Mental Health Awareness Month: Time to Take Care of Yourself

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In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, creating awareness of the importance of mental health and the reality of mental health issues is more important than ever – even more so among healthcare workers who have carried more than their share of the physical and psychological burden caused by the COVID-19 virus. Since the beginning of the pandemic, while many people were able to work from home, healthcare workers have had to continue going to their jobs, facing the continuous threat of contagion – not just for themselves but for their families and their patients as well.

In honor of mental health awareness month, we’d like to shed some light on the struggles of healthcare workers during these trying times and share some strategies for handling stress. 

When Is Mental Health Awareness Month?

Since 1949, the United States has recognized the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. It was founded by the National Association for Mental Health – now called the Mental Health America organization (MHA) – to raise awareness and educate the public about mental illness, as well as to reduce the stigma around these struggles. 

This threefold purpose continues to be the aim of Mental Health Month: with greater awareness and education about mental health and destigmatization of mental illness in society as a whole, we can all contribute to the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of children, families, and entire communities.

How Has the Pandemic Impacted the Mental Health of Health Workers?

Although a lot has changed since then, the results of a survey hosted by MHA from June to September 2020 shed necessary light on the experiences of healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following figures reflect the experiences of the 1,119 healthcare workers who participated in the survey: 

Stressed out and stretched too thin:

  • 93% of health care workers were experiencing stress
  • 86% reported experiencing anxiety
  • 77% reported frustration
  • 76% reported exhaustion and burnout
  • 75% said they were overwhelmed

Worried about exposing loved ones: 

  • 76% of healthcare workers with children reported that they were worried about exposing their child to COVID-19
  • Nearly half were worried about exposing their spouse or partner
  • 47% were worried that they would expose their older adult family member(s)

Emotionally and physically exhausted: 

  • 82% felt emotional exhaustion 
  • 70% experienced trouble with sleep
  • 68% expressed feeling physical exhaustion 
  • 63% experienced work-related dread 
  • 57% noticed changes in appetite 
  • 56% claimed physical symptoms like headache or stomachache 
  • 55% questioned their career path 
  • 52% experienced compassion fatigue 
  • 52% felt a heightened awareness or attention to being exposed 

*Nurses in particular reported 41% higher exposure to COVID-19 than other healthcare workers and were more likely to feel too tired (67%) in comparison to other healthcare workers (63%). 

Not getting enough emotional support: 

  • 39% of healthcare workers said that they did not feel like they had adequate emotional support – this situation was even more pronounced for nurses (45%). 

Struggling with parenting: 

  • 50% of the parent subgroup reported that they were lacking quality time or were unable to support their children or be present parents.

Strategies to Deal with Stress and Nursing Burnout 

The World Health Organization published a stress management guide in 2020 aiming to equip people with practical skills to help cope with stress. You can download the complete guide here, but we would also like to share a couple of the techniques with you now. 

Focus, Engage, and Pay Attention

When we are under stress, negative feelings consume us: We remember difficult events; we obsess about the future; we are overcome by worry. These feelings hook us and distance us from the people we want to be. If this is happening to you, it is important that you make an effort to reconnect with here and now. This means truly listening to your kids talk about what happened at the playground and giving your patients your full attention when you are taking their vitals or listening to them describe their symptoms, but it also means savoring each sip of your cup of coffee, taking the time to notice the warmth through the cup and to identify the different scents. You can unhook yourself from these reoccurring negative thoughts by focusing on the present moment.

Ground Yourself

Grounding is a similar technique to engaging in the sense that it reconnects us with the present. However, grounding can be especially useful when we are feeling out of control when our reoccurring thoughts are less like a pesky fly and more like a threatening thunderstorm. At these moments, try to reduce the power of these thoughts by turning to your body: focus on your breathing; feel gravity pulling you towards the floor; identify what your five senses are telling you about your surroundings. Grounding won’t get rid of the negative feelings, but it will keep you in a safe harbor until the intensity of the storm passes. 

What if I Simply Need a Change?

Practicing techniques for managing stress is very important regardless of our chosen professions or work settings, but sometimes what we really need is a change, and no number of techniques for dealing with stress will solve the core issues that are causing our state of heightened stress. If you are experiencing burnout and are even contemplating early retirement because of work-related stress or anxiety, first consider a career shift. Have you heard of PRN work? Have you given it a try? Switching to PRN work might be exactly the change you need. Visit Nursa™ today to learn more about our PRN healthcare staffing app and how you can change your life around with PRN work. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, do this for yourself and change your life around.

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Written by Miranda Booher, RN

SEO Content Marketing Manager Miranda is a 14-year registered nurse with a healthy background in travel nursing and digital marketing. She brings an interesting combination of stellar copywriting skills and first-hand nursing experience to the table. Miranda understands the industry and has an impeccable ability to write about it. And speaking of travel - Miranda currently lives in Bolivia, though she maintains an active Registered Nurse license in the state of Ohio and stays current on the latest healthcare news through her writing. When she is not creating killer copy, or serving others through her work as a nurse, you can find her spending time with her family traveling in the Andes Mountains.

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