Techniques Help Nursing Professionals Better Support Their Own Health During Stressful Times

Wellness experts encourage self-check-ins and asking for help

nursing wellness

For many nursing caregivers, the COVID-19 pandemic has added extra stress to a profession already known for being physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. To balance that, it is essential for nurses to prioritize self-care with an aim toward staying healthy for themselves and the patients who depend on them.

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That is the advice from Cleveland Clinic wellness experts Samantha Connelly, MSN, RN, Director of Caregiver Well-Being at Cleveland Clinic, and Amy Freadling, Ph.D., LPCC-S, CEAP, Director of Caring for Caregivers Professional Staff and Employee Assistance Programs.

“Nurses and other healthcare providers often find themselves encouraging patients to establish or improve health practices, but when it comes to incorporating self-care into their own lives it can seem like just one more obligation,” Connelly says. “That’s understandable, but I really encourage nurses to advocate as strongly for themselves in this area as they do for their patients. We all deserve to feel healthy and strong.”

Self-checks should be key part of any health regimen

To make those changes, nurses may have to abandon outdated notions of who deserves generous care, Freadling says. “We do not have to choose between caring for ourselves and caring for others. By choosing to dedicate our attention to both, we can advance a workplace culture of well-being,” she says.

A core habit of checking in on one’s own physical and emotional condition is a great place to start.

“Every day, make a point to consider how you are feeling,” Freadling says. “Determine what is going well and take time to acknowledge your successes. Identify areas where you may be struggling or experiencing stress, and commit to small actions that will help you feel your best.”

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Scheduling time for beloved activities or simply to be quiet is especially important for caregivers, whose work can be both rewarding and depleting, Freadling says.

“We really need to see rejuvenating activities, and quiet time, as an essential part of wellness, not as a luxury,” she says. “Some caregivers find it easier to think of this as something they do to make themselves better for their patients. Whatever it takes to make it possible to carve out those hours every week will be really be worth it in terms of feeling healthier and stronger.”

Any steps taken to improve sleep, exercise and nutrition can help with stamina, Freadling says. So can connecting with others by communicating and by making requests for help when things get tough.

“Most nurses would much rather be the helper than the one asking for help, but every one of us needs it from time to time,” Connelly says. “Maybe all you need is a few minutes to connect, or maybe you’re feeling like you need more help but don’t know where to turn. Try to remember that you are surrounded by wise colleagues, and someone may have exactly the objectivity, wisdom and problem-solving skills needed to point you toward a path to feeling better.”

Being a well-being advocate for colleagues

Freadling also urges caregivers to be aware of signs of stress in their colleagues and to start a conversation to see whether they need help. Signs can include:

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  • Changes in appearance, including lack of good grooming
  • Unusual fatigue or a feeling of being chronically tired
  • Irritability, sadness or anxiousness
  • Problems with memory of the ability to focus
  • Changes in communication, such as being quieter or louder than usual
  • Decline in work habits or performance, including increased mistakes or decreased productivity
  • Increases in tardiness or absenteeism

While healthcare teams are often known for anticipating each other’s work-related needs, Connelly and Freadling encourage caregivers to adopt a practice of simply asking how others are doing at the human level.

 “You can support each other by being an active listener and seizing small opportunities to stay connected,” Friedling says. “This can increase feelings of belonging, decrease the feeling of isolation, and make space for others to voice what they need.”

It’s also important to know that self-care need not become a huge project, Freadling says.
“Even seemingly small wellness measures, such as getting better quality sleep, can significantly improve our ability to feel less stress and to avoid burnout,” she says. “Over time, as we see those improvements, we may feel motivated to do more.”