Stress management and self-care tips for nurses during the pandemic
In this sponsored article, Noemi Vigano looks at ways nurses can combat anxiety and protect themselves from emotional burnout
This is sponsored content from digital mental health platform SilverCloud
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we’ve all experienced immense changes to our lives and routines.
To a greater or a lesser extent, this is bound to have had an impact on our well-being. However, there are certain factors we know put some groups at increased risk of high-level stress.
One of these groups is front-line healthcare workers.
Each individual has their own mechanisms for trying to cope
When facing stress and uncertainty, we each have different experiences and do our best to cope, so it’s important not to compare your situation to that of others.
As a healthcare worker, you may be exposed to additional sources of stress for a number of reasons, including:
- Intense and complex workload making it more difficult to practise self-care and connect with your support networks.
- Challenges in your personal life that are difficult to deal with on top of work pressures.
- Physical tiredness and the restrictions of working while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment).
- Worries about not being able to provide to distressed patients the level of care and comfort you would wish.
- Parenting, and having to negotiate the demands of childcare during lockdown.
- Feelings of isolation because of possible stigma and others’ misgivings about the potential level of infection risk you may pose.
You need to be aware of how you are feeling before you can find ways to cope with new, stressful circumstances.
So, if you are experiencing increased stress, what can you do to take care of yourself as you work on the front line of a pandemic?
Self-care – you cannot look after others if you ignore your own well-being
Once you recognise that things are affecting you, you can find new ways to cope. Remember, even doing something small to look after yourself can make a big difference to your stress levels.
Self-care is hardest to do when you most need it, but as air passengers are instructed on flights: ‘in case of emergency, you put your own oxygen mask on before you can look after anyone else’.
So in the context of nursing in this pandemic, you may not feel like looking after yourself is a priority when you have so much to do, but it is not, and cannot be, negotiable. You need to look after your basic physical and mental health needs or you won’t be able to look after others.
Eat well and look after your body – and that includes not overworking
Make sure you get enough exercise as it is the single most helpful tool to help you manage your mental health. Don’t skip meals or breaks, no matter how busy you are. Stretching or simply getting some fresh air can be a simple and quick way to mind yourself.
Beware of the temptation to overwork and skip breaks because things are so busy. These are essential times for you to recharge to be able to give some more.
Connect with the supportive people in your life
You may find yourself somewhat excluded and isolated because of lockdown restrictions and the work you do. Try to keep in touch with important people in your life as much as possible – without overdoing it.
Make sure to use the support available to you. Reach out to loved ones and friends. Your colleagues may be a unique source of support at the moment.
You may want to consider counselling or using other resources if you have access to an employee assistance programme.
Are you fatigued and running on adrenaline?
Watch out for excessive stress, fatigue, and sudden exhaustion. Be vigiliant about your stress levels worsening, the feeling of being overwhelmed, feeling disconnected from your work and finding looking after yourself harder.
And working on adrenaline for extended periods of time can also lead to a sudden onset of exhaustion. Do not blame yourself, as it is not your fault, rather reach out to your line manager/lead to get the support you need to get back on track.
Time to reflect
Finally, how about you take a moment to reflect each day? Remind yourself of what you have achieved, perhaps how you supported or connected with someone, or you do a little self-care.
No matter how big or small, it’s important to celebrate your gains to help you stay well and hopeful about the future.
My tips for healthcare workers
- Pay attention to and notice how you are feeling
- Be aware of your stress levels: stress can accumulate and become overwhelming and chronic unless managed. Keep an eye and monitor how you’re doing.
- Remind yourself that feeling stressed is normal under the exceptional circumstances we are living through. It is okay not to be okay
- You may feel like you are not doing enough and that you’re not up to the task, so remember, becoming stressed or overwhelmed simply shows you are human and is in no way a reflection of your abilities
- Some stress energises you to keep going , but it is important to manage it so that it does not become excessive and overwhelming
- Seek support if you find your feelings unsettling. You may experience unpleasant and unwelcome emotions, maybe even towards patients. It may be that you are angry about non-compliance with social distancing restrictions, or you’re finding it hard to feel compassion. There may be times when you feel powerless. This is normal and to be expected. However, it is important that you reach out for support
- When stress gets too much: how to take control of what threatens to overwhelm you
- What keeps you awake? Your guide to better sleep during the COVID-19 crisis
- Strategies to avoid feeling overwhelmed by pressure of work
- Here’s why every nurse should know about charity’s mental health support services