With all of the anxiety and stress thrust upon nurses today in the fight against time and the COVID19 virus, self-care has probably never been more important. The massive numbers of positive cases, and those seeking medical care with real or psychosomatic symptoms of COVID19 is overwhelming the health care system obviously unprepared for disaster of this magnitude from sea to shining sea and around the world.
The shortage of ventilators means having to ration them and decide who gets one and who doesn’t. Even coupling them together hasn’t solved the problem of the number of patients requiring them. This means being involved in making impossible moral decisions – the kind that haunt your dreams and keep you up at night. The lack of restful sleep adds significantly to the burden. Try to make sure you get restful sleep. Chores can wait. Go to bed!
The lack of sufficient PPE to properly protect health care workers and essential employees much less patients raises the levels of fear and stress and anxiety beyond the levels of coping. Consequently, many health care workers have given their lives in this battle, and sadly, they won’t be the last ones to do so. Dealing with the fact that nurses and doctors are being punished and risking being fired for bringing in their own N95 masks is beyond comprehension except that it makes for an unlevel playing field and management cannot cope. The playbooks for this scenario were tossed and everyone is trying to wing it. Clearly, some are better fit for this than others. No one is at their best in a crisis, and these times certainly show who is not meant to be in leadership roles.
Stress, anxiety and fear also quickly weaken the immune systems of not only the patients but nurses and other healthcare workers as well. For those who suffer with anxiety disorders, the symptoms can be heightened. Self-care is even more essential now than ever before and there’s even less time to do it. Nurses need to get creative. But that’s one thing nurses are very good at. Innovation is the key to good nursing care even in the face of adversity.
Laughter is something we all know is touted to be the best medicine. It breaks the grip of fear and anxiety and stress and allows the heart to beat a little slower, to relax the tense shoulders and jaw, and to breathe a little deeper. It’s an easy fix. The mind is the best camera ever because it captures everything. Think about a funny situation, a great picture you didn’t have your smartphone handy for, a giggle at how silly your kids can be, or something fun your husband surprised you with at the most needed moment! Think about it for a few seconds and let your mind have a mini vacation. Share with co-workers who will appreciate it.
Dance in the hallways. Stretch and work out the kinks. It only takes a few seconds and it just might save a life, including yours!
Hydration and nutrition are essential to your body functioning appropriately. Pack nutritious snacks that only take a minute or two to consume. Fill small baggies with nuts, dried fruits, cheeses, small bars, and whatever your mind can conjure up. Be sure to grab at least 2-3 gulps of water every time you have a chance. Be sure to take the 2 minutes to urinate as needed to clear your body of the toxins being removed. A full bladder is painful and stressful. If you don’t take care of you, you aren’t giving it your best shot at caring for your patients. Your mind will be distracted, and your physical ability challenged. If necessary, set a schedule for everyone to have a few minutes to eat, drink and pee.
Nurses and doctors are staying to sit with dying patients who are alone because visitors are banished. Use this opportunity to slow down and rest. Take time to breathe deeply, relax tensed muscles and put your feet up. Be a visitor and not the nurse. Hold hands, soothe foreheads, talk softly and let the patient know you’re there with them.
Understand that these are abnormal times, and it’s an emotional roller coaster. If you need to cry, cry. If you need to scream, go outside and let go! If you want to punch a wall, grab a pillow and punch it or pound it on the bed or a chair. Take a walk, go for a run, dance, move, spend that energy and get your endorphins flowing. Without being an annoying cliché – let it go! Don’t bottle it up. Burnout is an important issue to consider as it will be the resulting complication for far too many.
Fill (even overflow) a jar with post-it notes of gratitude, and wishes, and plans for when this is over. Journal. This is an unusual time and there will be lessons to be gleaned far into the future. Write letters to your children (present or future) explaining how things are and what you’re doing and what you have learned about planning for future pandemics. Focus on the positive for a moment.
In a time where social distancing is essential, hugs and physical touch has never been so important and sorely missed. Take a moment to pantomime blowing kisses and virtual bear hugs. Smile and share a few kind words. Make them laugh! We’re all in this together. Most of all be sure to thank yourself for another day well done!