Nurses often care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, and they also help families who are looking for guidance and resources. But many nurses also care for their own family members who have Alzheimer’s disease, and the high amount of energy spent caregiving on the job and at home is often challenging and can leave nurses depleted at home and at work. Designated as World Alzheimer’s Month, the focus on Alzheimer’s disease in September helps call attention to this devastating disease.
Cindy Keith, RN, BS, CDP, owner of M.I.N.D. in Memory Care, and author of “Love, Laughter & Mayhem – Caregiver Survival Manual for Living with a Person with Dementia,”offered some tips to nurses who also act as caregivers to loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
- Realize This Is a Delicate Balancing Act
“This type of caregiving is likely the toughest thing they will ever have to do,” says Keith about nurses who care for family members. “Not only must they balance their jobs with the ‘work’ at home, but they must also be cognizant of the fact that they may be (likely are) running themselves ragged trying to keep all the balls in the air.” Keith advocates for building mental health breaks into your schedule so you can continue to find the energy for so much. “Nurses cannot be a good caregiver when they are running on empty,” she says.
- Accept You Aren’t Superhuman
There is virtually no one who can take on the role of caregiver at work and at home singlehandedly without losing something in the process. “Get others to help,” she says. “Do not be shy about asking for help and then schedule that help in.” If a neighbor offers help, ask them to take the elder for a walk or just sit with your loved one while you go for a walk or run an errand. If you’re able to hire any kind of help, doing that will free up some time, and therefore, energy for your own life.
Keith says looking into resources including Meals on Wheels or something similar can take a big load off a caregiver. Faith communities often have members who drive elders to appointments, cook occasional meals, or offer companionship while you run an errand, catch up on laundry, or just take time for a cup of coffee. When you have others help you, make sure you use some of the time to recharge your own energy. “Just be sure to schedule in some time for yourself to do something you like that will reset your brain,” says Keith. Caregiving is exhausting.
- Gather Information Everywhere
Keith says you’ll find information in all kinds of places and in formats most useful to you. “Join a support group,” says Keith. “So many of my clients have been dragged kicking and screaming to support groups only to find they are a lifeline for them—and some continue to go to help others even after their loved one has passed on.” Sometimes a group may not be the right fit—for example you may want a group where the majority of the members are at a similar stage as you. If you find one group isn’t helping you, find another one and give it at least three tries, she says.
Keith also says the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America has excellent information for caregivers and there are many books that offer targeted information. Keith wrote her first book, “Love, Laughter & Mayhem – Caregiver Survival Manual for Living with a Person with Dementia,” to help answer some common caregiver questions. She also says “Elder Rage or Take My Father…Please!” is helpful for if a loved one is abusive or combative. “Creating Moments of Joy” by Jolene Brackey is also one she recommends.
- Take Care of Yourself
The constant demands of caregiving are stressful and can lead to burnout. Your level of stress has nothing to do with your love of the person you are caring for, it has to do with your need to take care of your own physical and mental health. “Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for yourself or your loved one,” says Keith. “This is a life situation that can quickly become a crisis and the more you know about it, the better prepared you will be when. not if, the crisis hits.”
Nurses work as superheroes every day, and the high-performance demands of this profession can lead to side effects such as exhaustion, anxiety, and constant stress. However, as leaders in health care, nurses can choose the way they approach their roles and thrive.
Below are nine strategies that can help nurses manage stress and stay positive all year long.
1. Make Self-Care a Priority
Nurses are inclined to focus on the needs of others. However, the American Nurses Association explains, “Self-care is imperative to personal health and professional growth, serving as sustenance to continue to care for others.” Nurses should make a point to squeeze in at least one self-care activity that makes them happy every day, such as drinking a hot cup of tea or taking a bubble bath.
2. Spend Time With Positive People
When work life feels hopeless, nurses can benefit from reaching out to others to gain some positive energy. Increasing social contact and venting to a good listener are great ways to relieve stress and calm anxious nerves. Sharing work concerns, problems, or thoughts with loved ones can also help build trust and strengthen these relationships.
3. Set Aside Relaxation Time
Practicing daily relaxation techniques, such as prayer, meditation, yoga, or deep breathing, can help nurses achieve a state of restfulness. However, it takes daily practice to reap the full benefits. Getting into a habit of engaging in regular relaxation time can lead to improvements in overall health and happiness. These beginner-friendly guided meditations only take five minutes a day.
