and that they felt like, OK, No. One, this is really happening because at the beginning that, you know, I’m from Wisconsin, a good portion of my state did not believe that covid existed or that it was a real thing, you know, and I’m not going to convince anybody of anything. Right. That’s not who I am or what I’m here for.

But I can share my experience. You know, when I walked into a room and was talking to this 30 year old guy with no past medical history whatsoever, and three hours later, he was dead on the floor, like he’d been walking around. Like, I just I broke down in tears on a Facebook live talking about this is what happened to me today. This was my experience today. And now we have a much better idea of what the pandemic meant and how it was affecting people.

You know, now we can say, hey, that guy had a major pulmonary embolism and it was an inflammatory process. We didn’t know that at that point. We didn’t understand that. We just saw terrible things happening. And yet the fact that I got to personally experience that and share my story with people, you know, from helping people understand it was real to helping people have a connection with somebody who was doing something. I got that from dozens of people.

I’m so glad that you are sharing with us what’s happening because you’re doing something. And I feel like I’m not. But I can see that something is happening to once the vaccines were happening, sharing that I got mine, why I got mine, what you know what the real. OK, yes. This is worth being afraid of. This is worth being afraid of. This is why I’m doing it anyway. This is what’s happening. The fact that I was able to share my stories it happened was intensely fulfilling for me, meaning making for me.

And it. Helped me feel just complete as a human while it was happening, because, as I was saying earlier, like, you know, there were a lot of points in there where nothing else was in my life.

Right.

Like I’m doing this. I’m doing that. I’m just like in the moment I’m at work for 12 hours with a one hour commute on either side. And other than the commute, oftentimes for the entire 12 hours, I am completely at peace with myself. With my own issues, with my own things that are happening and I get to create this, you know, and if I were doing this, it just wouldn’t happen. Right. Like you literally at the beginning of this, you walk in and your directive was try and make people not die for the first three months.

you’re on this floor today. You’re in this E.R. today. Literally find some people and save their life. It was that. And I never you know, I worked in family practice and urgent care in orthopedics before this. I was not in critical care. I have been for over a year now. But, you know, that’s not the kind of missive or mission that people are used to having. But or myself, even as a nurse practitioner, health care are used to having.

But by God, it is absolutely it’s empowering. It’s fulfilling. It’s all I can do is help. Right. The fact that I am here is literally making the world a better place. And that is, you know, despite all the pain and the stress and the lack of self care in the middle of all of it, that is something I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

And I also got to just be at peace and be in the moment with, you know, this is a generation-defining and I have a meaningful role in it that I will always have had that moment.

Dan

Wow. It’s like a gift. I guess that goes both ways in many ways. And again, thank you for all of your work on that front. It sounds I mean, it sounds so much like war, like you’re talking about your experience with being in the moment, because that’s all that you can be. And I think of, you know, soldiers coming back who’ve seen, you know, been in the thick of the action and how difficult reentry is.

Like the just back to normal life is a really challenging process. And and I’m curious for you, what do you do now that you’ve seen that like it feels almost addictive? I don’t know if that’s really the right word for you or for your experience with it, but like, I could see how that could be for some people.

Samantha

You know, you nailed it right on the head. And I knew you were a great interviewer coming into this. And we talked about none of this beforehand. We did talk. Oh, absolutely. Yeah. You knew absolutely none of this. And I was not expecting it to go this way either. But, you know, you go with the flow. Yeah. So my first attempt at reentry was I spent 47 days. I worked seven days a week for 47 days when I first went to New York City in April, May and June.

And, you know, I was I was working 84 hours a week on the clock, plus all of the the travel time in between. So there’s literally no time for anything. And I went after New York. I flew back to Wisconsin where I’m from and which is where I am now. And I took a job with the VA in Vermont to try to get back to normal. I’m like, all right, I’m going to reenter. I’m going to work in an E.R. It’s going to be better.

