A few days ago, a friend of mine asked me if I had any tips for managing tension headaches; she’s been experiencing them more frequently from working long hours as an ER nurse. Like many nurses, she spends most of the day on her feet. By the end of her shift, her muscles feel stiff, her head is pounding, and she needs a few, quick tools to relieve her pain. If you experience tension headaches while at work, hopefully, these tips will be useful to you as well.
1. Loosen up your muscles
In an online article, Mayo Clinic recommends the application of heat or ice to loosen up tense neck and shoulder muscles. “Use a heating pad set on low, a hot water bottle, a hot shower or bath, a warm compress, or a hot towel. Or apply an ice pack (wrapped in a cloth) or a cool washcloth across the forehead.”
Although using a heating pad at work might not be practical, resting an ice pack on your neck when you’re at lunch or on a break might be an easy fix to help lessen muscle tension and mitigate your headache.
2. Try some breathwork
In February, we discussed some of the benefits of breathwork, like encouraging relaxation, reducing anxiety, energizing you, and lessening the feelings of physical and mental stress. Additionally, breathwork can decrease muscle tension, particularly if you try The Five Count Breath. This technique, implemented in Pilates exercises, oxygenates your body and reduces muscle tension in the rib cage and thoracic spine. Here’s a recap on how to use this simple breathing exercise:
Start with a slow inhale through your nose to the count of five. Then, exhale your breath through your mouth also to the count of five. Picture yourself wringing all the stale air out of your lungs and replenishing them with fresh air. With each breath, imagine the tension dissolving from your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Repeat this cycle five to 10 times or whenever needed to reduce overall physical and mental stress.
3. Sneak in a neck stretch
The chin tuck is an effective way to stretch your neck muscles. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Draw your shoulder blades together and keep your head facing forward. Gently move your head back, making sure to keep it level; you don’t want your chin to lift up or dip down. Hold this stretch for five seconds and repeat five to 10 times.
4. Treat yourself to a massage
If you’re not finding relief with basic measures, consider getting a massage. The American Massage Therapy Association believes that massage can be used to alleviate tension headaches and improve postural alignment. Looking for an excuse to treat yourself to a little TLC? Now, you have one!
While working in a NICU setting, we as staff get used to the long-term admissions, fragile 24-weekers, and the deer-in-headlights look from caregivers during those first few weeks. Feelings of inadequacy and lack of control can easily creep into our most experienced and knowledgeable caregivers when their baby is the patient. Much of this time, caregivers look to the medical team to provide care to their babies and can easily forget the power they have as a caregiver. Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) holding gives back a huge level of control as caregivers are able to provide undeniable benefits to their baby that no nurse or doctor can provide.
What is skin-to-skin holding?
Kangaroo care involves direct skin-to-skin contact between the caregiver and infant. This type of touch stimulates the C-afferent nerves, which are packed under the sensitive skin on our chests. Research shows that activating these nerves with positive touch leads to a release of hormones that promote many positive benefits including: brain growth and development, digestion and weight gain, immune system benefits, reduced stress and crying, stability of heart rate and breathing, temperature regulation. These nerves send a message to the brain that produces oxytocin, which creates physiological and psychological benefits. All of these positive outcomes greatly affect an infant’s hospitalization as they are provided with real human connection with the people that love them the most.
For caregivers, this special time with their infants promotes bonding, positive coping, and emotional connection during this stressful time. Caregivers are empowered to make observations about their babies, engage in their daily care, and learn appropriate ways to stimulate their infant which increases collaborative care between caregivers and nurses.
What is a Kangaroo-A-Thon?
A Kangaroo-A-Thon is an event to promote this wonderful skin-to-skin holding between infants and caregivers! The event was held over the course of 13 days to allow for maximum opportunities for participation. Nurses were instrumental in being available, providing education, and supporting our caregivers to engage in the act of skin-to-skin care. Caregivers were encouraged to hold their infants skin-to-skin as long and often as possible (and was safe) during these 13 days. A plethora of prizes were raffled off to caregivers and nurses as the unit was decorated with kangaroos and hearts to support our “Heart-to-Heart” theme.
We had a tremendous response across all disciplines and especially with our caregivers. The number of families participating in the event increased over 50% from the week prior to the event and our total number of hours documented rose from 140 hours to just over 304 hours. Caregivers were asking more questions and becoming more confident and capable partners in their baby’s care. All in all, we had a very fun time promoting, supporting, and running this event. Skin-to-skin care is a simple yet extremely effective tool that turns even our most cautious caregivers into confident, knowledgeable, and competent partners.
Nursing is a demanding job and you’re probably looking forward to taking some time off this summer.
