Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing: Taking Care of Your Mental Health During a Pandemic
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the nursing community has served as the front line of defense against the virus. Because of the danger and contagiousness of COVID-19, ways to slow the spread of the virus and make it less severe seemed to push most other health issues—at least in the media—to the sideline.
At the Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing, we believe that the effects of COVID-19 on mental health need to remain a priority. The Center for Disease Control, perhaps the most prominent health organization in the United States, shares this idea. The organization stated on its website: “Fear and anxiety about a new disease and what could happen can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in adults and children. Public health actions, such as social distancing, can make people feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety. However, these actions are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19.”
Added Challenges for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses in Illinois
In addition to the stressors that the CDC describes, we know that advanced practice registered nurses in face additional challenges. Even if not on the front lines themselves, watching their colleagues shoulder this burden takes an emotional toll. Nurses are, at their core, empathic. Facing a new disease with limited data fosters feelings of helplessness.
How do you cope with watching a patient suffer, and not having the tools necessary to save their life? It’s a hard place to be in, but know that we, at ISAPN are with you. You are not alone.
Below are some suggestions on how APRNs can take care of their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to this article from Nursing Outlook, work-life balance is one of the top ways that APRNs are able to reduce stress. While work-life balance has always been difficult for nurses, with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now even more challenging.
Despite these challenges, this article from the nursing blog “Trusted,” gives excellent examples of how to maintain work-life balance, as well as ways to keep your work life positive. These include practicing a mindfulness routine at lunch or in between patients, building positive relationships with your co-workers, and learning how to say “no.”
Meditating may help reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and depression (see more on the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health website). While there are many different types of meditation, “most have four elements in common: a quiet location with as few distractions as possible; a specific, comfortable posture; a focus of attention; and an open attitude.”
Many nurses are turning to meditation as a way to combat stress. Unsure how to get started? With the rise of smartphone technology, there are a variety of (often free) apps that will guide you through meditation practices in a variety of lengths and styles. This article in The New York Times gives a list of their favorites in 2020.
Exercise is a beautiful thing. It’s widely accepted that exercise does wonders for both physical and mental health. Studies show that exercise can help to combat depression, anxiety, and stress, amongst other mental health ailments. Even if you don’t feel comfortable going to a gym, going for a long walk or for a jog outside a couple of times a week will allow you to take advantage of these benefits. Zoom has also made fitness classes widely available, right from the comfort of your own living room.
No matter what you do, start small and try to increase! Even a little exercise can have a positive impact on your mental health.
Nurses don’t get enough sleep. According to this study, nurses average less sleep and experience symptoms of disordered sleep at a rate much higher than the general population. Lack of sleep is known to have negative effects on mental health. If possible, get into a routine of sleeping and waking at the same time. Cutting down on your caffeine intake, exercising, and unwinding before bed can also be helpful. In this article, Mayo Clinic gives 6 tips for coping with insomnia.
Don’t be Afraid to Seek Help
Nurses act as a pillar of strength for their patients. That means, often, we are bad at asking for help for ourselves. If stress begins to be too much for you, don’t be afraid to seek help. The Center for Disease Control has published contact information for a variety of organizations that assist those who need help.
Advanced Practice Registered Nurses: Taking Care of Your Mental Health
During these stressful times, we at the Illinois Society for Advanced Practice Nursing encourage all nurses to do what is needed to stay mentally healthy -- whether that be taking a few days off of work, getting more sleep, or talking to a professional. And remember, we’re in this together.