You know, there’s not a lot of covid in Vermont, and that has generally held true throughout the pandemic. And I’m going to try and get a normal job and and be more normal. And I remember my dad drove with me from Wisconsin to Vermont to move to Vermont to work at this VA. And I had my first I have I have PTSD from other things happening in my life and anxiety and PTSD or frenemy of mine for life. And I knew that it was coming after that first New York experience.

Yeah, but the moment I remember was we stopped at a, you know, a travel stop on whatever Highway 80 or 90 on, you know, some major freeway between the upper Midwest and the Northeast. And I touched the door handle to open the door to go into the the convenience store. And I froze and I had a panic attack in that moment. And my brain was just flipping through like there’s going to be trash on the floor. There’s going to be people and there’s going to there’s going to be people on the floor dying.

There’s going to be people in various states of of dress and death and being prepared for going to the room because we don’t have that morgue is totally full. We got to take him to the truck like there’s not going to be any toilet paper. There’s going to be like there’s going to be all these people in there without masks because it was in Wisconsin and they the governor put a mask mandate, but the legislature killed it. So a lot of people were in there without masks.

And I’d been, you know, completely suited up like a space alien for basically the past 47 days. And I just completely lost my mind trying to go into a convenience store.

Dan

Wow.

Samantha

And for people who don’t understand what stress and trauma can do to a person or what a panic attack looks like, that’s it. Holding on to that doorway, I can’t breathe, you know, my my vision is zeroed into a tunnel, I’m sweating bullets and I’m frozen there and I absolutely can’t do anything except for try and find my mind because I’ve lost it. And I knew that was coming. And I wasn’t particularly afraid of the experience because I’ve had panic attacks before.

I had PTSD, you know, from past experiences. And so I just sat with it. I’ve done a lot of work with meditation and mindfulness, partly because of my history with, you know, mental health stuff and recognizing how valuable it is. And I just sat there for what felt like, you know, hours, but was probably 15 or 20 seconds because my dad was behind me and he didn’t say anything. I don’t know if he knew what was going on or what, but he didn’t say anything.

And then I opened the door and I walked in and I went to the bathroom because that’s life. You allow the feeling to come up. You allow it to happen. You allow it to. It’s a lot like PTSD is a lot like grief, which is something that other people may have more of a relationship to in that it comes in waves. Something will trigger you. You’ll feel the feelings, you know, if you allow them to come in.

You’re in a space where they can come and you can just let them wash over you oftentimes within seconds, certainly minutes, that the intensity of the feeling will pass. And then you’re like, OK, instead of fighting it, I just let it come. And I’m like, OK, this is what I’m feeling right now. And I also need to go in and go to the bathroom because that’s why I came here.

So it was very difficult to re integrate and it continues to be. But it’s we also have a support group of people who were in New York City who have not been there anymore, a Facebook group where we help each other out. And because stuff is still happening, you know, from that a year later and a lot of people went back and like I did, went to Texas where it was really bad again. And you support each other and you tell your story.

Dan

Mhm. Wow. That sounds like. Yeah. You have good support and you have tools that you’ve learned in the past that you can rely on and lean on, which sounds like puts you in a much better place. And a lot of I think a lot of folks who are struggling with PTSD and reentry. And so I’m again grateful for that for you. Just such an interesting experience for me, you know, thinking about all day, I think about meaning and purpose and and work and just how this experience was so, so good and so fulfilling for you.

But also, like cost it cost you a lot, you know, that you have these experiences, things that you carry with you. And I do think that in some degrees, much less maybe maybe harder to harder to put your finger on or maybe have have less emotional, I guess maybe ramifications. I think that a calling when I was a word I use not everyone uses that word, but often have has those aspects that it gives you something and it takes and it takes something.

And I’m curious for you, just as you think about that time, that work, that this work you’ve been doing and what words like do you use your voice to to talk about it? Like, would you think of it as a as a calling? Do you feel like it was work that you were that you’re meant to be doing?

Samantha

You know, interestingly, I’m a good interview guests and a terrible interview guest. I’m going to ignore what you just asked and go back to your last question, because you totally triggered something that I didn’t go into.

Dan

Let’s do it.