4. Begin the Day With Positive Self-Talk
Daily positive affirmations, also known as self-talk, can have a significant influence on how we react to our environment, jobs, and other people. Making a habit of this can help increase self-esteem and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. For instance, write a positive affirmation and keep it handy at work to refer to when starting to feel overwhelmed.
5. Keep a Consistent Exercise Routine
Regular exercise is an excellent way to manage nursing stress and work burnout. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out, at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity helps to improve mental health, cognitive function, and quality of sleep, as well as decreases depression and the risk of many cardiac diseases.
6. Just Say No to Extra Shifts
Nurses are often eager to assist when someone asks for help. However, working longer hours and agreeing to take on more shifts than necessary can lead to burnout and even compromise patients’ safety. On the other hand, saying no to extra work means saying yes to more meaningful things in life. This could mean more quality time with family, outdoor nature hikes, or starting a new hobby. Plus, when we achieve a better work-life balance, we become more effective as nurses.
7. Take a Break from Social Media and News
When away from work, set a time each day to completely disconnect from social media, technical gadgets, and the news. Aim to also turn off cell phones, put away the laptop, and stop checking email. Instead, try spending some time outdoors, breathing in fresh air while doing something physically active and enjoyable.
8. Aim for 8 Hours of Sleep
Getting enough sleep every day is paramount—particularly for nurses. An article from health.gov discusses several benefits of sleep. This includes an elevated mood, reduced feelings of stress, improved cognitive function, and better maintenance of a healthy weight. Therefore, it’s important to make time for a few calming activities to help unwind after a stressful day.
9. Start a Gratitude Journal
Writing about what we’re thankful for can encourage feelings of optimism and boost overall well-being. Gratitude journaling works by adjusting our focus, and changing how we perceive situations over time. This type of writing allows us to see more of the world around us, deepening our appreciation for the things and experiences we have.
Stress and overwhelm are an inevitable part of every nurse’s life. However, developing healthy habits and coping strategies can help reduce feelings of burnout and boost resilience. Try to implement a few of these actionable steps every week to maintain a better work-life balance and improve overall health.
When you were in nursing school, your professors and your mentors undoubtedly warned you about the hard times. They said you’d be tested. They told you there would be times when you wanted to quit, times when you just didn’t think you had the strength to go on.
But no one could have prepared you for the test that is COVID-19. In your worst dreams, you never could have seen this coming.
Now it’s here, though. And you’re slogging through one day, one hour, sometimes one minute at a time. But with infection rates surging, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, at least not anytime soon.
If you’re going to make it, then you’re going to have to take care of you. And that begins by setting boundaries, even with your precious COVID patients and their families.
Claiming Your Right to Self-Care
As a nurse, it probably feels only natural to put other people first. It’s what you do every working day of your life, after all. And that habit likely doesn’t change when you’re off the clock.
That’s not a healthy or sustainable way to live in the best of circumstances. Lack of self-care, especially as a result of overwork, can take a devastating toll not only on your physical health but also on your mental and emotional health. It’s also debilitating to your relationships, those emotional support systems that keep you strong in body, mind, and spirit.
One of the greatest risks, of course, is that the demands placed on you as a pandemic nurse is that you might easily lapse into work addiction. You might find yourself unwilling, or even unable, to leave your work behind you when you come home. You might feel as if the only “right” or “noble” thing to do is to work yourself beyond all reason, giving yourself wholly to your work, supposedly for the sake of your patients but, really, for the sake of your addiction.
But whether you are simply facing extreme overwork, or you are falling into a full-fledged work addiction, as a nurse in the age of coronavirus, failure to practice self-care by nurturing your mental health isn’t just hurtful, it’s downright destructive. Right now, you are bearing physical, mental, and emotional burdens that you never thought possible.
Recognizing the signs that you are struggling and you need help is neither weakness nor selfishness. It means valuing yourself as much as you value those under your care. It means allowing yourself the right to the same kind of love and care that you give your patients. It means taking care of yourself so that you can take care of them.
You’ve probably been taking care of others for so long that you’ve forgotten how to prioritize your own needs. You might never have learned how to protect your well-being by setting boundaries. When you have boundaries, you’re going to have more emotional energy and a stronger sense of agency and power, something that this pandemic has taken from far too many of us.
Setting boundaries, though, is not rocket science and it doesn’t have to be hard. You can start simply, by ensuring that when you’re off the clock, you’re actually off the clock. That means that when you get home, you need to turn off all the COVID coverage and you need to let yourself be taken care of for a while.
