Nursing is inherently a stressful job, but the coronavirus pandemic has taken things to an entirely new level. With constantly rising rates of nurse burnout, it’s more important than ever to have strategies in place to take care of your mental health as a nurse. Here are several ways you can take action and cope with any stress or mental health issues during the COVID crisis.
1. Learn to say no. Although you may feel like it’s necessary to help out as much as you possibly can, remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Try to avoid overcommitment and prioritize taking care of yourself. This will keep you from having constant high levels of stress that can lead to burnout.
2. Employ healthy coping skills. Unhealthy coping mechanisms include substance use, binging on junk food, negative self-talk, isolation, and becoming violent or aggressive. Try to replace these with healthy coping skills like engaging with a creative outlet, enjoying time in nature, spending time with pets and loved ones, exercising, talking about your feelings, meditating, and praying. For more information on coping skills, take a look at the articles on BetterHelp.com.
3. Take care of your physical health. Since your physical and mental health are closely related, it’s important to take care of both! For good physical health, be sure to fuel your body with nutritious food, stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, get seven to nine hours of sleep each night, and exercise regularly. You may be surprised to find just how much a healthy lifestyle improves mental health issues and stress.
4. Build a support system. It’s important for everyone to have a support system, but nurses in particular can truly benefit from a reliable group of people who are there to listen and be there for you. Your support system might be made up of a combination of family members, friends, and coworkers. But it doesn’t necessarily matter who your support system includes; what’s important is that you have people to turn to when you’re having a tough time.
5. Take your breaks. Take all of your breaks and vacation days, and try to use them to your advantage by incorporating self-care activities into your time off. This can help you feel more empowered and capable once you go back to work, instead of feeling like you completely wasted your day off by binge-watching Netflix or spending copious amounts of time on unproductive activities. Some days it may be the best choice to lounge on the couch and watch TV so that you can recharge, but whenever possible, try to be proactive and engage in activities that enrich your body and mind.
6. Practice compartmentalization. Nurses who consider their job to be their calling tend to have higher levels of stress and burnout. Meanwhile, nurses who consider their job to be just that–a job–tend to find it easier to leave work-related concerns behind at work. It’s a good idea to try to compartmentalize work-related stress so that you don’t have to bring it home with you.
7. Develop emergency coping strategies. It’s a great idea to figure out what works for you in the moment when you feel like you’ve reached the end of your rope. Oftentimes, deep breaths can calm you enough to make you feel more capable of handling the situation. Counting to 10 and taking short breaks may also be helpful.
8. Create a safe space. Make your home into your own personal safe space where you know you can go to relax and recharge. Adding plants to various rooms in your house, decorating in a relaxing color scheme, and choosing comfortable furniture can all be a part of creating your safe space.
9. Make connections with others outside of work. While it’s great to have coworkers as friends, you’ll never be able to truly leave work if your only friends are your coworkers. That’s why it’s so important to have friends from different career paths. Family members, pets, and a partner can also be great for social connection that doesn’t have to do with work.
10. Build fun activities into your schedule. Identify activities that you enjoy. They might be simple, like drinking a cup of coffee while reading a chapter of a book. Or they might be more involved, like attending various classes and workshops. Whatever you enjoy doing, try to make time for fun and enjoyment on a daily basis. This gives you something to look forward to and can make life feel more worthwhile.
11. Connect with nature. Studies show that even just looking at photos of nature can have amazing effects on mental health. And if you’re able to get outside, breathe in the fresh air, and appreciate the beauty of nature, you can gain even more benefits. Don’t underestimate the effects of spending time outdoors–even a short walk or sitting outside for a few minutes can make a difference.
12. Keep a journal. Many nurses benefit from keeping a private journal, whether it’s physical or digital. A journal provides a safe space to release all emotions and work through challenging situations in your own way, without having anyone there to judge your thoughts and feelings.
It’s very important for nurses to find effective ways to cope with mental health problems during the current coronavirus crisis. Remember that you can always reach out for help, and there’s absolutely no shame in seeing a counselor or therapist. In fact, even those who aren’t experiencing nurse burnout and other mental health issues can benefit from the therapy process.
Aside from counseling sessions, there are plenty of ways that nurses can cope with their mental health. These include learning to say no, replacing unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones, and taking care of your physical health. In addition, building a reliable support system, taking all of your breaks and vacation days, and practicing compartmentalization can be very helpful. It’s also a good idea to develop emergency coping strategies that you can practice in the moment to remain calm in tough situations. Making your home into a safe space, connecting with people other than your coworkers, building fun into your schedule, spending time outdoors, and keeping a personal journal are great ways to handle your mental health as a nurse as well.
This article was contributed by Marie Miguel who has been a writer and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.