Almost any nurse knows 2020 can’t be compared to any other point of time they have lived through. And 2021’s progress is in sight, but it’s slow going getting there. Vaccines are on the horizon and some nurses have even completed both doses, but hospitals are still seeing more patients than they can sometimes handle and the new strains of COVID-19 bring the threat additional surges. Nurses are seeking short bursts of stress relief to combat the burnout they are feeling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left a path of devastation few are equipped to deal with physically, emotionally, or spiritually. As front-line workers, nurses bear the brunt of overwhelming stress, grief, and exhaustion. Stress relief is a priority, but hard to come by for most nurses.

Minority Nurse recently spoke with Crystal Miller RN, past president of the Infusion Nurses Society (INS) about the ways nurses are just trying to get through these times when days blur together and overtaxed is the normal state.

The emotional toll on nurses can’t be overlooked, she says. “Anyone in health care has been impacted,” says Miller. “Even if it’s not every shift, it has challenged us emotionally.” Nurses, who are problem solvers by nature, aren’t always able to find a solution, let alone the best solution, out of many choices. “The patients are so so ill and you can effect only so much change,” she notes.” And it’s not necessarily for a positive outcome.”

Maintaining a patient connection is now a hard-to-grasp process, but Miller says her team makes  a significant impression in any way they can. “We’ve been put to the test in so many ways,” she says. “Making sure we have eye contact –that’s pretty much the most impactful contact we can have right now.”

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What else helps? Miller offers a few suggestions based on her conversations with other nurses.

Talk to a Professional

“It’s about more than us and the care we provide and the equipment we use,” says Miller. “It’s about us being emotionally resilient and maintaining our mental health.” Miller, who has spoken or interviewed many nurses who are fighting back tears, says the hurt and the pain nurses are feeling is so dominant. With her own team, she tries to promote the use of employee assistance programs that offer counseling services and encourages that resource. “Sometimes it’s better to talk to someone who doesn’t work in health care and gives you a new perspective,” she says.

Find a Distraction

From watching quick and easy-to-digest TikTok videos to feeding the birds to deep breathing—finding something fast to calm you or make you laugh is valuable. And don’t worry how silly it might seem to others—you need relief and an immediate escape. If a few bursts of cat videos or watching reality TV or breaking out in song and dance help you, then just do it.

Try Journaling

“I can’t stress journaling enough,” says Miller. Again, you’re not going for profound entries. You can write that today was a horrible day and just get that out. Or you can write that out of the horrible day your coffee was perfect and you’re grateful for that one thing.

Find Your Own Soothing Habit

“One person I know grounds herself before her next patient interaction,” says Miller. She touches the door or doorframe before entering the room as a way to say “I am going to see someone else now.” The purposeful action provides a divide between the experience she just had and the one she is beginning.

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Acknowledge Your Limits

“Right now, most of us are of the mindset of work, go home, go to bed,” says Miller. “We are so tired.” Still, the grinding workload doesn’t mean nurses have lost their legendary spirit that keeps them going even when things are bleak. “At the end of the day, we just try to enjoy moments of levity when they present themselves and however they present themselves,” says Miller. “And chocolate goes a long way in my book.”

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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