April 20, 2020

I’m a COVID-19 Nurse and These Are 5 Ways I Practice Self-Care on My Days Off

Female nurse holding fingers to head from stress

By Emily Bryant

The other day I watched a patient flail herself around her gurney desperately trying to find a position that would bring more ease to her breathing. She was in the classic tripod stance with eyes that gazed over her non-rebreather silently shouting at us why we weren’t helping. As we prepared the negative pressure room for intubation, one of the residents asked what actions we would take if she went into respiratory arrest in her current room. 

The attending responded with a grim, “there are no emergencies in a pandemic.” 

Although this response seems cold and brash, he was making the point that we cannot risk the health and safety of the staff in order to take care of one patient in the current state of our world. This statement caught me off guard at first, but throughout the past few weeks, it has actually brought me more guidance than most inspirational quotes floating around the internet. 

I Put Myself First

We, as nurses, must take care of ourselves first. 

When I say this I don’t just mean ensuring that we are donning and doffing our PPE correctly. If nurses hope to show up for our patients and our coworkers in big ways during this pandemic, we must first learn how to make sure we are in our healthiest physical and mental state possible. 

It means that during our time spent at home, we need to capitalize on the lack of social functions more than any other career right now. With the decrease in activities planned and cancellation of social function, nurses should view the gaps in our schedules as a gift to keep our bodies as healthy as possible.  

Since many of us are working with critically ill Covid-19 patients and studies are beginning to show a correlation between worse symptoms and a higher viral load, nurses need to ensure that we are taking every measure possible to protect our own health. 

I Get Extra Sleep

Since we have nowhere to go on our days off, nurses should be capitalizing on the opportunity to get as much sleep as possible to energize our spirits and bodies for when we need it the most. Hormones, proteins, and chemicals created while we sleep help keep our immune system functioning at the highest level, and without an adequate amount of sleep, we actively break down our body’s own PPE against this terrible virus. So give yourself that additional hour, take those vitamins you have left untouched at the back of your cabinet for months, and deploy any additional homeopathic measures you believe in to ensure your physical body is rested and prepared for a potential attack.

I Focus on My Mental Health 

Compassion Fatigue, “the physical, emotional, and spiritual depletion associated with caring for patients in significant emotional pain and physical distress,” will be rising at an unprecedented rate for nurses caring for Covid-19 patients in the coming weeks. 

Although no one will ever be able to rationalize the horror of this disease, engaging in spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, or worship can provide an escape and comfort during times of extreme challenge. We should be extending ourselves grace to acknowledge our fears and sadness, but also realize the transforming power of processing through the emotions rather than just sitting in them. Just as we tend to our physical bodies during this time, continue with any mental health practices you find helpful; virtual counseling, reading, trusted phone calls, or solo processing walks. 

I Limit Social Media and News 

Nurses have developed their own methods for detaching from the emotional aspect of our jobs once we go home, but during this particular crisis it almost seems like we can never escape the job. The news, social media, our own families, and nearly every conversation we have revolves around the same topic. We need to create a space as a part of our daily practice to escape this chaos in our own ways to encourage our own longevity in this journey, because if we become fully enveloped, I fear nurses will become discouraged and burn out far too quickly. Set limits on social media usage, be cautious on the amount of time spent engaging with the news, and ask people close to you to help cultivate an atmosphere with some degree of normality for your days off in an effort to keep our spirits and energy at our best when we enter the hospital.

I Give Myself a Gift

In the world where we go from stressful and traumatic shifts, to being stuck inside our homes, I think there is a lot of value that comes embracing the hard work we are putting into our jobs and treating ourselves to special gifts. Every time you go to the grocery store, buy yourself some flowers to remind yourself every time you walk by them that you are worth it. Treat yourself to the item you have been delaying purchasing for so long, because having something to look forward to in the mail, although a small joy, is a little way to have healthy anticipation. Allow people who continue to reach out and offer to help into your life, coffee gift cards and meals are easy ways to bring small moments of happy into every day. 

Spend time on yourself, because now, more than ever, we deserve it and need it so that we can be the best nurses for our patients.