If you’ve been working with COVID patients, unfortunately, you’re probably not going to be comfortable being physically close to your family and loved ones. But you can still let them nurture you from a distance. Get your kids to make dinner and do the laundry. Have your spouse draw you a warm bath and turn your bathroom into the perfect spa retreat.
Above all, make it clear that no pandemic talk is allowed unless and until you want and are ready to share. And that also means resisting the urge to constantly check on your patients. For the sake of your physical and mental health, when you are off duty, you must do your utmost to get away from thoughts of the virus and to nurture yourself, instead, with the things that you love in the best way you can.
Setting boundaries as a COVID nurse means standing up for your right to take time away. Scheduling a weekend getaway to the outdoors is good for your physical health, reducing your stress, and boosting your immunity. But it’s also ideal for your mental health, helping you to rest and decompress, to calm your mind and regroup.
Studies show that spending time in nature can help nurses build resiliency and avoid burnout. And there’s never been a greater need for that than right now.
No one needs to tell you that the pandemic is one of the worst health crises in modern history. You’ve been on the frontlines for months now. You know the score. And because you know the score, you also know that this crisis isn’t something you can, or should, handle alone.
If you are 65 or older and have Medicare, you likely qualify for mental health care coverage. And if you’re covered under your employer, then mental health benefits are also likely included in your group insurance plan. On the other hand, if you’re uninsured or your plan doesn’t include mental health benefits, you can still reach out for free or low-cost care in your community.
Nurses are superheroes and the world knows it now more than ever. But even superheroes need caring for. And that begins, above all, with recognizing your right to self-nurturing and setting the boundaries you need to ensure that the one who cares for everyone else finally gets the TLC she or he deserves.
Summer weather brings all kinds of challenges to your skin care routine. Hot and humid weather can ramp up sweat production while air conditioning is often overly drying. Add in too much sun, a little salty ocean water or chlorinated pool water, and it’s no wonder the warmest months of the year can be hard on your skin. Add in a little stress and a few problems can crop up.
Maintaining a healthy balance for the most problem-free skin takes work. People of color and those with varying skin tones often find they face unique challenges that aren’t typically addressed with easy-to-find resources.
The Skin of Color Society offers many resources for people of color who want to know more about the conditions that affect different skin types. The organization offers educational videos on everything from psoriasis to scalp care.
And while the lack of resources is frustrating, it can actually be life threatening. Even as COVID-19 continues to cross the globe, there were few images of what kinds of skin changes people of color might have with the coronavirus. The alarming gap propelled dermatologist Jenna Lester to begin documenting it herself so that healthcare workers could spot changes quickly.
Always Use Sunscreen
Incorporate sunscreen into your skincare routine every single day, all year long. You’re exposed to the sun’s UV rays all the time, not just when you’re at the beach. Doing errands, walking the dog, pushing the kids on the swing—all those short bursts of time outside can add up over time to result in sun damage. When you intentionally use sunscreen every day, there’s less chance you’ll forget. And don’t forget sunglasses!
Treat Your Skin Gently
Find products that work for you, but don’t overdo it. Wash your face with gentle cleansers. Use moisturizer at night and use a product that won’t cause irritation if you have acne. And be vigilant about not picking at acne as that can leave scarring on any skin type or color but can also cause dark spots, or hyperpigmentation, on black and brown skin.
Even people with very dark skin can develop skin cancer. Do a body check every month and look for new raised spots, bumps or patches that are itchy and can bleed. These spots can occur in your scalp, on the bottoms of your feet, and in places that have never been touched by a ray of sun.
Find a Skilled Dermatologist
Finding a dermatologist who is familiar with issues faced by people who have a range of skin tones is helpful. You don’t want to have any treatment or procedure that could result in different effects because your skin is dark. You want a dermatologist who knows what kind of result people of varying ethnicities or skin tones have with any topical treatments, laser treatments, or procedures.
Summer is here and the living is supposed to be easy. But for nurses, especially in 2020, the summertime looks like it’s going to be pretty busy. Are you looking for an energy boost?
Even as cases of the coronavirus taper off in some of the spring hotspots, it’s increasing at a rapid rate in other areas across the country. As a nurse, you know caring for yourself right now is essential, even as you find your time and energy depleted.
One way to boost your energy, your immunity, and your outlook is by eating food that offers both top nutrition and comfort food but is easy to prepare. As a bonus, any leftovers become an easy lunch to bring to work.
Here are a few tips for focusing on food to give you energy.
