March 25, 2020

10 Mental Health Tips For Nurses

Stressed nurse leaning on wall in hospital hallway

By Sarah Jividen

During a time that may feel out-of-control for many nurses, it’s important to take control of our mental health and try our best to focus on self-care when away from work. You owe it to yourself to intentionally control how you spend time away from work and where you place your thoughts in-between shifts.

After returning home from work, most nurses must quarantine themselves, giving them few outlets to deal with the heavy mental load required of them in the workplace.

"I'm scared.  For myself, husband, family, my coworkers. I just take it day by day. I can't do anything else but that. My husband is great, he's funny, makes me laugh. But I know in the coming weeks it will be crazier and I'm scared,” said Lein, a registered nurse in Los Angeles. 

It is definitely not a reassuring time for nurses. And, many of us might feel as if a tsunami of COVID-19 patients could overwhelm us at any moment. Here are ten ways to manage feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as we tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.   

Listen to the Ask Nurse Alice podcast "Mental Health, Burnout, and Nursing: tips for taking care of yourself" now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or anywhere you listen to podcasts. Search "Ask Nurse Alice" podcast. 

1. Take a break from COVID-19 by not watching the news or social media

Consider taking a mental break from COVID-19 information overload. Even during non-pandemic times, evidence shows the news and social media outlets can make people sadder and more anxious, than if they didn't watch it at all. Consider finding one or two expert sources for your medical news, instead of mass consuming from several sources, which may or may not be accurate.    

2. Video chat with friends and family

While much of the world is hunkering down at home, many nurses are forced to deal with fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 alone. This leaves our frontline workers vulnerable to depression and anxiety with few outlets for social communication.

"I feel very isolated and alone being a travel nurse hundreds of miles away from family and friends." - Brittney, RN, Chicago, Il. 

Here are some way to video chat, 

  • Zoom can help with that. Try setting up a lunch or dinner date with friends a few times a week to stay socially connected with the outside world.
  • Facebook messenger has video chatting capabilities.
  • Facetime on the iPhone is also a great way to video chat.

Studies show that face-to-face contact is more effective at preventing depression and anxiety than using email or even talking on the phone. As many nurses are unable to meet others in person, connecting through Zoom is another option.

3. Get outdoors 

While many public areas are temporarily closed to the public, most hiking areas are not. It is possible to hike while keeping within the CDC guidelines of keeping at least 6 feet between yourself and others. If you can, bring someone you already live with along. 

A recent study analyzed the impact of a physical activity program on anxiety, depression, occupational stress and burnout syndrome of nursing professions. It found that after the intervention, participants reported improved perceptions of bodily pain and feeling of fatigue at work.  

Even though it might feel more natural to want to hide out at home and hibernate, getting entirely out of your element and being in nature may help nurses shake off some work pressure. 

4. Watch funny movies

Laughing is no joke when it comes to relieving anxiety and stress. In fact, laughing has many therapeutic benefits for those under extreme duress, including reducing depression, calming the nervous system, and producing oxytocin (aka the feel-good hormone).  

If you feel anxiety creeping up, stop it in its tracks by watching something so funny that you can't help but laugh.  

5. Try free online yoga & meditation

One study on yoga's effect among intensive care unit nurses analyzed the impact of yoga on ICU coping strategies over an 8-week period. The results showed that the nurses who participated in the yoga study had a major reduction in their perceived mental pressure, as well as improved mental focus.  

Since we can't physically go to a class, try these ideas from home: 

  • YouTube - there are lots of free YouTube videos with Yoga classes and guided meditation.
  • Calm - is a great, free meditation app with sessions lasting 3-5 minutes. It is available on the App Store or Google Play
  • Insight Timer - the awesome thing about this app is that it offers customization based on the type of meditation you need - love/kindness, stress or mindfulness, for example. It is available on the App Store or Google Play. 
  • Online Therapy - several online resources are offering free therapy via phone, text, and video. Check those out here. 

6. Eat nutritious, immune-boosting foods

Nurses are great instructors on how to eat a healthy diet, but sometimes taking our own advice during times of extreme stress can be challenging.  But what is right for patient-care, also goes for hard-working nurses, many of which are already suffering from severe burnout and exhaustion. 

Stress and immune function are interrelated.  Eating the right foods can help boost immunity, especially for nurses nerve-wracked about COVID-19.

Some of the best immune-boosting foods include, 

  • Citrus fruits like, oranges, grapefruit, and lemons. 
  • Leafy green vegetables like, broccoli, spinach, and kale.  
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Tumeric 
  • Yogurt
  • Zinc

7. Talk to a therapist or other healthcare staff who can understand you struggle

Often family and friends who do not work on the frontlines of healthcare, though they mean well, have a hard time empathizing with a nurse's experience in the workplace.  Talk with someone who understands the stresses that come with being a nurse.  It can help you put a voice to your fear and may help you be more open to exploring helpful ways to manage it. 

Can’t make it to a therapist’s office? That’s OK, many therapists offer video and phone sessions. There are also many mobile apps available that focus on therapy and mental health to work with your schedule. 

Here are a few online therapy apps that have great reviews, 

8. Practice gratitude

A little gratitude can go a long way for our mental health. Try starting every day simply saying 3 things that you are grateful for. It can be as simple as feeling grateful for your warm bed, food in the pantry and a roof over your head. The more you practice gratitude, the more you’ll find things to be grateful for, even in challenging times. 

Here's an exercise you can do right now,

  1. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  2. Ask yourself, "what am I grateful for today?"
  3. Say 3 things that you're grateful for - say it out loud. 
  4. Smile

9. Ask for what you need

As nurses, we often try to be the superheroes - packing on the weight of the world. Yes, we are nurses but, we are also spouses, parents, bread-winners, and we play so many other roles in society. Here’s a warm reminder that it’s OK to ask for help. Our friends and family certainly mean well when they say, “let me know if you need anything.” Which, of course, we don’t. 

Here’s a tip, make a list of things that your loved one can help you with - and, ask for help. Here’s a list of things your friends and family can help with,

  • Drop off pre-packaged meals
  • Donate masks and PPE
  • Stop by the store while you’re at work to pick up things you need
  • Babysit your children
  • Send words of encouragement and support 

10. Remind yourself, and others, that we will get through this

"I've seen so much negativity.  Even from myself," says Marcus Figueroa, RN from San Diego. "I want to think about the positives. I want to have a beer at the beach this summer, hopefully, without fear of getting close to people. In the meantime, have dance parties in the front room, drink that wine, paint, and play. And let's hope the experts get this under control soon."

Self-care for nurses is more important than ever.  Especially for nurses during the COVID-19 pandemic who have no choice but to focus on what is happening today, at this moment.

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