As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic sweeps across the world, it is causing widespread concern, fear, and stress, all of which are natural and normal reactions to the changing and uncertain situation that everyone finds themselves in. It seems inevitable that caring for patients in the high-stakes context of COVID-19 will take its toll on the mental health of nurses.
Health care workers will be strained. They will see people die under terrible circumstances. They may have to make heart-wrenching choices, like who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t. They will take care of people who were careless with social distancing.
Nurses will be stretched and assigned to do work in areas they have never covered before. They may be scared to come home and hug their kids, fearing that they will infect them. Like soldiers in armed combat, they will be fearful for their lives. Despite the constant terror, they must keep working and providing care.
What are some of the particular anxieties facing nursing staff?
Worries and uncertainties about personal safety and the lack of PPE, workload, case complexity, skills mix, and loved ones’ health are among a vast range of stressors that cut across professional settings, but are perhaps most clearly seen in intensive care units (ICUs).
In truth, personal protective equipment is critical to protecting health care professionals’ physical and mental well-being. Without this protection, they worry that they will get sick and infect others. Given that the risk of infection, especially if it is asymptomatic, instills fear of spreading the virus to their patients and families. Many nurses – mental health and community staff among them – have to deal with the stress of caring for patients and service users even while the provision of PPE is inadequate.
To lower this risk, many health care workers have decided to socially isolate themselves. Some have chosen to have their at-risk family members spend time with relatives away from them and others have isolated themselves, even within their own homes. This significant disruption in social support — in the name of helping and protecting others — could go on for months. It is also quite lonely.
So it should come as no surprise that the mental well-being of health care workers is in serious jeopardy. A new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, quantifies that risk.
The survey-based study examines the mental health outcomes of 1,257 health care workers attending to COVID-19 patients in 34 hospitals in China. The results are not comforting. A large proportion of them report experiencing symptoms of depression (50 percent), anxiety (45 percent), insomnia (34 percent), and psychological distress (71.5 percent).
How nurses can manage mental health during COVID-19?
In some cases, nurses who experience high levels of stress at work can become physically ill or experience emotional burnout. In order to combat such problems, nurses can consider taking a variety of steps to cope with stress, including:
Slow, deep, and easy breathing is among the best stress reducers. It is one of several rhythmic activities, along with walking and laughing, that causes a release of endorphins that make a person feel calmer. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, slowly and deeply from the abdomen.
- Be organized
Allowing extra time to complete a morning routine can mean a stress-free start to the day. Awaken a few minutes early and leave home a few minutes earlier than usual to arrive at work in a better frame of mind.
Maintain a healthy diet with regularly scheduled meals whenever possible; stay hydrated. Taking care of nutrition can boost stamina, efficiency and patience levels.
Stay in good physical condition by using a wellness and fitness center if available or by simply taking a walk or using the stairs during a break.
Stress and worry can interrupt sleep cycles, leading to fatigue and more stress. Establish a solid sleep schedule and stick to it.
Laughter cuts tension, lifts spirits, and bonds people together. In the work environment, use humor when appropriate to lighten the mood.
- Think positive
Set high expectations and work toward them. Avoid negative people when possible and spread a positive outlook to colleagues and patients. Try to change negatives into positives.
Choose a positive-thinking friend, family member or co-worker with whom to share concerns. Talking about a problem can help put it in perspective and reduce feelings of stress.
- Take a break
Although leaving patients and job responsibilities for a few minutes during the work shift may seem difficult, it is a good strategy for dealing with a stressful environment. Nurses who take a break can return to their duties more relaxed and better prepared to provide quality patient care.
Watch the following video to know how front line nurses in COVID-19 pandemic find solace in ‘Hope Huddles’
How are some organizations helping nurses to cope with mental health?
To take care of your mental health right now, Headspace is offering its meditation app to anyone working in a public health setting. All you have to do is visit their website and sign up.
The company is offering remote counseling services free of charge to any medical personnel and first responders, at a minimum, through May 1st, 2020.
Art of Living
Free Art of Living evidence-based breathing and meditation techniques for US healthcare workers.
Free 1-hour mental health session through Reloveution for first responders, emergency personnel, and healthcare professionals dealing with the stress associated with COVID-19.
Real is offering free one-month online therapy sessions with high-quality care and a chance to connect during this critical time.
Nursing Times is launching a new campaign – Covid-19: Are you OK? – to highlight the mental health pressures and needs of nurses during and after the coronavirus pandemic.
Nurses may face many situations each day that are out of their control, such as policy changes and staffing difficulties. By maintaining a positive outlook, staying healthy, and sharing concerns with trusted colleagues, nurses can better cope with potential stressors, leading to better patient care, and increased job and personal satisfaction.