- Choose Seasonal Foods
Summer makes it easy to get a lot of nutrition because so many fruits and vegetables are in season. Whether it’s in a supermarket, a big box store, or a farmers’ market, ripe produce is often available when you are doing other errands. Choose peaches and melons that are sweet, packed with energy-boosting water, and offer plenty of vitamins. Dark green lettuces are tender, easy to wash, and full of folate.
- Get Your Protein
Protein prevents hunger pains between meals, fuels your long days, and keeps your body running. Lots of people choose to cut down on protein when they are trying to lose weight (or some weight-loss plans rely on protein overloads). Keeping a steady supply of protein from your food choices varies nutrition totals and keeps you from fading fast during a long shift. Choose from meats and seafood, beans, tofu, cheeses, and other dairy items like yogurt.
- Try Something New
You don’t have to be in the mood to whip up new recipes to try something new. Many supermarkets offer prepared foods that you can try with a small size or just commit to trying a new food. Or see if your family or a friend would want to go in on ingredients and try to come up with a dish that take less than five ingredients and three steps.
- Convenience Works
When you’re tired and facing down the dinner hour, a prebagged, washed salad and a cooked rotisserie chicken makes a great dinner with plenty of leftover possibilities. Premade soups, slices of veggie pizza, and frozen meatballs also add variety and ease to your meal selections. Thaw bagged, cooked frozen shrimp and cook a box of pasta—top both with a jarred cream sauce and some cherry tomatoes and you have a nutritious and filling meal. Watch out for extra salt and fat in some premade meals, but choosing something easy is what summer eating is all about.
Be mindful of what you’re eating and see if you notice any changes in your energy levels or even in the way you look at food. Summer is a good time to lighten up cooking effort, but you don’t want to skimp on getting healthy food. Make it enjoyable and easy to prepare and recoup a little peace during these stressful times.
Today is World Sickle Cell Day—a day designed to spread awareness and understanding of sickle cell disease–an often painful inherited blood disorder.
The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA) is marking the 10th year of this recognition. There is no cure for sickle cell disease right now, although some patients have had success with various treatments including hydroxyurea treatment and bone marrow treatment.
According to SCDAA, complications from sickle cell disease (SCD) happen when a normal blood flow is reduced or prevented from flowing normally throughout the body. With SCD, some normally round red blood cells become crescent shaped (sickle shaped) and because of that change, can no longer flow through small blood vessels. These misshapen cells can actually cause a blockage, thereby reducing a normal blood flow that tissues need to stay healthy and to keep the body functioning properly. A common result is that reduced blood flow damages tissues and can lead to debilitating pain.
Blood cells with sickle cells don’t live as long in the body (about 16 days vs. 120 days for normal cells according to the SCDAA), so that rapid turnover can lead to the myriad complications that come with a sickle cell diagnosis including anemia and jaundice. Because SCD affects nearly every organ in the body, systemic complications can involve major systems including the lungs and kidneys. And the damage can also leave the body less able to fight off and control infections.
Current treatments are often a reaction to the complications, although some, like a preventative antibiotic and vaccinations in children, can help prevent complications from beginning. Patients may find various combinations of blood transfusions, pain management, antibiotics, breathing treatments, proper vaccinations, and other medications.
As with other chronic conditions, people with SCD have to take extra care with their own health. Because people are born with sickle cell disease, the disorder is a lifelong condition and can be especially challenging for children to cope with. Generally, a hematologist will manage the condition and any treatments. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, staying well-hydrated is especially important as is good nutrition and rest. Anyone with sickle cell disease can stay active to help overall health, but just be especially aware of fatigue and fluctuations in body temperature—moderation is the best approach.
According to the CDC, sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 people in the United States with a greater diagnosis rate in minority populations. Sickle cell disease happens in approximately 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American births and 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.
More common is being diagnosed as a carrier of the sickle cell trait (SCT) which is not sickle cell disease. A carrier of SCT has one copy of the defective gene that can cause sickle cell disease (you need two copies to have the disease).
For those with SCD, finding a provider who is familiar with the disease and with cutting-edge treatment is important. Research information, through organizations such as the Foundation for Sickle Cell Disease Research is essential. But the emotional struggle of coping with a complex, chronic, and invisible disease that can have such disruption in someone’s life is big. Getting the emotional and social support of a caring community is going to make a difference in developing coping skills and getting through rough times.
If you know someone who is impacted by sickle cell disease in any way, today makes it easier to spread the word, provide education, and let them know they aren’t alone.