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Nursing is a stressful profession even during normal times, but nursing during a pandemic takes an exponential toll on your mental health (and as stress weakens immune response, this exacerbates the threats to your physical safety). Even before the tragic suicide of New York ED doctor Lorna Breen, experts had been sounding the alarm about the psychological impact of working on the COVID-19 front lines.
You’re probably aware of the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that focused on the mental health of front line healthcare workers in Wuhan. The key finding was that clinicians —particularly nurses—who worked during the crisis suffered from unusual levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and distress. And in the US, as psychiatrist Jessica Gold observed in StatNews, “Underneath it, many health care workers are barely keeping it together. They are anxious and they are afraid. They aren’t sleeping and they find themselves crying more than usual…”
It is understandable that in the current situation you may be struggling with fears for your patients, for your loved ones, and for yourself. Such fears can be fueled by overwork (or underwork and financial worries, for many nurses), inadequate PPE, lockdowns making it impossible to go out and blow off steam with friends, isolation, and a host of other stressors. At such a time it is more important than ever to take care of yourself. As the AMA recently stated, “Attending to your mental health and psychosocial well-being while caring for patients is as important as managing your physical health.” But what can you do to protect your mind as well as your body?
A good first step is to firmly resolve to take action to protect and maintain your mental health on a daily basis. To support your efforts, here are some tools that may help you keep your head straight during a crazy time:
- American Psychiatric Nurses Association: Managing Stress and Self-Care During COVID-19
- American Nurses Association: Free Course—COVID-19 Self-Care Package
- Nursing Standard: How COVID-19 is Affecting Mental Health and What to do About It
- Practice Self-Care: Bernadette Melnyk’s 9 Dimensions of Wellness Tips
- American Medical Association: Managing Mental Health During COVID-19
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement: 10 Quick Mindfulness Exercises
- Registered Nursing.org: How to Manage Your Stress as a Nurse
- For the Front Line: Free Crisis Counseling Text Service
Finally, don’t forget the mind/body connection: exercise helps to ward off depression and stress! It’s hard to find time to work out, but the ANA suggests that even a 10-minute daily routine at home can help you face the world. Or consider investing in a mini-trampoline rebounder and bounce away the blues while you get fit.