When you decided to become a nurse, you knew it wouldn’t be easy. You knew there would be hard days, probably many of them. You were prepared for brutal shifts. You expected to have your heart broken sometimes.
But you probably never expected anything like COVID-19. The reality is that the pandemic is testing you in ways you never could have imagined — physically, mentally, and spiritually.
As much as you have always loved your job, nowadays, signing in for each shift feels like a test of strength and willpower. And when you are not exhausting your every moment fighting to save your patients from this merciless enemy, you are thinking of the ones who have been lost and those whom you may lose.
You are in constant fear for your family, your friends, yourself. Your faith in a tomorrow that is brighter than today may be faltering.
And in the face of so much turmoil, you might feel like there’s simply no time and energy left to take care of yourself. But prioritizing your physical and mental health is precisely what needs to be top of mind at this moment.
As a nurse, you are the foundation. And if we’re going to keep from collapsing, we must keep our foundation strong!
Why It Matters
As a nurse, you’re undoubtedly all too familiar with the effects of significant stress on the body as well as the mind. When you’re anxious, overwhelmed, worried, and sleep-deprived, your health is going to suffer.
Your immune system pays a particularly high price for all this stress. And when you spend your days on the frontlines of a brutal war against a highly contagious virus, the last thing you need is a compromised immune system.
An Overburdened System
Let’s face it: the American healthcare system wasn’t exactly running like clockwork even before the pandemic hit. We were struggling with a shortage of care providers and shrinking financial resources, even as an aging and increasingly sick population is increasing the demands on the system day by day.
The virus has only exponentially magnified these systemic challenges. But, for nurses in the war against COVID, it’s not just the shortage of healthcare providers that’s so overwhelming.
It’s the fact that the lack of resources with which the system was struggling before the pandemic now means the nurses and other care providers simply do not have access to the tools they need to take care of patients, let alone themselves.
And the problem isn’t just with having the capacity to care for patients’ — and caregivers’ — bodies. It’s also about not having the tools to care for their minds. In fact, a recent study found that nearly 95% of more than 1400 nurses surveyed in the United States felt that the healthcare industry did not support or prioritize their mental well being. More than 35% of those surveyed felt that their psychological health was significantly worse since the outbreak of the virus.
What to Do
Right now, you might feel too physically or mentally exhausted to add something more to your to-do list. Taking steps to nurture your mental health might just feel like a bridge too far when you’re doing well right now just to keep it together.
But carving time each and every day for a bit of self-care is exactly what’s going to help you keep it together — or your family, your patients, and yourself.
Best of all, it doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, the purpose is for it not to be difficult. The goal is to incorporate something that you can look forward to into each day. That might be just ten minutes spent jumping on the mini-trampoline or doing a little dancing or some other aerobic exercise to get those endorphins flowing and work off some of the day’s stress.
Self-nurturing should also include some emotional and psychological support, which you can literally access at the touch of a button right now. There’s a whole library of free and low-cost apps that are specifically designed for nurses, to help them manage the stress, anxiety, and depression that can accompany this most important of jobs.
And don’t forget about the things you’ve always loved, things that have nothing whatsoever to do with the pandemic. When you come home, be at home. Turn off the news reports, and turn on a favorite funny movie. Get away from the headlines and into some tunes that always bring back good memories.
Video chat with friends and family. Have virtual a virtual cocktail hour or game night. Basically, take time every day to find yourself again. Not the pandemic nurse. But you, the person.
Even under the best of circumstances, nursing is selfless and important work. But to do it during a pandemic is to transform from a good person into a great one, to morph from hero to superhero. And yet even our superheroes need care. After all, how can you possibly take care of anyone else, if you’re not first taken care of yourself?