During April, the nation recognizes National Minority Health Month. The COVID-19 crisis has renewed the urgency of staying as healthy as possible while simultaneously making it a little more challenging.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health released guidelines, suggestions, and encouragement for anyone looking to stay as active and healthy as possible during this pandemic. While much of the nation is under a stay-at-home order or advisory to protect the public health, routine daily activities are necessarily curbed. What we once took for granted—basics like getting out for exercise or grocery shopping (or really just about anything)—is difficult.
Nurses can’t avoid the challenges this pandemic is bringing to their physical and emotional health. The overwhelming stress about safety for their patients, themselves, and their families is taking a toll while they are working, often with less staff, what feels like endless, blurred hours. The American Nurses Association has COVID-19 nurse-specific resources and guidelines to help nurses through this time.
Even if nurses aren’t working directly with COVID-19 patients, they feel the ripple effects on the industry. Taking steps to stay as healthy as possible right now might just take a little imagination and change. Once you find some different approaches, you can share what you’ve learned with your patients.
Here are some recommendations to keep you and your family healthy right now.
Keeping up with an exercise routine or even just making sure you’re getting any exercise is hard right now. Many gyms, casual fitness classes, and yoga studios have closed for the time being in keeping with social-distancing guidelines. That double whammy means a loss of important social contact and a loss of a routine that many people depend on to stay fit and to stay motivated. Getting outside to walk or run (with a mask if you expect to be near others) will keep you moving and help you maintain a level of fitness. Inside, you can walk up and down stairs if you have them (a tough workout if you do it for a while!) or try some of the free fitness videos that are streaming online. Use your own body weight to keep muscle tone—sets of squats, pushups, and lunges are excellent for strength. You can even do bicep curls with cans of food or milk jugs if you don’t have weights.
Focus Your Eating
We are in a stressful, scary, and unprecedented pandemic, and many of us are going to fall into eating habits that are less than healthy. Don’t judge yourself for the bag of chips you ate or the pint of ice cream that went down so easy. Some people veer too far the other way and don’t take in enough calories when they are worried. Today is a new day. Be gentle with yourself and try to think ahead when you grocery shop. If you’re trying to limit your trips, think of food that has longer storage so you won’t need to make so many trips . Frozen veggies are excellent swaps for fresh, and so are some canned veggies. Frozen fruit can be heated for a comforting treat, baked into a bread, used in smoothies, or just defrosted and used to top cereal. Healthy grains (quinoa, brown rice, barley, oats) store for a long time and make an excellent and easy-to-build-from base for meals and snacks.
Quiet Your Brain
Reducing your stress is going to be the biggest challenge for many nurses during National Minority Health Month and for many months to come. This isn’t the time to tackle a self-improvement plan or to learn how to meditate like a pro. But it’s an excellent time to recognize that you need extra TLC. There are many apps (Calm, InSight Timer) that offer some free guided meditations. Some sessions are as short as a minute, but many fall into the 10-minute range. Other apps bring soothing nature sounds. Small, simple activities like lighting a favorite candle, reading a few easy pages of a book or a magazine, coloring with your kids, doing a puzzle, playing with your dog, calling a friend or loved one, or binge-watching a favorite series can help bring your focus to the present and may ease the ever-present worry for a while.
Staying healthy right now probably looks different from your previous routines, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective. Whatever you can do right now to get through this time is going to be worth it.
News of a global public health concern like COVID-19 (Coronavirus) can naturally trigger overwhelming feelings of uncertainty and anxiety that can ultimately impact one’s mental health.
Countless individuals worldwide are dealing with sudden changes to their regular schedules leaving many people unemployed, depressed, and apprehensive about their future.
Due to the unprecedented nature and ever evolving news surrounding COVID-19, it is completely expected and appropriate to experience fear and trepidation during periods like these.
Despite these difficult times however, it is also imperative to know not only how to effectively manage potential anxiety but also mitigate negativistic ruminating thoughts from affecting your overall mental health.
Because of this, here are some useful mindfulness exercises that may be beneficial in reducing stress and anxiety associated with the COVID-19 pandemic:
Breathing is an important component of mindfulness. Whenever you are stressed or overwhelmed, take a moment to relax and simply focus on your breathing.
Slowly inhale and exhale, releasing your tension and stress away with each breath and regain control over how you choose to respond to the situation at hand.
Remember, you are the master of how you choose to interpret the world around you.
