As COVID-19 cases spike, nurses need more than PPE

Nurses and other healthcare workers demonstrate against unsafe working conditions and inadequate personal protective equipment (PPE) outside the Rikers Island Correctional facility during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Queens borough of New York City, U.S., May 7, 2020.
REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Across the U.S., coronavirus infection rates are surging, with no end in sight. If you’re a nurse, you may feel like you’re sinking. Sure, you soldier on, working long shifts, comforting desperately ill patients, grieving losses, and protecting yourself as best you can. But all the PPE in the world can’t protect a nurse’s spirit.

It’s that sense of purpose and meaning, of calling, that keeps nurses going in incredibly traumatic times. If they lose touch with that, they can quickly find themselves in deep trouble.

There are no easy solutions to what nurses are facing right now. But reconnecting to the sense of mission that has always driven nurses on a heart-and-soul level can give them the strength to keep going.

That doesn’t “just happen” even in good times; it’s a choice we must make every day. If we don’t, we will quickly get overwhelmed by pain, fear, and negativity.

Hard times can deeply inspire us if we make a point of staying open to them (click here to see some short video segments that share some of my own stories and tactics). But we have to get intentional about doing so. Here are a few tips for reconnecting with your inspiration when you’re struggling:

Take 10 minutes to relive a moment when you made a real difference. At any moment when you’re feeling crushed and exhausted, close your eyes and be right back there when you did something incredible. Relive your greatest moment. Your mind doesn’t know the difference between it really happening and the memory.

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 you love. Charting moments of gratitude (however big or small) helps you remember why you chose this deeply meaningful line of work.

Write down three things about your work that you are thankful for. Each day, look it over and add to your list. You almost cannot be in a state of gratitude and negativity at the same time, but you can choose.

…then, 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 or tell them face-to-face—even if it has to be from 6 feet away while wearing full PPE. Not only will you feel better, you’ll help others feel better at a time when most likely they really need it.

Make a self-care plan. Get out a journal 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 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.” It may feel strange to focus on improving your life when the world seems to be falling apart, but now is when we need to be at our best.

Get intentional about who you spend time with. Who do you chat with on breaks during your shift? Who do you vent to when times are tough? Often, we don’t make these decisions consciously. 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. The company you keep has a big impact on your attitude and well-being.

Stop blaming yourself for others’ difficult behavior. All nurses have plenty of experience dealing with the occasional patient or family member who is grouchy, demanding, or even downright mean. Too often we may take their difficult behavior personally.

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. Most of us are scared right now. Knowing that gives you a different perspective.

Realize that you don’t rent your life. You own it. Do you let bad situations and other people’s negativity dictate how you feel about your work life? If you do, then you’re renting.

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 healthcare. Look for inspiration today. Look for ways to give. Own your life—especially right now.

It’s when times are toughest that we learn the most valuable lessons and experience the biggest leaps in our personal growth. 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…. That’s one bright spot we can be grateful for.

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About the Author:
Rich Bluni, RN, is the author of the best-selling books Inspired Nurse, Oh No…Not More of That Fluffy Stuff!, and Inspired Nurse Too. He has an active and popular Facebook page called Inspired Nurse.

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