Summer is the time of year for backyard barbecues, lounging by the pool, and jetting off for a much-deserved vacation. With so much going on during the fleeting summer months, it’s easy to wreck your budget.
Here are a few budget-friendly ways to relax this summer.
1. Keep Food Costs Down
It’s easy for food costs to balloon up during summer. Who wants to cook in a hot kitchen when you can relax over a summer salad on a restaurant patio? However, lots of restaurant visits is a sure way to increase your food budget.
Consider stocking up on fresh produce at your local farmer’s market and trying out new delicious salad recipes at home. The prices are often cheaper than conventional grocery stores and visiting the farmer’s market is a fun, frugal outing and a great way to support local farmers.
Find other food staples at discount grocery stores such as Aldi or stock up at Costco. Enjoy dinner outside with friends and family in your own backyard or have a picnic at a local park.
Staying close to home can save you hundreds of dollars this summer.
Grab a free local attractions guide from the library or grocery store and commit to doing something in your own hometown that you’ve never done. You may be surprised at all of the activities and events available that are a short drive away from your front door.
If you do venture further from home, be sure to calculate the cost of driving versus flying. The free online tool, Travel Math, will calculate and compare the costs of driving versus flying to your destination.
3. Simple Pleasures
Summer is a great season for celebrating the simple pleasures of life such as good weather, a bike ride, or a cool drink in hand while reading a juicy novel by the pool.
If you follow these tips, you’re sure to have a relaxing summer that will keep you and your budget happy.
What fun plans do you have this summer?
Whether you’re dealing with bunions, blisters, plantar fasciitis, or bone spurs, foot pain is a common complaint among nurses. If you’re monitoring your steps each day with the latest fitness tracker or app, you probably already know you’re walking miles in your shoes each day. No wonder your feet hurt! Below are some do-it-yourself ways to reduce foot pain and help you keep moving–pain-free.
1. Replace your shoes every three to six months.
In an online interview, Dr. Michael Lowe, past president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, notes that a standard athletic shoe is made to last between 350 and 500 miles–which translates to a new pair of shoes about every three to six months. With the number of hours you’re on your feet every day, your mileage quickly adds up. Once a shoe breaks down, it no longer absorbs shock like it’s supposed to and can misalign your foot and cause pain.
2. Regularly stretch your calves.
Tight calves can exacerbate some types of foot pain. To improve the flexibility, mobility, and position of your foot, follow this simple stretch:
Stand about a foot away from the wall, and place your hands against the wall at shoulder height. Keeping your feet hip-width apart, step back with one leg until your foot is flat on the floor. Bend the front leg until you feel a stretch in your back, calf muscle; the stretch should be tolerable for you. Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat on the other leg. Cycle through this stretch one or two more times.
3. Try an Epsom salt foot bath.
Epsom salt contains magnesium sulfate–the mineral that gives this home remedy its muscle relaxant quality. To create a foot soak, find a bowl or bucket large enough to submerge both feet (I use a bucket). Place one-half to one cup of Epsom salt into the bucket. Then, fill the bucket about two-thirds full with warm to hot water being mindful of the temperature level that is most comfortable to you. Let the salt dissolve and soak your feet for 20 minutes. Dry off your feet and follow up with a moisturizer if necessary. Routine foot soaks can help reduce the inflammation that leads to aching feet.
4. Roll out your foot pain with a tennis ball.
Place the bottom of your foot on the top of a tennis ball. Roll the tennis ball back-and-forth along the whole length of your arch. For a deeper stretch of your foot’s fascia, apply a decent amount of pressure as you roll the ball. If you encounter a spot on your foot that is extra sore, gently massage that particular area until you feel a release in muscle tension or the pain improves.
One final note: If you try these at-home treatments without benefit, consider talking to your doctor about seeing a physical therapist for a customized evaluation and treatment plan for your foot pain.
Do you ever feel like you’re running on empty? Maybe you feel like your workload is taking a toll on your mental or physical health, and you’re just not able to bounce back as you had hoped? You’re probably already aware that compassion fatigue can happen to any nurse at any point along the career path. But when it happens to you, self-doubt and self-criticism can creep into your thoughts. When going through this profound state of stress, it’s valuable to remember there is no stereotypical profile of what a nurse with compassion fatigue looks like, and it’s not a reflection of how committed or competent you are in the profession.
Let’s take a look at some myths surrounding compassion fatigue so you can experience a greater sense of well-being when you’re at home or work.
Myth 1. Compassion fatigue is a character flaw.