Start by closing your eyes and choosing a comfortable position. You can either sit on a chair or lie on your bed.
Once you are breathing comfortably, slowly move your awareness through your body, focusing on one area at a time.
Stop whenever you find an area that is unusually tight or sore and focus your breath on this area until it loosens.
Feel free to use a calm and healing visualization at this point as well (e.g., a ball of white light melting into the sore spot) to help facilitate the healing.
Hold an object that is special or interesting to you.
Focus all of your senses on it and note the information your senses feedback to you, including its shape, size, color, texture, smell, taste, or sounds that it makes when it is manipulated.
Practice this meditation technique daily and feel free to bring this object with you to work or school as this can be an especially helpful tool in grounding you to the present moment.
Like the previous exercise, this exercise can also be completed with all your senses while you focus on eating a particular food that you enjoy, like dark chocolate or a grape.
Eat slowly while utilizing all five senses: smell, taste, touch, sight, and even sound to ease you back to reality.
Lastly, take a leisurely walk at a gentle but familiar pace. Observe how you walk and pay attention to the sights, sounds, and sensations around you as you walk the road ahead of you.
Notice how your shoulders feel, the sensations in your feet as they meet the ground, and the swing of your hips with each stride.
Match your breathing to your footsteps and allow yourself to be immersed with the environment around you and use this time to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective.
While the current COVID-19 pandemic can trigger feelings of uncertainty and fear, it is also important to look for opportunities during these especially difficult times to practice patience and kindness.
Use this opportunity to celebrate successes, find things to be grateful about, and take satisfaction in completing tasks regardless of how big or small.
Because in the end, your mental health is important and it needs to be protected.
While the nation continues to grapple with the growing COVID-19 pandemic, one fact is particularly worrisome. Older adults who contract the virus are dying at much higher percentages than younger people.
Minority Nurse turned to experts with the Gerontologic Advanced Practice Nurses Association (GAPNA) to understand the risks associated with COVID-19 and how nurses can work to protect their patients and themselves.
“The effects of aging have a major influence in the response to a respiratory virus or bacteria,” says Michelle Moccia, DNP, ANP-BC, CCRN, GS-C, and GAPNA’s past president. “As one ages the immune system is less responsive to a virus or bacteria with an inflammatory response to fight off the virus and/or tolerate the complications from the virus. The elderly have limited cardiopulmonary reserve thus a compromise in airway and breathing can lead to the inability to breathe thus predisposing individual to complications such as pneumonia.”
And as the medical community gains more understanding about this particular virus, other factors are emerging, says Deborah Dunn, EdD, MSN, GNP-BC, ACNS-BC, GS-C, and GAPNA’s president. “Some experts have theorized that in addition to the pneumonia burden there may be an increased or exaggerated lung inflammatory response to COVID 19 in older adults – leading to the severe respiratory distress and failure seen in older adults.”
What can people in those specific age categories do? “It is best for older adults to avoid crowds,” says Moccia, noting the oft-heard advice about washing hands, staying home if you’re sick, and avoiding others who are ill holds true. And Dunn notes that if a loved one is in a facility and the facility restricts visitors, it’s going to be important to keep up communication with loved ones to keep anxiety and social isolation at bay.
“Prevention and control of the spread of COVID-19 rests on halting transmission,” says Dunn. “Nurses know that in the healthcare setting they play a key role in stopping transmission by frequent handwashing, avoiding droplet contact, and early identification, triage, treatment, and quarantine of persons who may have infection.”
Both Dunn and Moccia say nurses should be especially careful to wash their hands before and after entering a patient’s room, wearing gloves when contact with bodily fluids/blood/secretions may occur, practicing needle precautions, and wearing protective equipment if they are in contact with a patient who has or is suspected to have COVID-19.
As patient advocates, nurses can educate patients and their families. Nurses can help patients with personal hygiene like washing their hands, using hand sanitizer, and disposing of used tissues, says Dunn. Protecting their health while giving them some control also helps with the uncertainty and anxiety people are feeling right now.
“Families with older adults in care settings such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes want to know that their loved ones are being cared for and having their needs met,” says Dunn. “Nurses working in these facilities should facilitate communication about the measures being taken to protect patients from infection, why adherence to the measures is needed, and reassure families about the status of their loved ones health.”
