COVID-Weary Nurses: 7 Ways Health-care Workers Can Stay Inspired in 2021 by Rich Bluni, RN
The year 2020 has been an unbelievably tough year for nurses. And while can hope for a better 2021 we’re painfully aware there are no guarantees. So as we step into an uncertain new year, how can we find the inner strength to keep going and show up in the way our patients deserve? The only possible answer is to purposely reconnect with that sense of purpose, meaning and mission – that sense of calling – that drives us.
That doesn’t just happen even in good times; it’s a choice we must make every day. And in times like these, it’s a choice we need to make every hour, sometimes every minute. If we don’t, we will quickly get overwhelmed by pain, fear and negativity.
Hard times contain moments that can deeply inspire us if we make a point of staying open to them. Her are a few tips for reconnecting with your inspiration in 2021:
1. Take 10 Minutes to Relive a Moment When You Made a Real Difference
In Chapter 1 of Inspired Nurse, I recall an incident I've titled "The Day the Nurse Stood Still.” I was driving when a car flipped over on the freeway and I rushed to help a desperate mother and her dying baby. In the midst of all that blood and panic, I managed to resuscitate the baby. Now, when I'm having a tough time, I relive the whole incident – the sounds, the sights, the emotions and especially the joy I felt when the baby started breathing again.
You can do the same. Throughout your day, at any moment when you’re feeling crushed and exhausted, like you can’t go on, close your eyes, take a breath and be right back there when you saved a life or did something incredible. Relive your greatest moment. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between it really happening and the memory.
2. Write Down Your Gratitude
Even in a pandemic, there are things to be grateful for. Maybe a patient you thought was going to die actually recovered. Maybe a coworker paid for your lunch. Maybe the cafeteria had that carrot cake with the cream cheese frosting you love. Charting those moments of gratitude (however big or small) not only does wonders for your mindset, it helps you remember why you chose this deeply meaningful line of work.
Whether it’s in a journal, a notepad or on a sticky note, write down three things about your work that you are thankful for every day. Each day, look it over and add to your list. It’s not an exercise in "woo-woo feel-good fluff"; it is a powerful tool to recalibrate yourself when you are hurting. Getting yourself into a state of gratitude takes away the ability to be in a state of negativity. You almost cannot be in a state of gratitude and negativity at the same time, but you can choose.
3. Share It With Others
Chances are, some of the “things” you find yourself writing on your gratitude list are actually people. Maybe it’s the coworker who always jumps in to help, the unit secretary who runs your labs for you when you’re swamped, or the food service employee who always remembers your lunch order.
Extend your gratitude to someone every day. Give them a thank-you note, tell them face-to-face – even if it has to be from 6 feet away while wearing full PPE! – or send a note to their supervisor praising their awesome attitude. Not only will you feel better, you’ll help others feel better at a time when most likely they really need it.
4. Make a Self-care Plan
Even in the best of times, nurses are so busy being caregivers to our patients, our students, our peers, our employees and even to our friends, communities and families that we rarely extend the same courtesy to ourselves. Right now, it’s more important than ever to set goals that will change your life in a positive way.
Set aside an hour or so, maybe on a day off, if you’re getting those these days. Get out a journal or pad and write the following labels on five separate pages: Mind, Body, Spirit, Love and Prosperity. Under each title, come up with just two things that you can do, change, read about or experience every day that would impact that part of your being. In the Body category you may write, walk a mile, eat more green veggies and drink eight glasses of water.
Each week, focus on taking action in those areas, even if it’s one very small action. It may feel strange to focus on improving your life at a time when the world seems to be falling apart, but now is when we need to be at our best. Give yourself every advantage. The old cliché about airplane safety tells us that when an oxygen mask falls, we are supposed to put it on ourselves first and then put a mask on someone who needs help. That’s literally the opposite of what a nurse is all about, but in times like these especially, you simply have to find a way to take care of yourself in order to be able to do the things we are being called on to do today.
And for the love of all things ... go easy on yourself! Nurses hold themselves to the highest of standards – and we should –but don’t do that at the expense of your mental and physical health! I know we all want to be perfect, but that’s a bar too high. In the middle of a pandemic, maybe strive for "panderfect!" What I mean is not lowering your standards of safe care or anything like that, but don’t beat yourself up if you’re not your usual self. Be your best. Give your best. But, please, be kind to you!
5. Get Intentional About Who You Spend Time With
Who do you chat with on breaks during your shift? Who do you sit next to in the cafeteria? Who do you vent to when times are tough? Often, we don’t make these decisions consciously; they’re as much a part of our routines as, well, getting dressed and going to work. The problem is, we might be hanging out with psychic vampires who drain our life force and break us down with their negativity.
Your two most valuable resources are your love and your time. So if you’re spending them on people who spread fear, or hold grudges, or don’t act in ways that are kind and compassionate, I encourage you to become more intentional about your relationships. Really think about who lifts you up and who brings you down, who gives you hope and who takes it away. The company you keep has a big impact on your attitude and well-being.
6. Stop Blaming Yourself for Other's Difficult Behavior
All nurses have plenty of experience dealing with the occasional patient or family member who is grouchy, ungrateful, demanding or even downright mean. And because we’re so committed to providing the best care, we often take their difficult behavior personally. What could I have done better? What did I do to provoke that comment? Should I have spent more time explaining the medication’s side effects?
Realize that 99 percent of the time, difficult patients aren’t reacting to you but to their circumstances. The real antagonist is their pain, fear, lack of mobility, etc. – and as a caregiver, you’ve simply been caught in the crossfire. Try not to take their bad mood personally. Easy to say, hard to do. Here’s the thing: If you believe someone is doing or saying something out of spite, you certainly feel a certain way toward them. Who wouldn’t? But, if you believe that someone is doing or saying something out of fear, then your whole outlook changes. If your child screams at you because they’re angry, you may react in a certain way, versus if they scream because they are having a bad dream or are scared of a loud noise – your compassion reflex is immediately triggered. People are scared right now. Most of us are scared right now. Knowing that gives you a different perspective.
7. Realize You Don't Rent Your Life
You own it. Would you ever rent a car and then immediately take it to a mechanic to pay for a tune-up, tire rotation and then a good wash and wax? Of course not. But is this how you treat your work life? Do you let bad situations and other people’s negativity dictate how you feel? If you do, then you’re renting. If you want to have a more inspirational work life, decide to be more focused on inspiration.
You can’t wait around for someone to rescue you or to fix how you feel. Start by practicing gratitude and improving yourself. Connect with other people every chance you get. Opportunities to do so exist around each corner in health care. We forget how abundant these chances are because they are almost too obvious. Look for inspiration today. Look for ways to give. Own your life – especially right now.
If you lean into the vital work you’re doing right now and find a few moments to take care of you, you may come out on the other side with a whole new perspective.
It’s when times are toughest that we learn the most valuable lessons and experience the biggest leaps in our personal growth, as painful as it may be, as scary as it may be. If there’s one thing that has been made abundantly clear throughout all of this, it’s that nurses are the most resilient, compassionate and inspiring people on this earth – and the world is seeing that clearer than ever. That’s one bright spot we can be grateful for.
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