Essential Mental Health Strategies for Nurses
August 17, 2020
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Nurses are a critical part of the healthcare system during public health emergencies. They are highly trusted, compassionate, and willing to go to great lengths to protect their patients. However, with no clear endpoint, COVID-19 is not a typical public health crisis and has created a range of mental health challenges for nurses.

Today’s nurses are working under a cloud of fear and stress, which can lead to physical and psychological symptoms. However, there are steps that nurses can take to minimize the effects of high-stress levels and keep themselves and their families balanced.

A Two-Pronged Approach to Managing Stress

Stress levels cannot be managed through mental health strategies alone. Making healthy lifestyle choices can directly affect an individual’s outlook on life, energy levels, and mood. These five tactics can create a positive impact on mental health:

  1. Eat regular meals – focus on whole foods that decrease inflammation and build immunity
  2. Stay hydrated – choose water instead of caffeinated beverages, which can cause headaches and mood swings
  3. Exercise regularly – a simple walk with the dog can keep anxiety and depression symptoms at bay
  4. Limit alcohol consumption and refrain from smoking
  5. Make sleep a priority and practice good sleep hygiene

When it comes to managing stress levels, a nurse’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Incorporating these self-love strategies into your daily routine can help:

  1. Practice meditation and/or mindfulness exercises
  2. Make time for relaxation
  3. Take mini-breaks throughout the workday to practice deep breathing
  4. Keep in touch with friends and family
  5. Limit exposure to media coverage of the pandemic
  6. Lower expectations of yourself and others, reminding yourself that “done” is better than “perfect”
  7. Practice positive self-talk, such as “nurses have a purpose and make a difference”
  8. Talk it out with colleagues or a supervisor, because nurses don’t have to walk this road alone
  9. Accept help when offered, and ask for support when needed

Help Children Manage Stress

Nurses with children at home have a responsibility to help them understand and respond to our changing world. Children may pick up on the stress that a parent is feeling and struggle to understand what is wrong. Children need to receive reassurance and guidance that’s centered around safety, consistency, and love.

Here are some tips to help children manage stress:

  • Maintain a consistent family routine – establish set bedtimes and meal times
  • Include children in conversations about the pandemic, but keep their age in mind and help them navigate their feelings
  • Set family rules for proper hygiene
  • Make routines fun for kids – consider singing during handwashing or developing games for wearing masks
  • Remind children that the situation is temporary
  • Allow children to help out around the house to give them a way to contribute – young children can carry dishes to the sink and help tidy up, while older children can take on bigger chores such as cleaning and yard work
  • Reassure children that the parent is safe in their job

Additional recommending reading:

Symptoms of Excessive Stress

Nurses should self-monitor their mental health status on a regular basis and take action when necessary. Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Sleep difficulties
  • Persistent crying or sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Nurses who are forced to make clinical decisions that conflict with their ethical training may experience signs of moral distress, such as feeling guilty or ashamed. Other symptoms to watch for include:

  • Difficulty with decision-making or memory
  • Emotional outbursts
  • Risky behaviors
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as headaches, palpitations, and gastrointestinal issues

Nurses experiencing moral distress or consistent symptoms of depression should talk to their supervisor and seek professional help. Early intervention can be critical to working through moral dilemmas and extreme stress. Nurses seeking to connect with a mental health professional can contact their insurance provider for options in their area.

Mental Health Resources

Anyone experiencing suicidal or homicidal thoughts should call 911.

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association lists the following crisis hotlines:

It’s Okay to Take a Break

Nurses who have decided to step away from bedside nursing amid the pandemic should keep in mind that they are not alone. Taking a break and hitting the reset button can be the difference between a nurse developing serious mental health problems and a nurse maintaining their sanity. Some nurses may use this time to further their education from the comfort of their home by enrolling in an online nursing program. An online program can keep the nurse’s knowledge current while potentially offering a pathway to a better position and higher future earnings.

Self-care is vital to a nurse’s health and well-being, especially in the face of a pandemic. Nurses can fill their mental health “bucket” throughout the day using tools of the trade, and perform regular mental health gut checks to ensure that they get the help they need when they need it.

Cindy Blye, RN

Cindy Blye, RN

Cindy Blye is a nurse-turned-writer with experience in Newborn Intensive Care, Pediatrics, and Case Management. Her works include pediatric nurse certification review materials, policies and procedures, training materials, nursing blog articles, health and wellness articles, and local business reviews. Cindy has three grown children and lives with her husband in North Carolina where she enjoys spending time with her family, gardening, and cooking.

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