7 Ways for Nurses to Practice Self-Care During COVID-19

The last few months have proven the heroic and critical contributions of nurses to patient care and to the nation. We continue to gain inspiration from the incredible humans that work in healthcare.

There’s also no question that nurses work extremely hard. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, nurse burnout was a common challenge, but the issue has come to the forefront. With the pandemic placing stress on healthcare professionals everywhere, it’s now more important than ever that nurses develop strategies for taking care of themselves while spending much of their lives taking care of patients.

We’ve created a list of ways for RNs to practice self-care and avoid physical and mental burnout during these stressful times. Read on to learn how to take care of yourself after taking care of others!

7 Ways to Practice Self-Care During COVID-19

1. Spend Time “Off the Grid”

Find time every day to disconnect from social media, email, and television. Studies have shown that “technostress” – stress caused by the information overload of social media – is a very real thing.

Our brains aren’t prepared to cope with modern technology’s delivery of constant, overstimulating streams of content. Social media and the internet present challenges for the human mind that create uncertainty and anxiety, which affects our professional and personal lives in a negative way.

You can protect yourself against this by unplugging. Plan to put your phone away, close your laptop, and turn off the TV for as little as one hour every day, and stick to it.

2. Physical Activity & Exercise

Moderate physical activity and exercise is another way to relieve stress, boost your energy levels, and improve the way you feel. Physical activity releases endorphins in your blood stream and improves circulation, which causes a sense of general wellbeing.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Regular exercise can increase self-confidence, it can relax you, and it can lower the symptoms associated with mild depression and anxiety.”

Don’t force it, though – find an activity that you enjoy. There are endless opportunities to exercise while having fun. Yoga, spinning classes, tennis, swimming, or even a brisk walk around the neighborhood are all great ways to find relief.

3. Improve Your Sleeping Habits

Your sleep habits are closely linked to your health. For example, studies have shown that people with insomnia are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety.

Even though nurses often work long hours or night shifts, getting enough sleep will significantly improve the way you feel.

The optimal amount of sleep for most adults is 7 to 8 hours per night. If you find yourself having trouble falling or staying asleep at night, there are many ways to improve your sleep habits. Taking time to wind down, avoiding screens before bedtime, and developing a consistent sleep schedule will help you get higher-quality sleep.

4. Take a Breather

From a short-term perspective, deep breathing techniques have been shown to help restore feelings of wellbeing.

When people are stressed, they tend to breathe directly from the chest, otherwise known as thoracic breathing, which can increase their heart rate and cause muscle tightness. However, breathing from your abdomen, known as diaphragmatic breathing, can have a calming effect.

If you’re feeling anxious, try this diaphragmatic breathing technique from Verywell Mind:

  • Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  • Exhale slowly through your mouth, while keeping your jaw and neck relaxed.
  • Repeat this breathing pattern for several minutes.

5. Be Smart About Your Diet

Eating foods with lots of sugar or carbohydrates might provide a short-term boost, but will always end with a crash. If you’re drained after work, you may start to feel like you don’t have time for yourself. A mid-shift snack of dried fruit, almonds, or a turkey sandwich will provide you with the pick-me-up you need to finish with energy to spare.

Check out this extensive list of healthy, energizing snacks from EatingWell Magazine for more options.

The foods you eat, and your regular eating habits, can also go a long way in reducing anxiety and stress. According to the Harvard Health Blog, leafy greens, nuts, whole grains, and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon) have been shown to reduce anxiety.

When you eat also matters. Make sure you don’t skip meals, because drops in blood sugar can promote feelings of anxiety.

6. Anxiety, Depression, and Mental Health: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

According to Anxiety.org, “anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations.” Our ability to feel small amounts of anxiety keeps us alert and able to react to truly dangerous situations, but for some people, anxiety levels can reach unnecessary and uncomfortable levels.

However, the many forms of anxiety that exist can be managed or treated. As a travel nurse, your job requires extremely hard work, courage, and compassion – so don’t let anxiety keep you from living your best life.

40 million adults in the US struggle with anxiety – almost 20 percent of the nation. If you are one of them, there is no need to feel that you’re alone.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to others for help. What exactly “help” means is up to you to decide, too. Asking for help could simply be telling a friend, family member or loved one that you are struggling with anxiety. Chances are, someone you know currently struggles or has struggled with anxiety or mental health issues in the past.

Asking for help could also mean seeking professional treatment. Many types of therapy are available, as well as medication.

Don’t let anxiety get in the way of having the nursing career and the life that you deserve! Use these tips and learn more about managing anxiety at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

7. Dedicate Time to Doing Something You Love

If you’re not enjoying your time off, you don’t have a work-life balance.

Although it may be difficult, block off some time in your schedule to doing something you love. It could be 30 minutes, a few hours, or an entire day – but stay committed and avoid distractions. Whether it’s a personal hobby, having fun with your family, or reading a great book, it’s important to give yourself some “Me Time.”

You spend your professional life heroically caring for others in need. You deserve to be taken care of, too!

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