This is simply not true. Although your self-identity may be intertwined with your role as a nurse, compassion fatigue isn’t the result of a character flaw in you. You are a hard worker, and you care for your patients with everything you’ve got. However, if your body is showing signs of physical and emotional exhaustion, anxiety and worry, depression, anger, irritability, lack of joy, or any other sign, it’s time for you pay attention to it. Your body is telling you to recharge your internal battery, and, perhaps, scale back on your workload.
Myth 2. You need to work harder to overcome compassion fatigue.
On the contrary. While working harder may be the default setting to get some people through the day, many nurses tend to put others’ needs above their own, further engaging in energy-draining activities. When compassion fatigue creeps up on you, it’s not telling you to do more. Rather, it’s telling you your work-life balance has gotten out of whack, and you need to reexamine it.
Myth 3. I still feel compassion for my patients, so compassion fatigue must not pertain to me.
In an online article, American Nurse Today noted that nurses reported feeling both compassion fatigue and compassion for their patients at the same time. “If anything, the more compassion a nurse feels, the greater the risk that she or he will experience emotional saturation or compassion fatigue,” the article said. Try to recognize the other areas where you may be showing signs of fatigue. Do you find that your colleagues are difficult to work with? Are you thinking about going home as soon as you get to work? Are you concerned you might make an error while on the job? These point to subtler signs that you’re experiencing compassion fatigue, even if you still feel empathetic when caring for your patients.
Myth 4. It’s my job to care for others first and myself second.
For many nurses, this idea seems like a selfless act while working within the health care community. In reality, when you implement consistent self-care practices, acknowledge what things make you feel overwhelmed, and cultivate the support you need both inside and outside of work, you reduce your risk of developing compassion fatigue. “Perhaps the most important way to prevent or reduce compassion fatigue is to take care of yourself. As nurses, we work hard and really need our breaks. We need to eat, and to take time for ourselves without being interrupted by alarms, patients, or colleagues. We also need our time off, for our mental and physical well-being,” stated American Nurse Today.
Bottom line? Understand that compassion fatigue can sneak up on you, and its symptoms vary from person to person. It’s not indicative of how skilled you are as a clinician, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to finding your way back from it. It’s important to know recovery will likely require time along with some adjustments to your lifestyle.
As part of National Nurses Week, we wanted to share some stories with you about how nurses have changed lives and gone beyond what some people stereotypically think: that nurses just take temperatures, clean bedpans, and give shots.
Nothing could be further from the truth…
“Healing Touch is an energy healing therapy used by trained nurses to balance the patient’s mind, body, and spirit, which assists the patient in self-healing. Healing touch was very successful on a patient who was screaming in fear and could not fall asleep. The nurse asked me to help the patient. Not only did the patient need sleep, but other patients in close proximity to his room would benefit too. After five minutes of healing touch, the patient was resting comfortably. Within 30 minutes, the patient was sleeping. No shot was needed.”
—Alissa Perrigo, RN, MSN, Largo Medical Center
A Different Perspective
“One of the best ways to connect with an infant is to get down on all fours yourself and see the world from your little one’s perspective. This empathetic response helps connect a young mom to a child’s early developmental processes, especially visual development. Even physically, when you’re on the floor yourself, it is much easier to imagine the strength that is needed for an infant to hold his head up, turn over, or begin to crawl and pull up.”
—Adelmis Granoderoro, RN, Visiting Nurses Service of New York, who helps first-time Suffolk County moms plan for and navigate the first year of their babies lives
Going Above and Beyond
“I recently began working with a nurse who partners with my office through our Accountable Care Organizations (ACO). She was working diligently to arrange home care services for our patient. The patient was discharged from a sub-acute facility and is currently living with her sister in a room. When visiting the patient at her home, the nurse noticed that the patient was unable to clean herself and her sister was unable to assist. The nurse asked if she could assist the patient, but the patient refused. The nurse knew the patient may develop skin breakdown and pleaded with the patient to let her help. The patient still refused.
“The nurse continued to work to arrange for home services for the patient. Each day, the nurse asked if she could come to help the patient until the services began. Finally, the patient agreed. The nurse, along with a colleague, went to the patient’s home to clean the patient. Upon arriving to the apartment, the patient was found lying in her waste. While maintaining the patient’s dignity, the nurse worked for an hour and a half cleaning the patient, as well as changing the linen and the patient’s clothes. Unfortunately, the patient had skin breakdown on several areas of her body. During the visit, the nurse spoke kindly to the patient educating her on what she can do to prevent further skin breakdown. Eventually, the patient received home care.
‘Christine’ went above and beyond the call of duty for our patient, during her critical transition from sub-acute to home care.”
—Melissa Richardson, DNP, RN, FNP-BD, nurse practitioner/nurse manager at Somerset Family Practice, part of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and clinical site supervisor at Monmouth University