There’s little doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has challenged the emotional wellbeing of nurses like never before. Even pre-pandemic, reports were circulating about nurses leaving the profession due to burnout from heavy workloads.
Fast-forward to 2021, and the situation has worsened. In our previous blog post, we highlighted a report by the IPPR think tank, which revealed that 330,000 healthcare workers - including 100,000 nurses and 8,000 midwives - were "more likely" to leave the NHS in England after a year of increased pressure.
Additionally, a Nursing Standard survey stated that eight in ten nurses said their mental health had been affected by the pandemic due to the long working hours, fears of contracting the virus, separation from loved ones and redeployment.
A plethora of articles offering general advice to nurses on combating burnout is only a Google away, which is why we've put together some tips and real coping mechanisms for nurses to take note of. Here they are:
“Take your breaks.”
Someone outside of the nursing profession would unlikely understand the magnitude of this statement. A common theme we repeatedly hear from our nurses is the need to fight through the guilt of taking breaks. A healthcare environment is always going to be busy, and no, there’s probably never a great time to take a break, but they are vital for your mental and physical wellbeing. If possible, get outside for some fresh air. If not, spend your break doing something you enjoy or find relaxing, whether that’s listening to your favourite podcast, zoning out to some music or catching up about something other than work with your colleagues. The same goes for days off, too - always take them.
“Avoid the cycle of alcohol and caffeine.”
It’s easy to get into the habit of unwinding with a drink in the evening and keeping energy levels up with coffee or energy drinks throughout the day. Reliance on these quick fixes can heighten anxiety and leave you with that unpleasant jittery feeling. The same goes for smoking. When issuing advice for nurses, the World Health Organisation (WHO) cautions against relying on what they call ‘unhelpful coping strategies’, stating that tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs can ‘worse your mental and physical wellbeing’ in the long-term.
It’s easier said than done, of course. Breaking unhealthy habits can be tough, especially if they feel as though they’re helping in the short term. However, nurses who prioritise their health through healthy eating, staying hydrated and ensuring they are getting the right amount of sleep report feeling less anxious, so it’s well worth investing the time to practise self-care.
“Steer clear of social media.”
Over the last year, social media became a problematic environment for many users due to misinformation about the coronavirus. Platforms like Twitter are difficult to manage given you don’t just see posts from who you’re following but also anything that they like and retweet, plus recommended topics and stories from Twitter.
For nurses seeing a link between social media and heightened anxiety levels, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) counselling service suggests limiting exposure as well as:
- Muting any words that trigger worries or negative feelings
- Unfollowing or ‘snoozing’ hashtags, individuals or groups
- Setting boundaries for social media browsing.
“You’re not trapped.”
Feeling out of control or trapped in a job is a common cause of anxiety and can contribute to burnout. The pandemic worked to heighten feelings of helplessness for many nurses. For those who have tried everything to manage feelings of stress and are still considering leaving the profession, it’s worth considering other options.
Changing to a different area of nursing, switching schedules, moving to a new location or simply starting afresh in a new workplace could provide the answer. It’s not an easy decision, especially when your skills are likely to be so needed in a current work environment, but it’s worth exploring whether there’s a job that’s a better fit for you elsewhere before turning your back on a career you’ve worked so hard on.
Speak to us