What a Nurse Wants You to Know About What's It Like to Work During COVID
"It doesn't matter if you've worked for two years as a nurse or 20, we've never been through something like this."
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
When registered nurse Sarah Elizabeth saw her mom graduate from nursing school in 2007, she knew she wanted to be just like her mother and become a nurse one day, too. 11 years later, she graduated from the exact same nursing school. "It's beautiful to see my photo in the same hall of graduates as my mom," the now-23-year-old tells HelloGiggles.
But while her mother ended up working with premature babies in the NICU, Elizabeth went into the progressive care unit, where she helps surgical patients as well as coronavirus (COVID-19) patients. "Half of our unit was converted to COVID," she says.
Naturally, this hit Elizabeth hard at some point last year. After feeling physically ill from burnout, she had to take a step back to realize that she needed to prioritize herself. "It's been difficult in a lot of different ways but seeing patients sicker than I've ever had to experience as a nurse, patients with COVID having to be isolated from their families, and the strain of resources and nurses, all of this has impacted my mental health and that of everyone I work with," Elizabeth explains. "And I know from my platform that this is something nurses across the country are experiencing."
For Elizabeth, this burnout forced her to pursue virtual therapy sessions, take time to exercise and sleep when her body needs it, and spend time with her husband and dog with her phone turned off. "All of that has helped. Talking about all of this is important as well," she says.
For this week's Self-Care Sunday, we spoke to Elizabeth to learn more about her journey with mental health, her go-to self-care rituals, and what life has been like as a nurse during a pandemic.
HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with self-care impacted your mental health lately?
Sarah Elizabeth (SE): I have [been] diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Taking time for me each day and week, listening to my body when I need rest and nourishment, seeking help when I've felt burned out and alone—all of this has truly helped improve my mental health. I still have periods of high anxiety but I try to use good coping mechanisms to get through it.
HG: What are some practices or regimens you suggest others do if they feel like their relationship with their anxiety is becoming overwhelming?
SE: I think it's hard right now for many of us to put ourselves first when we're worried about exposing others to a virus, worried about our families, trying to isolate ourselves as best we can. I think reconnecting with family and friends through FaceTime and reaching out to the people you love and who love you is crucial when things get difficult. I think also making time for things you care about like, reading, writing, singing, dancing, or eating your favorite foods, at least once a week can make a difference.
HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help you connect with your body during stressful times?
SE: My job can be extremely taxing on my back, so practicing yoga and really stretching my back muscles and core is important to me. Yoga also helps me remember to breathe, relax, take a very long child's pose if I need to. It's therapeutic for me.
HG: As a nurse, how has community care changed during the pandemic and how do you believe it's affected your job?
SE: I think it has truly shown how lacking America is in terms of public health funding, resources and education. I want to help promote better health education and wellness in my community.
HG: What do you wish people understood about what it's like to be a nurse in the middle of a pandemic?
SE: I want people to understand that it doesn't matter if you've worked for two years as a nurse or 20. We've never been through something like this. It's difficult to cope with at times. The healthcare system itself is overwhelmed, and we don't have the staff to keep up. This makes our jobs more difficult in many ways. We want to be able to provide the best care possible, but we can only spread ourselves so thin.
HG: Are there any self-care products you've been gravitating toward lately for self-care?
SE: I love Japanese green tea in the morning. A hot tea with honey right after work or right before bed is something I do almost ritualistically; it's comforting and calming. I also have been loving face masks and my skincare routine. I'll use a hyaluronic acid serum, slather on the moisturizer and spot treat any pimples because mascne is real and having some sort of control over my breakouts is a welcome reprieve!
HG: What are some self-care practices that have been bringing you joy?
SE: Honestly, watching movies or new series on Hulu or Netflix or HBO Max with my fiancé/husband. (We were supposed to get married in March but...you know, we got a corgi puppy instead!) Spending time with him and just laughing is wonderful. Calling and FaceTiming or Zoom chatting with family and friends is special. And every once in a while, [getting] takeout from my favorite pizza or sushi place is just everything to me.