Samantha

So I am a workaholic and many health care people are it’s very common for nurses and doctors in particular to either be workaholic or have workaholic tendencies, because when you’re doing something that is so and it can be a calling, but when you’re doing something that is so all encompassing and not only is it all encompassing because drugs are all encompassing to. Right. Just like you were talking about addictive potential, it is so all encompassing that you can not think about anything else and that can be good and that can be terribly dangerous.

And I have been well aware of my workaholic tendencies and how it relates to anxiety because it’s essentially an anesthetic. Like you don’t feel anxiety when you’re in the middle of a 12 hour shift where you’re literally walking around trying to find people to help them not die like there’s nothing else happening. And that is addictive and it’s addictive not only because of what you’re doing and how you feel about it, but how other people feel about it, because this is a very prosocial addiction, right?

Work in particular, work that matters to other people and that they respect, such as health care, particularly in the middle of a pandemic, is very much. Supported by our society, people are cheering me on like, wow, you’re the best person ever, just like during this interview, like you’re really grateful. Gosh, that really feeds my ego, right? Like, hey, people are grateful for me. That’s fantastic. In the middle of it.

That’s very, very ego supportive of continuing to do what you’re doing. And now you know, I’ve known about my own workaholic tendencies for, oh, gosh, at least five years. I’ve had 60 some different jobs. I’ve, you know, started all these different kinds of businesses. I speak eight languages, like I’ve done a bunch of crazy stuff that I’m climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in two weeks with my dad. Like, there’s there’s so many ways I can go to, like, I’m starting medical school in a month.

Like, I just like it’s it’s hard to encapsulate me and I’m so easily distracted and I run off toward things and most of them are very, very supported by society. And yet it’s so easy to lose your true self in just chasing the next thing, no matter how prosocial it is. And so I started working. Very ironically, you worked hard on not being a workaholic and I spent a lot of time with my own workaholic tendencies. I started about five years ago when I recognized that it was affecting my relationships with my family and my friends and my loved ones.

And I recognized that I was actually I was using Digital Nomad, the traveling around like, hey, if you don’t want to deal with the problem, you just move to a new country.

No big. Yeah.

All right. I’m just going to go to, you know, whatever, Allagash. I need to find a place to work, a place to eat, a place to buy, you know, get my laundry done. Like, you got to do all these things and you’re busy and people are like, wow, you’re the coolest thing ever. Like, my God, you’re so amazing, blah, blah, blah. And it’s very easy to get lost in that.

And I spent probably two years working daily with my own tendencies and recognizing, like, are you leaving time for play? Are you leaving time for self-care? Are you leaving unstructured time that you’ve blocked out?

Because the only way I’m going to have unstructured time is if I block it out. And when you do that, are you going to do something during that time that’s not addictive? Also like, oh, I’m just going to do this one thing all the time. It’s very addictive and it’s just as much an addiction as anything else and it’s just as challenging to to deal with or break as any other addiction. But it took me about two years to recognize it.

And, you know, I’m a recovering workaholic for sure, because it’s been about three years since I did the the daily slogging through the muddy forest to look at myself and be like, why am I doing this thing? And if it’s just to occupy myself or because it’s ego driven or if it’s because I’m feeling anxious and I don’t want to deal with it. Time to sit down, time to sit down and stop being a human doing and start being a human being and just be wherever you are and whatever’s happening around you.

Just experience that rather than doing another thing to cover up that feeling of that anxiety or that experience.

Dan

Wow. Wow.

I just need to, like, let all of that soak in for a minute, because I know that I am so guilty of some of the same tendencies of doing too much, having too much going on and. Yeah, much better at doing. And my wife and I talk about that from time to time that like we’re always moving and it’s hard to imagine what it looks like to do things at a different pace. But I hear what you’re saying, that that invitation to just slow down and just be and not just do it doesn’t have to be a long time either.

Samantha

Yeah. You know, when I first started as a nurse practitioner, right. And provider, I was doing family practice. I had a terrible, terrible situation where it was. But I stayed there for almost seven years as a full time for over four years. And I had essentially zero support. I was at a time my time in my life when I’d lost everything.

