Emotional Wellness for Nurses: Now Is the Time
Did you know? October is Emotional Wellness Month, and it couldn’t come at a better time for nurses to focus on their mental well-being.
“October is generally a difficult time for people, as it signals the beginning of the holiday season, which can be a stressful time for many, so I appreciate the ideal placement in the calendar,” said John Y. Lee, PhD, director of clinical psychology at Executive Mental Health, based on Los Angeles. “I can only imagine how much less attention emotional wellness would receive if October was not set aside for it.”
But having a month dedicated to emotional wellness does not mean that you can focus on it for a month and then abandon it when the calendar flips to November. In fact, nurses’ emotional wellness deserves attention every day of the year.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about emotional wellness is that we can push it to the wayside and deal with it later,” said Heather Sweeney, BSN, RN, a mindfulness coach and inspirational speaker. “The longer we disregard our feelings and emotions, the worse we begin to feel, both mentally and
Growing rates of exhaustion and nurse burnout
If you’re a nurse who is feeling emotionally or mentally exhausted, it’s easy to think you’re alone.
“Believe me, you may feel like you’re the only one,” said Sweeney. “But I promise you, you are not.” In fact, many other nurses are in the same boat. During “ordinary times,” the emotional and physical exhaustion among nurses had already become a major concern to nursing leaders.
“Prior to the [COVID] pandemic, the rates of moderate-to-severe burnout among the nursing profession ranged from 35-45 percent,” said Vicki Good, DNP, RN, CENP, CPHQ, CPPS, past president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN). “Now we are seeing those rates approach 70
What does emotional wellness look like for you?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines emotional health this way: “Emotional wellness is the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times.” But that ability can vary from person to person, especially in extraordinary circumstances. For example, consider how you’ve reacted to the pandemic.
“To some people, this huge amount of emotional stress can be disabling,” said Grace H. Kwasman, MBAHCM, BSN, RNC, C-EFM, administrative director of women’s service and patient experience for Adventist Health Glendale in California. “It is very critical that nurses, healthcare providers, ancillary staff and leaders must recognize what emotional stress looks like for themselves and the team.”
So, if you haven’t taken the time to assess your own emotional wellness, there’s no time like the present. It will help you determine how to stay balanced and maintain a sense of emotional wellness, according to Andie Melendez, MSN, RN, CHTP, HTCP, HSMI, RM, who serves on the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (AMSN) Board of Directors.
“It helps us to adapt and manage the challenge without the challenge managing us,” Melendez said.
Don’t let your efforts lapse
It’s just human nature to start any new plan with a great deal of gusto, only to let your efforts fizzle out over time. That includes making changes to bolster your emotional and mental well-being. But you’ll need to continue your efforts beyond Emotional Wellness Month to truly benefit.
“One of the best things we can do for ourselves is to start with small changes and adjust our expectations of ourselves and others alike,” said Anastasia S. Ristau, PhD, a psychologist and clinical supervisor of after school intensive outpatient programs with PrairieCare. “We build momentum by building in one small change, maintaining consistency with that small change, and adding in another small change.”
Stella Riddell, DNP, RN, CNS, an associate patient care executive with Adventist Health Simi Valley, has found value in setting boundaries that allow her to be her best self, such as taking her breaks at work, as well as making time to practice yoga and walk on a regular basis.
She added, “I talk to my friends and my boss about issues that weigh on my heart and seek advice or a different perspective. I try not to bring work issues home and be present with my family.”
Your own small change could be anything that prioritizes your mental well-being. Squeezing in time for a walk or some other kind of exercise, starting a gratitude journal, reading a few chapters in a book, even just making sure you take your breaks at work.“Our body and brain must take time away from the emotional stress that hits us every moment of nursing,” said Good. “Engage in activities that bring you joy.”
When you make those small changes, let others know about it. “We also know that we are more likely to sustain real change when we make our intentions public in some way,” added Ristau.
It may seem daunting to make changes to improve your emotional wellness. Fortunately, nurses don’t have to rely only on themselves. This is not a “you must go it alone” situation.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about emotional wellness is that seeking support is a sign of weakness. The contrary is true,” said Melendez. “By seeking support we show a strong self-awareness, recognizing that we need some self-care.”
Some possible options for getting support include:
- Talking to your supervisor at work
- Confiding in a trusted friend or relative
- Joining a support group
- Working with a coach
- Contacting your employee assistance program’s mental health providers
Ultimately, it may benefit you to see a counselor, therapist or other mental health professional.
“Simply put, nurses, like other humans, should consider seeking professional help when it all feels like too much,” said Sweeney.
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