Caring for the wellbeing of our nurses

Your role has never been more vital.  The sense of sacrifice each day higher than ever.  In this so-called war against the virus, you are indeed the heroes of the story.  

Yet, the chances of stress and burnout will increase with each day of the crisis.  Your physical health is also put at risk.  While we want to thank you for your dedication, we also wish to offer some guidance on getting yourself through this time.

The dilemma of PPE

Your professionalism is never doubted.  If you need to make a choice between your health and treating someone suffering from extreme respiratory distress, you will likely treat first and then consider the consequences later.

However, the need to physically protect yourself from the virus is more than just self-preservation.  You are a vital cog in your family, a critical friend and community member.  You also cannot work if you become a patient.  Consequently, the use of personal protective equipment should not really be a choice.  We all appreciate the shortages and that you are facing challenging decisions every day but wearing the FFP3 mask for a higher level of protection against respiratory infection is essential.

Your physical health will also suffer if you do not maintain the appropriate work-life balance.  You still need to keep some of the boundaries of regular times.  You need the right amount of sleep, times of quiet and relaxation and moments to eat and drink healthily. 

Stress and burnout

In standard working times, stress is a real thing for a nurse.  Even though you might love your role, you are thrust continuously into high pressure and emotion contexts.  Even with the positive outcomes, where your patient pulls through when you didn’t think it possible or you get that promotion or that piece of tech you were hoping for, the high can lead to a form of stress response too.

You might not realise this heightened level of living is impacting on you until you suffer the overwhelming effects of burnout.  More than 80% of nurses in a recent survey accepted they experience significant levels of workplace stress, so you would not be alone.

Some essential tips for managing these stress levels include:

  • Learning to say no, sometimes.  Tune into your needs and what you are realistically capable of achieving and set your boundaries accordingly.
  • Compartmentalise your life.  When you leave the hospital or care setting leave the people behind you, trusting that the next shift will have the best interest of the patients at heart.  Home is for you and your family and recuperation.
  • Learn how you can de-escalate your emotions.  Everyone gets overwhelmed at times.  Understand how you can bring yourself back to calmness.  Maybe you need to learn breathing meditations or know where you can spend two minutes alone while you decompress.
  • Find a sanctuary in your home.  If you leave work and immediately become mother, father, a carer for another – make sure there is a place you can go where only you matter.  Listen to some music, read a book or watch something on TV. Switch off.

You might feel that these are unrealistic requests in a crisis.  Saying no to your manager when they tell you that there is no one to take on the next shift.  Really? How can you possibly sit in a room by yourself when your partner has been with the children all day?  Seriously, that is unlikely.  

There are a hundred ways that this advice seems impossible.  You won’t feel capable of walking away from an emergency because your emotions are overflowing, for instance.  Equally, taking time to eat and drink is just too easy to forget.

We appreciate that putting others before yourself is part of your DNA.  However, consider how long you can keep going at this pace.  As a manager once said to me, this is a marathon and not a sprint.  You may have to sustain this pace for months.

Your internal justification

The qualities of an exceptional nurse include resilience and reliability.  You need to show that you can turn up and be efficient for every shift.  You need to learn how to be resilient and reliable as much as how to dress wounds and make checks.  Consequently, your physical and emotional wellbeing should come first, so you can keep going.  Leave some space in your day to practice, so you can continue to be our hero.

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