Nursing has always been a challenging career, but the emergence of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has amplified the day-to-day stressors felt by many. From the seemingly endless potential for case surges to the stamina required to care for acutely ill patients, nurses are likely experiencing the highest stress levels of their careers.
Burnout can set in if stress is not addressed and actively curbed. According to a 2019 PRC Custom Research survey, 15.6% of nurses reported feelings of burnout even before the pandemic. Now, as nurses struggle to cope with the pandemic alongside managing a family or advancing their nursing degree, self-care is essential.
Here are tips to help you manage the stress and avoid burnout:
- Tune Out
While cell phones, social media and a 24/7 news cycle allow you to stay up to speed on information both near and far, it is not always ideal for mental health. Consider taking a media vacation by shutting off the television and stepping away from your devices. Start by doing this for a few hours each week. For example, commit to disconnecting during your lunch break or on the train to work. Bring a book instead. Once you feel the difference, you may wish to untether digitally more often.
- Carve Out “Me” Time
In caring professions, like nursing, workers often lose physical and mental stamina if they do not find ways to replenish their reserves regularly. Find one thing that boosts your spirits and carve out time each day for it. Whether it is a hobby, a video chat with a friend or streaming your favorite sitcom, just 10 minutes of “me” time can be enough to rest your system.
- Focus on Your Breath
When you are in the middle of a stressful situation, especially while on the clock or in front of a patient, you do not always have the option to walk away. Learn and actively practice some deep breathing techniques, such as box breathing, that encourage decompression during tense moments, no matter where you are.
- Eat Well
While it is tempting to eat for comfort during times of stress, your body will handle the strain better if you fuel it properly. Keeping store-bought snacks like cheese, nuts and fruit in your work bag can prevent you from raiding workplace vending machines. Batch cook simple, protein-based meals on your days off to tide you over for the week, maintain your energy and keep blood sugars steady.
- Optimize Your Sleep
Shiftwork already wreaks havoc on nurses’ sleep cycles. Add in picking up extra hours, the blue light emitted by electronic devices and the pandemic’s overall psychological trauma, and it is safe to say you may not be getting ideal sleep as a healthcare worker. To optimize your sleep, try the following:
- Wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Invest in blackout curtains to keep your room dark for sleep.
- Aim for a cooler room – around 65 degrees.
- Disconnect from devices and lower lights at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
- If you still struggle, talk to your doctor about temporary supplements and medications.
- Talk to Someone
When stress reaches a breaking point, the feelings of despair can become unbearable. Like a teapot, having an outlet to process your thoughts is key to relieving this intense pressure. However, many nurses do not want to burden family and friends with their struggles. A licensed mental health professional can assist you in working through the backlog of emotions as well as developing coping skills and resilience. Select someone who has experience counseling nurses and healthcare providers.
With the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, self-care is more important than ever for nurses. The American Nurses Association (ANA) offers a free COVID-19 Self-Care Package of courses to help healthcare workers through this time. By being aware of stress levels and incorporating self-care strategies, nurses can bolster their ability to weather any storm.