Nov 26, 2020, By: Barb Shellian
Friends at the grocery store in masks. Family looking through a window to visit loved ones in long-term care. Nurses in personal protective equipment. Children not having birthday parties. Public health officials telling us grim numbers.
These are the faces of COVID-19 that have become all too familiar. As a society, we are getting tired, we are lonely, and we want this to end. Our scientific experts tell us that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and we all sigh with exhaustion. Conversations about the impact of the pandemic on mental health are happening around us, and we all can relate. We are looking at a long and possibly deadly winter.
Where do we go from here? The answer is that we have nowhere to go but forward. The choice is not where, but how.
Nurses have been celebrated as leaders in the pandemic — caring for people in hospitals and in the community, formulating plans, and making policy. Nurses have been the face of hope, the face of skill, and the face of caring.
Nurses will continue to provide nursing care as the pandemic marches on, but the attention to mental health and self-care cannot be overemphasized. Looking after ourselves is not just jargon or lip service; it has to happen.
We all know what self-care looks like because we talk about it to our patients all the time. But now, more than ever, we need to be deliberate about looking after ourselves. The pandemic limits some things that we may have done previously for self-care. Concerts, ballets, choral singing, large dinner parties, and going to the gym with friends are all off the table, but there are still many options to look after ourselves.
Quiet time with a good book, trying a new recipe, yoga, mindfulness, a walk in the woods are all very good distractions in this stressful time, so choose your preferred option. The key is to have a distraction, to do something other than think like a nurse!
What I have noticed more than ever is the importance of talking about your stress, sharing how you feel with your significant others and your colleagues, and accessing professional help when required. I know what it’s like to break into tears at work, an experience that surprised me because I consider myself a resilient person (being a Saskatchewan farm girl and all that).
However, I realized that this pesky virus is more than a physiological phenomenon; the stress and constant vigilance takes a toll on our mental well-being. I want to “be there” for my patients and be a leader during this pandemic, so I know that I need to look after myself, pure and simple. Pounding on the piano, calling my sisters on the phone, Zoom calls with my nieces and nephews — all of these make me a better person and better nurse leader.
My personal leadership mantra is “Be prepared, be resilient, be relentless, and be yourself.” It has held significant meaning for me as a nurse in this pandemic. The faces of COVID-19 also include people leaving the hospital after recovering, babies being born, thankful masked smiles and “air hugs” from families, a hand squeeze from a palliative patient, and horns honking to say thank you at a drive-through swabbing site. This appreciation is why we come back to work every day.
We are tired, but we are resilient, and we will journey through this. I know that the nursing face of COVID-19 is skilled, sensitive, caring, thoughtful, inquisitive, and determined. Look after yourselves, be kind, and be safe.
Editor-in-chief Barb Shellian is a registered nurse committed to nursing practice, health-care reform, and people. She is a past president of the Canadian Nurses Association and also Director of Rural Health, Alberta Health Services Calgary Zone, and is located in Canmore, Alberta.