As a nurse, you know it is a career that often includes trauma and emotional stress, no matter what type of nursing you do. It could be a patient’s death, a child’s injury, or the loss of a co-worker. No experiences are the same; each is just as hard as another. This part of the career is draining, and taking steps to ensure your self-care is crucial. Here is how to cope with the trauma you see as an RN.
Take Care of Yourself First
Nurses constantly deal with emotions while balancing the needs of patients, doctors and families. It isn’t easy to put yourself first, but you must. Nurses often neglect self-care; sadly, they need it as much or even more than any other health care professional.
Nursing is a career that requires much personal sacrifice, and it is easy to get blinded by the demands of others. After you deal with a traumatic event, taking time and being sad is OK. Remember that an essential part of self-care is allowing yourself to process the trauma that occurred. Doing so will help you move on from the trauma instead of internalizing it.
Experiencing a traumatic event can be debilitating. The natural tendency is to want to go and hide someplace. Hiding does nothing for stress. It can make anxiety worse. You must get up and get moving. Even if it is getting up to shower or walk around the neighborhood, get up. Spend some timeout in nature to soak in natural vitamin D, improving your mood.
Get the Rest You Need
Some symptoms related to post-traumatic stress happen at night. Perhaps you cannot sleep. Or, if you can sleep, you might be abruptly woken up by a nightmare related to the event. If you are having trouble sleeping, it might be time to get professional help from your physician. Journaling, support groups, and limited caffeine intake can help sleep. Regulating your body’s sleep schedule is the best way to rest well. Try to go to bed and rise simultaneously every day to get in a sleep groove.
Avoid Coping Strategies
Unfortunately, sometimes when nurses experience challenging situations, they turn to negative coping strategies: cigarettes, food, alcohol or drugs. Yes, these remedies do provide relief for the short-term. But in the long-term, they will do more harm than good. The trauma will remain and not disappear just because you mask the pain. Stress must be dealt with so it can slowly fade away.
Do What You Enjoy
Trauma is stressful because it is unwanted. Seeing trauma is jarring, chaotic and unpleasant. The typical reaction of your mind is to focus on this memory. So try to keep busy with positive distractions. Consider a dance class, a movie, an art workshop or anything you enjoy doing. Try to surround yourself with positive people and energy.
Discuss the Event With Your Team
The biggest mistake you can make after a traumatic experience is to brush it away as part of the job. You might not be the only nurse on the unit struggling with the pain. Instead of acting like a stressful situation did not happen, bring your team together and talk about the event. The more you can process these events, the faster the healing can occur.
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