You know, there’s I was starting a completely new career. I had a lot of imposter syndrome because as an R.N., I was I knew my staff. I was really good. But as a nurse practitioner, I didn’t know what was going on. And I had almost zero support because of the situation I was in. And I basically did not stop shaking for about six months. I didn’t sleep well. I was super nervous for six months straight, and I knew that how can I take care of myself when I’m distressed?

I was more stressed then by far than I was at any point during the pandemic, doing all the things I just described by far because I did not yet have the tools and I literally designed this excuse me thing that I would do just before I would walk into a patient room, because that was the epitome of the stress, right? That was.

The most difficult time, just before I walked into a room, all the doubt and the oh my God, the imposter syndrome, like I can’t do this, would come up just before I walked into the room.

And so I would I would pick up the patient chart. I would stop I would take one breath in and let it out and turn the knob and walk in. That was my level of presence that I was capable of.

That’s all I had time for.

I was seeing 25, 26 patients a day in a, quote, eight hour, unquote, day, working 100 to 110 hours a week. That’s all I had time for. And yet that was incredibly empowering, you know, in teaching myself to break the pattern. And pattern breaks, whether they be something big, like going to Mount Kilimanjaro and climbing the mountain with my dad, it’s a great break, but that’s really what it is. It’s it’s it’s a tool for me.

People keep asking me why I want to do that. And the reason is because I can and because I want to and because I need to, you know, I need this pattern break for me. Sometimes in my life, all I can do is one second of breathing to break the pattern. Sometimes it’s a walk for 45 minutes. This time, you know, it’s, you know, this long, week long excursion that’s two weeks once you add in everything else.

But there’s two week long excursion with family and like, you know, breaking the pattern of how I’m setting myself up to constantly be in motion. That’s a time when I can be physically in motion, which really helps me for my anxiety. I do really well, but I’m physically in motion. I can allow my mind to rest. That’s why I like travel so much. I’m physically in motion, but my mind can rest like I really enjoy plane rides, train rides, car rides because I’m, quote, doing something unquote.

And I don’t feel the pressure to, like, accomplish something or be productive. And yet my mind is totally free. And so anything from, you know, one breath over three or four seconds to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, the pattern breaks and taking advantage of that and recognizing I need to start a new. Which we do, you know. Dozens of times a day, you know, sometimes it’s a once in a lifetime thing, sometimes it’s a thing you do 50 times a day.

But we we break our own pattern of just, you know, running away, doing our thing. Their mind is just run, run, run, run, run, go, go, go, go, go to break. That pattern is really crucial for me because then I remember like, hey, I’m doing that thing that I do. And if you want to do all of the things, do all of the things, but do them consciously, I’ve done a lot of things in my life and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of them and thoroughly found fulfillment in most of them.

But just like anybody else with my tendencies, sometimes I fall into, well, I just got to do this because because I need something to do. I need I need to be doing something at every moment or I’m going to start feeling anxious. Well, you know what, kiddo? Put on your big girl panties, pull them up and feel anxious. Mom, you got to sit in the pile of crap sometimes and just let it smell and feel yucky.

Dan

Man, that is not a great not a great picture, but it is so accurate to that experience.

Samantha

It doesn’t feel good. It’s yucky. I’d rather be doing anything else because I’m a nurse practitioner. I’m saving the world. No, like I’m having an issue with my, you know, whatever friend, partner, whatever. And I actually need to spend time with that and recognize that instead of anesthetizing myself with this work that I’m impressed with and other people impressed with her, learn another language or do this other thing to be impressive to myself for other people.

Sometimes you just got to sit in the pile of shit and that’s just what it has to be. And I find that once I started doing that, I started meditating probably fifteen years ago. I started working really actively on the anxiety and workaholic and the anesthetizing part about five years ago. And I still have the same amount of anxious feelings, reactions. But my response is so much higher quality, because if I, you know, have this horrible thought, you know, my best friend’s dad died just a couple of days ago and have been helping her do figure out all the things to do.

