How to manage and stay healthy in uncertain times.
The COVID-19 pandemic has much of the world in lockdown right now.
You go to work and put in the hardest days you’ve ever encountered in your career.
You arrive home, take your shoes off before entering, throw your clothes in the washer, take a shower, and tumble into bed—frequently without seeing your family or hugging your children for fear of transmitting the virus. You might be asymptomatic, unknowingly shedding virus.
You’re worried about your job, your health, your finances, and your future. So am I.
Welcome to the world of pandemic nursing.
It materialized overnight. You blinked, and now everything as you knew it yesterday is dramatically different. Never in your wildest dreams did you envision the reality we’re currently living.
Emotions run high—yours, mine, and everyone’s we meet. Despite our teams and all of the healthcare workers who surround us, we feel isolated as we try to protect ourselves and those around us, especially our patients.
We know health risks come with isolation, uncertainty, and changes to our daily lives, but we’re too busy to deal with them. We work, go home, catch a few hours of sleep, and start the cycle all over again. We’re all in uncharted territory. Nothing feels normal, and the way we must live our lives is unlike anything our connected, global society has been through before.
Experts say we may eat more, smoke and drink more, and disengage from physical activities, spending our time with the television, phone, computer, or gaming device during every waking minute away from patient care. We’re also drastically changing our sleep patterns to accommodate work schedules. All of this can lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, and depression.
The good news, in this time of uncertainty, is that you can use simple coping mechanisms as you protect yourself, your family, and your community. I try to follow these “rules for an abnormal world.”
Understand the stress/cortisol connection. Prolonged stress can trigger high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, taking a toll on the immune system and weakening our ability to fight off the coronavirus. When we’re chronically stressed, our inflammatory system becomes overactivated, which can trigger disease. Be aware of your own stress levels and take steps to manage your stress. Simple practices—such as getting adequate sleep, exercising, meditating, and taking deep breathes every hour—can help.
Stay in touch with family and friends. All of us miss the social interactions we normally have with friends, coworkers, and family members not living in the same household. Try tools such as Skype and FaceTime for chats and online get-togethers. Reconnect with friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Humans are social beings who need to socialize, so feed your social craving—from a distance!
Do what makes you happy. Probably the best way to cope in this time of uncertainty is to think about the things you can do that make you happy—and then do them. When this crisis is over, what will you remember about it and what were you able to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Keep children engaged. Kids benefit from daily structure while off from school. Predetermined times for being creative and doing schoolwork and chores can provide the structure children need to feel safe.
Hopefully, we’ll soon blink again and life will have returned to normal—or to a new normal. Until then, take care of yourself.
– Lillee Gelinas, MSN, RN, CPPS, FAAN, Editor-in-Chief