As nurses work through this unprecedented outbreak, they can keep updated with the CDC website about COVID-19. Nurses who work with infectious and contagious illnesses know that staying current with continuing education can be life saving—for them and for their patients. “Nurses in acute care settings and other healthcare setting where they may care for patients with contagious conditions that require face masks during care should be fitted for the N-95 mask and be trained in the proper wearing of the mask,” says Dunn.
As COVID-19 works its way around the globe, the medical community is working hard to prevent the spread, educate the public, and even offer some hope.
“I’m sure we will see a lot more information from infectious disease experts,” says Dunn, “as they are studying COVID-19 underlying physiologic mechanisms closely and develop targeted treatments.”
It’s no secret—most nurses don’t get enough sleep. While many Americans admit to not getting enough shut eye, the implications for nurses are far reaching.
The National Sleep Foundation recognizes this week (March 8 – 14) as National Sleep Awareness Week. The irony isn’t lost on nurses that a week devoted to sleep coincides with National Patient Safety Awareness Week (and the switch to Daylight Savings Time and an hour of lost sleep). Patient safety depends on a healthcare workforce that’s able to perform at a consistently high level. Getting less-than-optimal sleep or not sleeping enough cuts into everything from reaction time to memory and has a big impact on the quality of care offered by sleep deprived nurses.
How serious is sleep deprivation to nurses? As many people know, getting enough good-quality rest takes an effort and some planning. For nurses, who tend to have sleep disrupted even more because of changing shift work, planning for a consistent pattern of sleep is a huge challenge.
Last December, a study by researchers at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing found that nurses are getting less sleep before they head to work than they should. The study found “sleep deprivation hurts workers’ ability to handle complex and stressful tasks. … In healthcare, fatigued nurses may be a risk for making critical mistakes in administering medication or making clinical decisions.” Many factors influenced nurses and sleep including changing shifts, length of shifts, commuting time, and family responsibilities, and there’s often little nurses can do to change those major influences. The report, say the authors, is evidence that the overall working environment in healthcare needs an overhaul, especially in areas of overtime, scheduling, and prioritizing sleep.
If nurses can’t change their major responsibilities, there are a few other things they can do that can help them get more rest. Awareness about the impacts of poor sleep and not enough sleep is critical for nurses. While some people can get by skimping on sleep, patients depend on nurses being in top form.
If sleep is a problem for you, here are some things to consider.
- Physical issues like sleep apnea or restless legs syndrome can disrupt your sleep.
- Shift Work Disorder is directly related to those who work varying shifts and disrupt their circadian rhythms.
- A sleep environment that’s not comfortable can be problematic.
- For women, hormones can play a big role in sleep disruption.
- Family responsibilities like waking children, active teens, and even caring for aging parents can interrupt your sleep.
- Stress keeps you up at night.
Fixing the problem starts with identifying it, so take some time to figure out what’s happening in your own life. Making your sleep a priority is probably one of the best ways to get more rest, but it’s also the hardest. Realize that getting your best sleep likely means sacrifice in some other area.
Start with a complete physical if you think apnea, restless legs, or chronic insomnia might be keeping you up. Then make small, incremental changes—maybe by getting to bed 15 or 30 minutes earlier. Assess your bedroom and see if you can make changes to adjust the comfort level in any way. Can your bedtime routine be adjusted at all to give you a little more quiet or a little more routine so your body is triggered into sleep mode. Take a hard look at your responsibilities—can you get help with anything or can you let some things go? What small changes can you make to reduce your stress (therapy, a 10-minute walk, a few minutes to read or to listen to a funny podcast on your commute)?
Getting enough rest is one of the easiest health priorities to let slide. As a nation of sleep-deprived people, you might feel like your issue is no different from anyone else’s. That might be true, but nurses especially owe it to themselves to be as well rested as possible. Your job is physically and mentally exhausting, even on the good days. Restorative sleep helps your body and mind recover and helps keep you at the top of your game.
If you’re a nursing student, this time of year generally brings a schedule full of midterm exams and projects. Many students say this time of year is the toughest for studying. The weather is still chilly, and everyone’s ready for something, anything, than what they have to get done.
Being a nursing student is stressful and pretty busy in general. You’ve got a lot of work to do, a limited amount of time, and haven’t shaken off the winter hibernation mode yet. If that sounds familiar, here are a few ideas to help you power through this tough time.
