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An Overwhelmed Nurse’s Guide to Staying Positive in a Medical Pandemic

As a nurse, your job is stressful even during normal times. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s completely normal and understandable if you’re feeling overwhelmed or like your entire world is spiraling out of control. The world in which you are currently living and working is one like no one has ever experienced before, and if the entire situation is bringing you down mentally or emotionally, you are not alone.

Around the world, nurses are on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19. Each day, they leave their own families to go care for someone else’s loved one, and when they return home, they are often forced to quarantine themselves away from the people they love. While nurses are absolute warriors in the face of this unprecedented pandemic, they are still human. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and finding it difficult to stay positive, keep reading for some helpful advice. The National Academy of Medicine has also compiled a comprehensive list of mental health and other resources for nurses and other healthcare professionals who are struggling at this time. 

Take a Mental Break

Even if the global population isn’t dealing with a deadly pandemic, research shows that spending too much time focused on the news and social media can increase feelings of sadness and anxiety. Chances are, the novel coronavirus is always on your mind when you are at work. Whether you are currently treating COVID-19 patients or are anticipating a surge in cases in your area, it’s hard to escape from thoughts and conversations about the virus when you are at work. 

If you finish your shift, head home and then immerse yourself in news about it, too, your brain never gets a chance to escape. The same is true if you spend a lot of time on social media where people are constantly talking about COVID-19. If you are feeling overwhelmed, give yourself a break from it. Switch off the news, or only check in with one or two expert sources rather than consuming conflicting information from multiple outlets. Consider stepping away from social media until things settle down. You have to deal with the virus when you are at work. You don’t need to immerse yourself in information about it in your personal time, too. 

Go Outside

While many areas are currently closed to the public, most hiking and biking trails are open. If your entire world consists of your home and the facility where you work right now, getting outside and spending some time in nature could do wonders for your mental health. Despite “stay at home” orders, most states and areas still allow (and even encourage) people to get out and engage in physical activity. 

If you are unable to visit a trail, even spending some time outside in your yard can make you feel better. Being in nature reduces stress and provides an opportunity for you to escape from your day-to-day life for a little while. 

Video Chat with Friends and Loved Ones

While many people are currently quarantined at home with their loved ones, nurses are forced to go out and risk exposure to the virus every day. And when they return home, they need to separate themselves from their loved ones to avoid exposing them. Some are even staying at work or in hotels to keep their families safe. 

As a result, many nurses feel like they are dealing with the anxiety and sadness surrounding COVID-19 completely alone. They face the virus every single day when they go to work, but are unable to go to anyone at home for support. 

If you are feeling isolated, video chatting with loved ones and friends can help. While it’s not the same as spending time with someone in person, being able to communicate face-to-face, even if it's via a screen, is more effective at combating anxiety and depression than talking on the phone or sending an email or instant message. Whether you use FaceTime, Zoom, Facebook Messenger or any other platform, talking to someone you care about will give you a much-needed boost. 

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is always important, but it’s even more crucial right now. You are dealing with an incredible amount of stress and anxiety, and you need to be kind to yourself and treat yourself to things that make you feel better. While you may be unable to indulge in your normal favorite type of self-care–such as getting a massage or having your nails done–there are still plenty of little things you can do to show yourself some love. Even simply making sure you get enough sleep and eat a healthy diet can help you maintain your positivity. 

If you are feeling rundown, make time to enjoy a long, hot bubble bath surrounded by your favorite scented candles. Order takeout from your favorite restaurant. Work on an art or craft project that you have been neglecting. The options are limitless. Anything that makes you happy is a worthwhile pursuit! 

You can also lift your spirits a bit by taking care of yourself when you go to work. When you get dressed before your shift, choose your favorite cute and comfortable scrubs. Wear the bright and colorful ones that make you smile. Your patients will likely appreciate them, too! If you’re feeling rundown and exhausted after your shift, now may be a great time to invest in some comfortable nursing shoes. Your job is incredibly difficult right now. Anything that makes it a bit easier or more enjoyable is a good investment. 

The Bottom Line

As a nurse, you are currently facing challenges that you likely never expected when you enrolled in nursing school. It’s completely natural to feel overwhelmed, anxious and depressed. Remember, though, that while it is your job to care for others, you still need to care for yourself. 

If you are feeling completely isolated or experiencing severe depression and/or anxiety, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Many healthcare workers are struggling with their mental health right now, but there is no need to suffer in silence when there are resources available. If you are struggling, know that you are not alone and that there are people and organizations that can help you navigate this difficult time.

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