We thought it was over. We thought we had won. We got the vaccine! It became widely available. Everyone was going to get this vaccine, and we were going to be rid of COVID. No more masks, no more restrictions. We could visit our families. We could go on vacation. Right?
Then the public’s attitude changed. “Well, if everyone else is getting a vaccine, then I shouldn’t have to.” “It doesn’t align with my political views.” “I don’t believe in vaccines.” More and more Americans came up with a reason not to get the vaccine. We did not hit the magic number for herd immunity, and here we are: the Delta Variant. It’s more virulent and transmissible than the first, and maybe breaking through those vaccines that we thought were going to be the answer (CDC, 2021).
Masks are back in vogue, but are they? Now people are making the argument that we shouldn’t have to wear masks. It’s a restriction of our freedom and personal rights. We should be able to make up our own minds. There is no team effort anymore, or so it seems.
Nurses shake their heads. Here we go again. Many don’t feel that they can make it through another surge. Yes, we have the supplies now, but do we have the stamina? Can we listen to another person deny COVID‘s existence with their last breath? Can we hold up that iPad one more time so someone can say goodbye? Once held as heroes, the accolades seem to have faded for those who are still fighting for their patients. Now there’s another wave nursing must worry about. Compassion fatigue. How do we continue giving our best care for our patients, our families, and ourselves?
What is compassion fatigue? Figley & Figley (2017) describe this as a secondary traumatic response to witnessing another’s suffering. When nurses couple these feelings onto their own suffering, which many feel is on a “back burner,” the result is often a combination of emotional and physical exhaustion. Although this alone can seem daunting, so is the great responsibility nurses feel to their patients and coworkers leaving themselves taking care of themselves last. Nothing could be further away from what needs to happen.
Have you ever heard the announcements as a plane is about to take off? “If it is necessary to deploy the emergency oxygen, the instructions are to place the mask on yourself before on those who require your assistance.” The reason is simple: if you have no oxygen, you cannot help those who need you. The same is very true about nurses and self-care. So, what measures can we take to care for ourselves when we have so little left at the end of the day? I have some suggestions:
Five minutes before and after your shift for you away from the unit. Try to find an uninhabited space to allow yourself to decompress. Perhaps pop in those headphones and listen to a favorite artist.
In with peace, out with stress. Easier said than done but give it a try. It can be contagious in a group setting.
I often suggest this one to my students with test anxiety. Lavender, chamomile, and sweet orange are popular for stress relief. Dab a little on your wrist or a tissue in a (very) deep pocket to avoid contamination.
Wash the shift away.
Decontamination after work always gives a sense of cleanliness, but what about psychological cleanliness? Along with breathing, try to envision the tension washing down the drain. When you step out, it’s a new feeling.
Encourage your health system to take measures to provide self-care for their staff.
Examples include disposable adhesive aromatherapy stickers, a quiet room with soft instrumental music and dim lighting, and debriefing opportunities at popular shift changes. These can be over the phone and anonymous, perfect for the ride home. The interest a health system has in the mental and emotional health of their employees is priceless, but sometimes they need a little guidance
as to what the staff needs.
We will make it through to see the end of COVID-19. Nurses must stick together and take care of one another and remember that we need the oxygen first.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2021). Variant of concern. Retrieved August 6, 2021from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/variants/variant-info.html
Figley, C.R. & Figley, K.R. (2017) Chapter 28: Compassion Fatigue Resilience, in The Oxford Handbook of Compassion Science by Sepala, E. (ed). Oxford University Press.