Block It Out
The news is full of upsetting events. Coronavirus. Politics. Climate change. Influenza. If you have a fear or an anxiety, there’s probably something about it in the news. You’ve got work to do and world events are overly distracting—but you also can’t just pretend it’s not happening. Set aside specific times to check in with daily events. Don’t scroll through on your phone every hour. Resist the urge to check the news on TV when you’re making dinner or eating with friends. Being in control over the way you consume the information will make it less distracting and leave you time to focus.
Find Your Study Sweet Spot
You might find studying in the library is not the best location for you. Maybe you prefer studying in the gym with the rest of your gym buddies or your team. Maybe a coffee shop is for you or a lounge in your school’s campus center. Or maybe your best study spot is a comfy corner in an academic building. Wherever you can focus on your work and get the most done is the place for you to go during midterms. Find that place and set yourself up with snacks, a water bottle or some coffee, and get your work cranked out.
Time to Relax Isn’t Wasted Time
Endless studying is actually going to work against you. Your brain needs to take breaks to help it process what you are learning and what you are trying to get done. The key is to plan it into your day. A couple of hours of cramming deserve to be followed by a short walk with a friend or some time listening to your favorite podcast or watching funny cat videos. Plan a dinner in which your only company isn’t just a textbook. Connect with your family, friends, or pets. Take time to eat. Watch a movie. You’ll actually give your brain a much needed rest so it, and you, can perform best.
Pay Attention to Self-Care
You probably are going to skimp on sleep during midterms. There’s a lot to get done and only so many hours in the day. But try to keep as much to a schedule as you can. Fit in short naps during the day if you’re really dragging—they will refresh you. In this time of flu and colds, be sure to wash your hands frequently with soap and water—even when you feel like you’re washing your hands all the time. Stay hydrated with lots of liquids (water is always best) or even fruits and veggies like watermelon and cucumbers. Get outside when you can because sunshine and fresh air are refreshing to tired bodies.
If you feel overwhelmed by the academics or the life overload, get help. Tutors, student success centers, study groups, or even reliable online help can give you a better understanding of work that you’re having difficulty with. Many schools offer counseling centers where trained therapists can help you manage the stress and anxiety many nursing students feel during midterms (or at any other time as well). The help is out there and taking advantage of it can help you through this tough spot.
Remember, midterms will be over soon enough and you’ll be on to the next great challenge that nursing school brings. This is part of the road to a career that will be rewarding to you and will make a huge impact on humanity. Good luck—you’ve got this!
Let’s face it—February’s 28 days (29 this year!) can seem like they last for years. The winter blahs tend to hit hard when the cold won’t let up and there’s no tropical vacation in sight.
Try out these options for when you need to bust out of your winter rut.
Believe it or not, getting outside, even when it’s cold, can help banish the winter blahs. If you aren’t the type for active winter sports like skiing, skating, or snowboarding, a brisk walk is a huge mood booster. Make sure you are dressed appropriately—layer up and pay special attention to protecting your hands, feet, and face. You’ll enjoy being outside if you’ve got the gear to offer warmth. Even better, grab a friend for company and catch up.
Take a Nap
There’s something about the dark winter that makes you want to curl up and hibernate a little. If the winter blahs are making your body crave a little extra rest, snuggle under the blankets and take a midday snooze on your day off. Don’t take it too late in the day and don’t make it too long, but you might notice a big pick-me-up from listening to your body.
Brighten Your Plate
In-season winter fruits and vegetables offer gorgeous colors and vitamins to help boost your immune system and banish the winter blahs. For nurses who care for and are around ill people frequently, anything you can do to supercharge your immune system will help keep you healthy this winter. Make a green veggie smoothie, roast squashes, put a vegetable soup together, or eat a salad with fruit.
Pretend It’s Summer
When you want something you know is impossible, you can always pretend. Slather on a little coconut-scented sunscreen, put a bowl of shells on the table, or listen to some recorded ocean waves. Break out your favorite summer movie or soundtrack, drink a pina colada (with alcohol or not), and buy some bright fresh flowers. If nothing else, it will remind you that it won’t be winter forever.
Find Other People
For those who hole up in the winter months, the stretch until spring can seem a little lonely. This is a great time to make an effort to connect with other people. It can be as small as visiting with neighbors, seeing family, taking a short class in something fun, going to a gym to keep up with your fitness goals, or volunteering your time every now and then. The key is to make a connection with others.
According to Punxsutawney Phil, spring isn’t too far away. Until then, try out some of these tips to banish the winter blahs to see if it makes winter a little more bearable.