Today in the chart

How to Cope With Grief

Experiencing grief as a care provider is a normal response. However, not managing it has potentially severe consequences for your own health, as well as that of your patients.

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a crisis of grief that doesn’t stop with mourning loved ones. Unfortunately, health professionals are also in the crossfire for experiencing grief; grief from losing their friends and family to the pandemic or from treating or losing patients, in addition to experiencing compassion fatigue or burnout. Experiencing grief as a care provider, especially during a pandemic, is a normal response and can be managed. However, as professionals charged with the care of vulnerable people, it’s essential to make yourself a priority for your patients and your well-being. Here are three tips to help you process grief, deal with compassion fatigue, and avoid burnout.

Maintain Emotional and Workplace Boundaries

Healthy boundaries are essential for maintaining emotional resilience; only you can decide what those boundaries should be. 

Brené Brown, who studies shame and empathy, said, “Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves, even when we risk disappointing others.” In addition, boundaries can help prevent burnout and allow space for rest and grief when needed. 

Maintaining boundaries isn’t simply about work-life balance, although it is that, too. When we don’t process our grief, trauma, or exhaustion, it can affect our physical health and our judgment and capabilities at work, potentially putting patients at risk. 

Here are a few examples of boundaries worth considering:

  • Allow yourself the time you need to process grief or stress. Take time for yourself, and don’t feel guilty about it. 
  • Say “no” when you need to; say “yes” when you want to.
  • Be present with your patients, but don’t forget yourself or take work home.
  • Know your limits and respect them.
  • Prioritize your health.
  • Don’t skip breaks or vacations.

Seek Professional Help

As caregivers, it’s easy to keep giving and forget that sometimes you need some care, too. Seeing a therapist or grief counselor can be incredibly helpful for guiding you through your struggles, whether related to work or not. 

See if your employer has mental health or grief resources for employees, and consider looking for third-party options if not. Many resources specifically for nurses can provide support through a lens of shared understanding. There are also support groups and warmlines available for nurses who need help. Speaking to your peers about experiences and stress is another way to unburden yourself from stress and grief. 

Practice Adequate Self-Care

According to the ANA nurse’s code of ethics, nurses owe themselves the same care they owe patients. So, it’s good for you to take care of yourself; it’s also an ethical requirement for doing your job and ensuring you can bring your A-game to treating your patients. In this, self-care is vital to preventing burnout. But how can you ensure you get what you need when stress abounds, and shifts are long? 

Here are some ideas:

When In Doubt, Go to the Basics

You’ve heard them repeatedly and have probably even advised patients to do them, but the basics are sometimes hard. Nonetheless, they matter. 

  • Get adequate sleep.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Eat nutritious meals.
  • Exercise regularly.

These habits help us stay healthy physically and support our minds and work. 

Don’t Forget to Have Fun

A major component of stress relief is fun. Whether you enjoy playing sports, reading, practicing a hobby, or anything else you find distracting, these activities are essential to keeping your mind fresh and your stress levels manageable. When experiencing grief or feeling overwhelmed, it is necessary to remember that it’s okay to have fun and feel joy. 

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can sometimes seem like a buzzword. Nonetheless, mindfulness has been shown to benefit those who practice it. Put simply: Mindfulness means to be attentive to the present moment and to allow your thoughts and feelings to exist without judgment from within. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, mindfulness can result in emotional benefits like stress management, reducing negative emotions, increasing patience, and more. It can also help manage symptoms of medical conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, high blood pressure, depression, and even cancer. 

In a recent study, half of 1,790 nurses from 19 healthcare systems reported poor mental and physical health. About one-third of nurses reported depression specifically--a mental health condition that is the leading predictor of medical errors. When it comes to mental health, your health matters, but it can also be a matter of patient safety. 

Some resources for mental health and mindfulness include: 

Nurses have been, and continue to be, primary caregivers for hospitalized Covid-19 patients. And while in some areas, the number of cases is dropping as vaccinations ramp up, there are still hot spots and the chance for more to crop up; we aren’t in the clear yet.

When the pandemic finally ends, the pressure on nurses will continue--physical, emotional, and mental demands that come with the trade. It can be tempting to put aside your needs when patients are in need. But remember that your well-being matters, too, and you deserve to be cared for.

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