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Self-Care Tips For Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With every career comes some level of stress. Even if you love what you do, circumstances can bring undesirable burdens. Those who can effectively mitigate the negative aspects of the job will experience a much more positive work environment — even in a pandemic.

Adapting to the Unfamiliar

Stress in the field of nursing is more complicated than “normal” or “everyday” stress. Bedside care requires a special demeanor; one that can handle the ups and downs of seeing patients overcome or succumb to irreparable infirmities.

COVID-19 has heightened stress for nurses. Even those adept at managing the daily stressors of the job may be suffering with unknown and unforeseen symptoms due to the pandemic’s devastation.

Self-Care Starts With Self-Awareness

It’s critical for all nurses to practice self-care tactics during this time. One of the greatest tools in a nurse’s toolkit is self-awareness. Recognizing feelings of distress, depression and anxiety — and then validating them — is half the battle. Once you acknowledge your feelings, there are a number of strategies you can employ.

Breathing. It’s an automatic, natural process that keeps us alive. When it becomes intentional, it can do wonders for stress relief. Close your eyes, pull your shoulders back and take five deep breaths. It’s a quick exercise that you can do anytime you’re feeling physically or mentally defeated.

Counseling. The stigma surrounding mental health has kept many nurses from reaching out for help when they need it. There is absolutely no shame in asking for an expert’s assistance. One resource, NurseGroups, is a volunteer-led emotional resilience service created specifically for nurses in response to the COVID-19 crisis. The organization offers free, confidential videoconferences for nurses to connect and process distress surrounding COVID-19.

Exercise. Physical activity has proven mood-boosting effects. A 10-minute walk in fresh air or sweating out the day’s strain on an exercise bike are just a couple of the suggestions frontline nurses shared in a recent Becker’s Hospital Review article.

Any Calming Activity. Whether it’s gardening, putting together a puzzle or watching a comedy special, leisurely activities can be very calming. Meditation or prayer may also provide a state of ease.

Back to Basics

Sometimes, self-care just means making sure basic needs are met. Proper sleep, nutrition and hydration may seem simple to maintain. But with long, hectic shifts and residual stress from the day, many nurses may struggle to find the mental or physical energy to keep up with these fundamental routines.

The following solutions may provide some relief:

Sleep. Prescription or even over-the-counter sleep aids can cause adverse side effects, such as drowsiness. Natural supplements like melatonin and valerian root or calming teas can be helpful aids. You may also find that mobile apps like Headspace, Slumber or Calm help you relax.

Nutrition. A candy bar from the vending machine or a quick frozen meal after an overtime shift aren’t the best options. However, nurses don’t always live in ideal circumstances. If you are able, choose healthier options such as fresh fruit, veggies and lean protein. If you aren’t, don’t beat yourself up if something pre-packaged is your only choice. You need energy. Something is better than nothing.

Hydration. It’s easy to not drink enough water when there are far more important things at hand. But if you’re dehydrated, you’re only putting yourself at risk. Bring a refillable, closed-mouth bottle to keep nearby. If plain water isn’t appealing, there are several beverage mixes or electrolyte supplements available that add a little flavor.

It’s OK to NOT Be OK

This is an unprecedented time. Everyone is learning as they go, and there are bound to be some bumps along the way. Perhaps the most important strategy is to accept the process and allow all the emotions you’re feeling to transpire without passing judgment. Jade Flinn, RN and Nurse Educator for the Biocontainment Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, perhaps captured this notion best in this Becker’s Hospital Review article.

“The best self-care tip while working on the frontlines is to know it is okay to not be okay. We as nurses feel the need to stay strong and unwavering, so as to keep up this ‘hero’ image. … However, to be able to show up and give all of ourselves day in and day out, we have to be able to turn that inward and fill ourselves up. We must take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.”

Additional resources can be found at, with everything from free training courses on COVID-19 care to discounts on scrubs and hospital-approved footwear. If you’re experiencing an urgent mental health crisis, call 911 or 1-800-985-5990 (SAMHSA Disaster Distress Line), or text TalkWithUs to 66746. If you’re contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Learn more about A-State’s online RN to BSN program.


Becker’s Hospital Review: 27 Nurses Share Their Best Tips for Self-Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Good Housekeeping: 10 Best Sleep Apps to Download in 2021, According to Experts

Healthline: 8 Natural Sleep Aids: What Works?

NurseGroups The Ultimate List of Resources, Discounts & Offers for Healthcare Workers During COVID-19

U.S. News & World Report: The Mental Benefits of Exercise

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