A comprehensive education in nursing like the University of Houston-Victoria's online RN to BSN degree program can provide students with the knowledge, skills and competencies needed to be effective practitioners. But how can nurses prepare for and cope with the unprecedented anxieties and stresses they are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic?
The nursing profession is one of compassion and empathy, based in the drive to care for people. But while nurses excel at taking care of others, they often fall short at caring for themselves. The extreme mental, emotional and physical challenges presented by the pandemic are asking nurses to reflect on this all-too-common phenomenon.
Now more than ever, nurses would do well to embrace self-care practices to help weather the current circumstances in the healthiest ways possible. Here are a few tips, tools and ideas that can help nurses take care of themselves, and in turn, those they care for.
Allow Yourself to Feel How You Feel
In valuing empathy for others over empathy for oneself, people can overlook or flat out deny the importance of their own feelings. That the pandemic is causing stress, anxiety, financial hardship, despair and grief is as true for nurses as it is for anyone else.
Nurses are on the frontlines, coping with the hardships that patients are going through in addition to their own. They can become overworked, with placement in high-risk situations necessitating that they isolate themselves from loved ones. This can be a recipe for overload and burnout.
The first step in coping with such challenges is recognizing, legitimizing and striving to understand one's own feelings. Having this degree of self-empathy is the foundation for meaningful self-care.
Focus on the Present
Our brains are immensely powerful. This can be both helpful and self-defeating. On the spectrum of emotions, anxiety surrounds stress and worry about the future while depression feeds on negative thoughts regarding the past. These feelings can self-perpetuate, blurring one's perception of reality and the present moment.
Keeping yourself focused on the present can help you manage feelings of anxiety and depression. This involves understanding what you have control over and what you do not. Staying focused on the positive impacts you can make can help ease even the most difficult situations.
Take Breaks, Slow Down, and Breathe
There are many ways to bring yourself back to the present when the brain starts spinning into unhealthy territory. Take a break, whether it is a 10-minute walk, five minutes of yoga, a short meditation or a few moments of deep breathing. Pausing to slow down and refocus on the present moment can help reset the brain, allowing you to tackle the next thing with a fresh mind.
Practice What You Preach
Nurses counsel people on how to live healthy lives. So take your own advice. Eat healthy food regularly. Drink plenty of water. Get outside and breathe fresh air. Exercise and get moving. Practice good sleep hygiene. These things will keep your body and mind strong, healthy and prepared to face the challenges each day presents.
Do Things You Love
Regularly take time to do things that give you joy, even if only for a little while. Cuddle with your cat. Take your dog for a walk. Have a cup of coffee and read a good book. Sit on the porch with a guitar.
Doing the little things you love may seem like a luxury in such demanding times. But it can do wonders for your mental state. And these can be things you do for you, in solitude, as you practice developing your capacity for self-care.
Inform Yourself, But Don't Overwhelm Yourself
As a nurse and a responsible citizen, you want to stay informed about the pandemic and other news. While this is important, it can also become a negative, anxiety-provoking and even addictive habit, especially when it comes to social media. So find a few reputable, trusted sources to get your news from. But keep your screen time and social media scrolling to a minimum.
Cutting back on social media does not mean disconnecting from people. We need social connection and support. Be creative about maintaining connections. Have weekly Zoom calls with a group of friends. Play an ongoing game with your family remotely.
And remember that everyone, including you, needs help right now. Reach out for support when you need it, whether from friends, family, colleagues or professionals.
Getting the help you need and taking care of yourself during the pandemic takes effort and intention. But practicing self-care is a necessity for staying healthy and being an effective professional in such trying times.
Learn more about UHV's online RN to BSN program.
Have a question or concern about this article? Please contact us.