13 Ways: How Nurses Heal Themselves
Over the past two years, reports of increased levels of stress felt by nurses and other healthcare professionals have been growing. But nursing can be a stressful career even without SARS-CoV-2 mucking up the works.
Many of us have ways we cope with job-related stress, which is often compounded by other factors, such as marriage, children, finances, and more. I would like to offer the reader a few that have worked for me over my 40-year career as a nurse.
Take care of yourself. It is nice to fantasize that there will be somebody there to comfort us and wipe away our tears, but that doesn’t always happen. Here are some things to try. They may not all be for you, but do your best to find something that fits.
Take your breaks at work. Back in the day, I used to be annoyed by the smokers; they always found time to go outside. Then I realized that those 15-minute breaks and lunch breaks were times set aside for us. I certainly didn’t start smoking, but I began going along with one of them when she went out for a break. I am not suggesting you subject yourself to second-hand smoke, but I want to remind you that you don’t need to be doing something in order take a break. The point of the break is to do nothing. It will give you time to relax. The work will be there when you get back. It can wait.
Exercise. I’m a runner. People who run or do other exercise find that it helps relieve stress. If you don’t want to run, walking works too! The great thing about these activities is that they don’t require a scheduled time. You go when it fits in between life’s requirements. But you must make time for them. Getting out the door is the most difficult part.
If you’re not a runner but want to start, go to a running store, and treat yourself to some running (or walking) shoes and socks. For the women, a running bra may be helpful. Don’t forget to wear some reflective gear if you go out at night.
Start slow. You’re not going to run a marathon. You just need to get outside for about 30 to 60 minutes, three times a week, and do some cardiovascular exercise. I found that running gave me time to think about what was problematic to me, and what I needed to do about it. You can use the streets or the track at a local school.
Some like to go to a gym. Others like swimming. Just find what you like to do and stick to it. This is your time for you! You’ve earned it.
Do something nice for yourself. This can come in many forms. For me, it just meant grabbing some comfort food on the way home from work. Full disclosure, my special treat was Fritos and onion dip.
Plan a day off to do whatever you like. You decide. I liked going for a hike or skiing, but others would go to a spa or to New York City for any number of activities. At one time I started taking dance lessons. It was a lot of fun—and relaxing. Consider inviting a coworker to join you for these things.
If you see something, say something. Things may happen at work which are wrong. If they are enough to upset you, say something to your director or the supervisor. Don’t just hold it inside. And document it or keep a work journal.
Laugh. Sometimes things can get pretty ridiculous at work. Just laugh at it.
Do a Happy Dance! When something difficult goes right, such as sneaking a #24-gauge angiocath into a spider vein, or whatever, celebrate. Yes. Right there in the nurse’s station.
Don’t make excuses for doctors or other coworkers. ‘Nuf said.
Try psychotherapy. Recent news articles suggest that many healthcare professionals are feeling depressed about the added stress. There is no shame in seeking professional counseling. I spent eleven years in therapy. I’m glad I did.
Take care of each other.
Go out after work with your coworkers. This may not happen often, but it provides time to get to know one another better and share ideas about how you deal with difficulties at work. When I was on midnights, we would occasionally go out for breakfast on a Saturday morning. When I worked evenings, we’d go to Applebee’s.
Hug each other. Say, “I love you.” Yes! Do it! If you care about any of your coworkers, don’t be afraid to give them a hug and tell them you love them. We’re all in this together.
Don’t face problems alone. Talk to your coworkers about what is going on at work that bothers you. You may be surprised to know that they feel the same way. And they may have solutions.
Finally, in spite of these things, if work-related stress is intolerable, it’s time to look for a position in either a different area of your hospital or another place altogether. No one is going to give you a medal for sticking it out when it is harming your mental health. I changed jobs three times because the work setting was wrong for me. If your employer is disinterested in providing a healthy work environment for you, find one that will.
A big hug to all of you who are working so hard in this very important field.
— Joseph Treimel, BSN for the Healthy Nurse Healthy New Jersey Team