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Nursing yourself in this time of crisis: 5 ways to help manage stress for the front line nurses

At this unprecedented time, who has the knowledge to know what the next steps will be for our nurses? Many work around the clock to work on the front line, causing them to be at risk of burnout and stress.

These are terms most nurses are familiar with and some have experienced throughout their years of working. Caring for patients and trying to find time for their own families as well as themselves. Now more than ever, it is imperative that healthcare workers are taking care of their own health and well-being. Speaking to a nurse working directly on the front line, it is with no surprise she describes her life at the moment as being ‘manic’.

So where can nurses find calm in the storm?

Dealing with stress and burnout in any job can be difficult But in this time of global emergency and pandemic it is healthcare professionals, who bear the majority of the strain. Stress causes include patients and cases they observe, time constraints to get work done, conflict with leadership or co-workers, and a feeling of lack of control in their work environment. Stress can lead to fatigue, exhaustion and burnout. Therefore, successful management of stress is essential for our nurses during this time, to ensure they can keep on doing what they do best.

Talk about it

Often, after a stressful shift it is easy to go home, zone out, watch television and try to forget about the day. Studies have shown that talking about your day can help to relieve stress levels. Whether it be talking to a spouse, friend, household member or finding comfort in online support; getting things ‘off your chest’ can be useful after the long day is done to help you unwind.

TIP: If you feel you don’t want to burden your loved ones with the stress of the day… Search for your hospital trust on social media and ask to join the group. Other nurses may be able to offer words of support and reassurance.

Healthy Habits

Exercise is probably the last thing on your mind after a long day. But physical activity is clinically proven to help relieve stress levels. On your days off make sure you are getting out in the fresh air for a run, jog or walk to blow off the cobwebs.

Studies show that listening to music whilst exercising can boost mood. So if you’re struggling with low mood or worry, put your earphones in and your trainers on.

Out of the nurses we have spoken to, many expressed diet is the last thing on their mind and they are eating what is readily available to them. In this time of crisis, this is of course understandable. However, trying to opt for meals with ‘good fats’ and ‘complex carbohydrates’ is a good way of staying full and maintaining energy levels throughout the day.

Deep Breathing

It is scientifically proven that deep breathing can reduce stress levels. It helps to bring oxygen to the brain, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which in turn helps to reduce stress. Heart rate and blood pressure decrease, and muscles relax.

TIP: Slipping away to the break room for a minute or two can allow you to practice your deep breathing and help you feel calmer at work. At home, deep breathing in the form of yoga or meditation is a more in-depth method for stress relief. Yoga focuses on breathing patterns. Practitioners therefore become aware of the mind-body relationship, as well as it being a great form of exercise.

Switching off

This sounds like a bit of a contradiction to step 1, doesn’t it? But allowing yourself the time to pull back from work and focus on other things is important. The whole world is talking about Coronavirus, it’s all that is on the news and social media, as well as what is dominating every nurse’s day at work.

Take a break from these things and use it as a time to heal. It is  important to keep up to date with current affairs, however bogging yourself down with facts and figures can be detrimental. Make sure you’re watching/doing/listening to something you love and enjoy. Be mindful to take time for a bit of escapism.

Tip: Go for a walk without your phone or switch your phone to silent whilst eating.

Seeking Help

At this time, many non-emergency services have been cut. This means that your in-house trust psychology service may be at a halt. When the restrictions are lifted look into what you’re entitled to in terms of your ‘clinical supervision’. These sessions, which most NHS trusts run, are a great way to debrief and unload your worries and stress. The session are held with other nurses who understand what the past few months have been like. If you are unsure of how to access these services, speak to your line manager or occupational health department.

Keep going, keep safe and look after yourself.

You can’t pour from an empty cup.

Written by A K Baines – Specialist Nurse -Northeast England.

To read our blog post covering 5 relaxation techniques to manage stress click here.

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