Nursing in a pandemic

Remember to care for yourself too

Advanced nurse practitioner Stephanie Shea reflects on the added importance of giving pause for your emotional wellbeing during this crisis

As the pressures continue to mount on the NHS in response to the global pandemic, so too do those on frontline workers. The public support and pride for the NHS has been truly overwhelming. Yet the mental and emotional wellbeing of staff needs urgent focus if we are to reach the finish line of this inevitable marathon. 

Florence Nightingale once said that “very little can be done under the spirit of fear”.  But how do you cope in the epicentre of a battle you never realised you had signed up for? 

Working for the past 12 years in both critical care and emergency medicine, I have learnt the importance of coping strategies in building resilience in a crisis. For me, these have included spending time with those I love and doing something fun, such as going out for dinner or watching a good film at the cinema. Whatever the things are that bring you moments of happiness, they’re vital to process difficult feelings and help switch off. 

However, in the world of new norms, those coping strategies are just not possible anymore. Many colleagues have moved away from their families, are working longer hours to help and even feeling guilty for having a day off to recover. 

Nurse Stephanie SheaStephanie, keeping spirits high

How do you cope in the epicentre of a battle you never realised you had signed up for? 

I fear all this will soon take a toll on us. I remember shifts when my colleagues and I were physically, mentally and emotionally drained from responding to a local major incident. But we knew that this would be over within a few hours or days and that each time it happened we would be more prepared for the next. Yet here we are facing a challenge that could go on for many months and which also directly affects the workforce tirelessly working to stop it. 

For the first time, there is an air of uncertainty about what the future holds, in both our professional and personal lives. No-one knows how long this will last and the only guarantee is that our work will continue. Our colleagues will become our extended family and our workplaces will be our second home. 

Now more than ever is a time to think about what we can do to look after ourselves and find a rainbow in this inevitable storm. 

My tips

Try this NURSE acronym and remember the importance of your own mental and emotional wellbeing during this challenging time:

Need to be honest

It’s OK to not be OK. The most important step is to be honest about your feelings, ask for help early and try not to compare yourself to your colleagues. Everyone is different.  

Understand how important you are

When you’re on shift, it’s vital to take your breaks. Try to get outside to enjoy some fresh air, don’t forget to check on colleagues and remember to be kind to each other.   

Reconnect with family, friends and loved ones

Thankfully the plethora of online platforms means we can still connect on a personal level. Make time to call those who are important to you and check in.  

Switch off from work 

Take time to unwind with activities that make you happy (or perhaps try something new); cooking, knitting, singing, learning an instrument, enjoying a nice bath – the list of possibilities is endless. 

Ensure you take care of yourself

Looking after yourself is vital to get through this marathon. Try to eat healthily, do some light exercise and make sure you get enough sleep.  

Live life when you have it. Life is a splendid gift – there is nothing small about it
Florence Nightingale 

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