And where do you need to go and how do you know what are all the things that you have to do? And her dad was a hoarder. So there’s like this incredible amount of stuff to do that has to get done. And I live down the street and I’m here and I’m physically here to help her. And she lives actually four hours away. So she’s here part time with her kids. It’s like there’s just all these things that are happening.

And yet I still need to be present with what’s happening with me, even though I’m doing this very societally approved thing like, hey, I’m helping this person who’s had a major loss, like I’m supporting her. And yet if I have something that’s coming up for me, if I just sit with it for a minute or two, if I just sit there and feel crappy, I just feel yucky, then I’m like, all right, that’s it.

And I’m basically done. The wave comes. And now that I’ve started giving myself much higher quality responses by recognizing that.

I wrote a book on burnout. I had one that was my first business, actually. I’m going to be a business person totally. But it was great. I learned all the a lot of lessons on how not to do things. And one of the exercises I came up with was I called Mind the Gap.

There’s a gap between your feeling.

The reaction and your response, how you feel is not something you can choose. Yeah, if you feel angry, you feel angry, you can be at peace with that. You can argue with it. You can do whatever you want with it. But that feeling exists. It is. And there is a gap. It’s very small. It’s usually a couple of seconds, sometimes only a fraction of a second between the feeling and then you judging the feeling like, oh my gosh, I shouldn’t feel this way or I’m angry or I don’t want to deal with this right now or I can’t blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, all the stuff we say to ourselves when we’re in the middle of that feeling.

But if anger comes up and I’m just like, man, I’m really angry. I feel angry. Yeah. And I let it happen. I let it exist. And I don’t argue with what is I don’t argue with the reality of what is my experience right now. It goes away within seconds to minutes. And so I have a much higher quality response even that I’m going to have PTSD for the rest of my life. That’s just the way it is.

And once I stopped fighting with that and recognizing that, hey, I have these personality traits, I’m going to have these triggers, like, gosh, they get way better. And if I can, you know, go through what I went through and have a panic attack touching the door to go into a convenience store in it last 15 or 20 seconds instead of the usual 15 or 20 minutes. That’s powerful living.

Dan

Yeah, that’s progress. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. Mhm. Wow. Wow. I have so, so much more I want to get into with you and I’m wondering if if you’d be open to doing a follow up episode where we dig more into into the conversation that probably you and I thought we were going to be having before we started. And I think I know that my listeners will really I mean, there’s I think there’s so much substance in this conversation around meaning and work.

And, you know, and I think so much I think there is so much curiosity around frontline workers. And so I know that this will be a very valuable conversation. But I guess what I’m proposing is, what if we do a two part series?

Would you be open to that?

Would this be the first part? And then we can do a follow up with more of the rest of your story of how you got here and the transitions along the way.

Samantha

I would be absolutely delighted. This is one of my favorite topics in the world.

Dan

I love it. I love it. So let’s let’s plan on doing that. So let’s go ahead and just move towards wrapping up here and I will ask you these same questions next time. But for anyone who might listen to this episode and maybe not not hear that one, because maybe it hasn’t been released yet or I don’t know what. But just first, just again, thank you so much for being on the show and and joining me here today.

This conversation has been just fantastic. It’s so, so, so many places for me to take and think about and apply to my own life, especially around just slowing, slowing down and being present and sitting with the feelings, but also just your for your work, for your openness. So thank you for all of that. For anyone who is listening and wants to connect more with you, is there anything in particular that you’d like to invite people to action steps, follow your journey?

Samantha

Sure. I would love to have people connect with me on my website. samalvares.com. That’s a good way to connect with me. And I think that’s the best one.

Dan

Great.

Perfect. Love it. Well, I’m super excited to dig in further. And I know that there’s so much of your story that I’ve yet to hear listeners have yet to hear. We will get to that in the next the next episode.

So thank you so much for coming on to the show. And thank you so much for everything that you shared with us here today.

Samantha

Thank you so much for having me. Dan, this has been an absolute pleasure meeting, meaning making and storytelling is one of my favorite subjects in the world. And the fact that you’re here creating this, I feel honored to be a part of it.

Dan

Thank you so much.

Samantha

Thanks for having me.

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