Career advice

How to rebuild positivity and move forward even when you’re exhausted

COVID-19 pandemic has left nurses traumatised, but healing is possible

The pandemic has left nurses traumatised, but emotional healing is possible, with the help of a ‘growth mindset’

Allowing yourself to imagine new opportunities will help you move forward Picture: iStock

With the COVID-19 vaccine programme well under way, and the prospect of all UK adults being offered their first vaccination by the end of July, the collective hope of the nation is rising.

There is an expectation to be happy and joyful, but what if you are simply exhausted?

It’s hard to be optimistic when you are exhausted

The past 12 months have seen you dig deeper than ever before, with all areas of nursing having to adapt and change. How are you expected to be excited about life opening up again if it feels like every shift continues to squeeze the lifeblood out of you?

As we tentatively start to move forward, it’s going to take more than a few drinks at your local to forget about the past year. It’s perfectly normal to feel a sense of shock as you look back on everything you have experienced; you may even feel lost as you ask yourself ‘what’s next?’ What has happened to your pre-pandemic sense of security?

Whether you have been nursing for decades or are new to the profession, the pandemic will have wounded you. All wounds must go through a healing process, including mental and emotional wounds, and now is the time to look at what you need to help you start healing.

‘It’s perfectly natural to have days where you feel low and unmotivated. Be kinder to yourself – would you speak to a patient or friend the way you speak to yourself sometimes?’

This is not the time to compare yourself negatively to the seemingly happy faces of friends and colleagues on social media. This will only make you feel more alienated, so the starting point instead is where you are now.

Part of your healing process will involve looking at the effect COVID-19 has had on you and try and take some meaning – personal, professional or both – from the experience.

My father was very ill at the start of the year, and I found caring for him both rewarding and exhausting. When my energy levels dip, so does my mood, but I am able to spot when negative self-talk starts creeping in and can go on a self-imposed mindset boot camp.

8 tips to help you find your positivity

  • Accept where you are Working on your mindset does not mean beating yourself up for not feeling positive. It’s perfectly natural to have days where you feel low and unmotivated. Be kinder to yourself – would you speak to a patient or friend the way you speak to yourself sometimes?
  • Don’t try to short-circuit the process The past year has been traumatic. You have had to cope with a lot, so it will take time to feel stronger and more like yourself again.
  • Don’t apologise for your emotions This is one of the best pieces of advice ever given to me. Your emotions serve a purpose but be mindful of the thinking that accompanies them. When you feel sad, for example, are you also telling yourself ‘I am useless’? Accept your emotions but challenge your thoughts and inner beliefs.
  • Keep a journal Writing down your thoughts can really help you gain some perspective.
  • Pay attention to what is working There is a wealth of research into the positive effects of practising gratitude on a regular basis. It can help shift your focus from what you don’t have to what you do.
  • Do more of what makes you happy The pandemic has shown us how life can change in an instant, so do your best to free up some time each week for fun things.
  • Give yourself a break Don’t make things any harder than they need to be. I love running, but the older I get the more slowly I run. The app on my watch monitoring my speed and distance was making me dislike running, so I ditched this and have fallen back in love with running.
  • Don’t be afraid to dream Dreams are the foundation of hope. They also help you get in touch with what really inspires you. And remember, you don’t need to know how you will reach your dream – not yet.

‘Power of not yet’ and changing your negative mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck, a leading figure in mindset research, teaches about the opposing concepts of ‘fixed’ (or closed) and ‘growth’ (open) mindsets. In her inspiring TED talks, she often describes a school in the US that offers a ‘not yet’ grade instead of a ‘fail.’

She explains how harnessing the power of ‘not yet’ can help students, and everyone else, achieve things they once thought impossible. I love this approach as it opens up the possibility that we don’t need to have the answers now, we simply have to be open to learning and opportunities.

Find your next challenge at RCNi nursing careers and jobs fairs

Adopting the ‘not yet’ approach can help us move from a fixed way of thinking to a more open, expansive one, helping to open up new possibilities.

Although we cannot change the past year, spring is finally here and your challenge now is to slowly start to move forward. You don’t need to have the answers yet, you just need to be willing to explore.

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