At some point in every nurse’s career, they will experience a traumatic situation such as a hemorrhage, code blue, or even the death of a patient. It is important to know how to deal with the aftermath of this type of event so you can begin the healing process. Failing to take care of yourself or pushing away emotions could lead to burnout and potentially end your nursing career. Here are a few tips on how to process and recover after a traumatic situation at work.

1. Debrief with your coworkers.

During an emergent situation, your perception of the events that took place may be skewed due to adrenaline and anxiety. It is important to take time to debrief with others who were involved in the situation with you, so you can begin to process the situation. As you discuss how everything unfolded and begin to understand everyone’s role in the event, you will be able to process what happened. Be sure to address any questions or concerns you have about how or why things occurred the way they did.

2. Take time off from work.

After experiencing a stressful situation at work, ask yourself how you are feeling about returning to work for your next shift. If you are feeling anxiety or dread, it might be a good idea to take some time off. Talk to your managers about these emotions and see if they can help you to arrange some time off. Having time to process your emotions and refresh yourself will help prevent burnout.

3. Spend time with loved ones.

It is important to spend time with the people you love most after a traumatic event. You may not be able to discuss the details of what happened due to HIPAA, but you can express how you feel emotionally. Your loved ones will be able to comfort you and provide you with the support and space you need to begin healing.

4. Practice self-care.

It is always important to practice self-care, but it becomes absolutely necessary to do so after the emotional and physical stress of a traumatic event. Check in with yourself about the emotions you are feeling and what could help you to process and relieve them. For example, if you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, try going on a walk or doing a workout you enjoy. If you are feeling physically or mentally exhausted, try getting a massage or taking a nice, warm bath.

5. Seek professional help.

In some cases you may not be able to work through the aftermath of a traumatic event on your own. It is perfectly normal to need additional help from a therapist. Ask your employer if they have reduced cost or even free therapy sessions for employees needing assistance.

It is important to remember that you are not alone and that at some point, every nurse has struggled in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Every day it will get easier and one day you will wake up and feel completely healed.

Sarah Cruzan, BSN, RN

Sarah Cruzan is a nurse on a Family Maternity Unit.

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