Spring is here in northwest Indiana. Sandhill Cranes are migrating, Peeps are seeking out their mates, and birds are abuzz at your feeders. Two years ago, our lives were all turned upside down by COVID-19. Healthcare workers were deemed true heroes of these unprecedented times. Although variants of the virus still plague, what comes to the forefront of my mind is “resilience.”
Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and toughness. Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. As the war in Ukraine unfolds before the world’s eyes, I cannot help but admire the resilience of those brave citizens and their leader. Not everyone is capable of being resilient. Our life experiences, personalities and views on the world all add to our toolbox full of ways to cope with difficult times and challenges. Facing stressful situations is unpleasant, but learning to cope with them just makes us stronger on the other side of the crisis.
My employer and nursing colleagues are encouraging us oncology nurses to “take care of ourselves” as we emerge from the pandemic. It is now okay to talk about mental health. Pick up a magazine, turn on a talk show, and you will find people speaking of their mental health. What they speak of is how they faced a difficult situation, got through it, and on the other side something positive came of it. It may not seem like the crisis of the past 2 years can bring anything positive out of it, but our cancer patients often show the most resilience that I have the privilege of witnessing. As an oncology nurse navigator (ONN), I often coach my patients and their caregivers on “self-care” and the importance of such.
My daughter asked me earlier, “What does that mean—take care of you, focus on you? I don’t know what that means.” After a moment of reflection, I was able to answer, “Taking care of you means finding something that is important to you and maybe only you, focusing on something that may be good for you physically and/or mentally.” When we care for ourselves, we are better able to care for and about others.
The following are some hints on how to “take care of you.” Some I have practiced myself in the past 2 years, some are suggestions brought up at our last oncology nurse navigator (ONN) staff meeting. I hope you have discovered your own ways of practicing self-care.
- Find something you can enjoy on your own and doesn’t cost a lot of money. At the beginning of the pandemic, the director of our navigation program in Nashville had daily Webex as a “check-in” to us Oncology Nurse Navigators working from home. She challenged us to do something for ourselves and set goals for our daily lives. At the time, working from home was an entirely new experience for me. Not seeing my colleagues in person was difficult. Assisting patients and their loved ones over the phone was a challenge. I decided that instead of getting in my car and driving to work (which I couldn’t do), I laced up my tennis shoes and walked my neighborhood for 30 minutes to work. When I turned off my computer at the end of the day, I laced up my tennis shoes again and walked 30 minutes home. This gave me much-needed exercise for mind and body.
- Enjoy simple things that are in your everyday world. During these walks around my neighborhood, I noticed many birds that I wasn’t familiar with (I was living in the Southeast and was a Midwest girl). I then learned of an app for bird identification. Merlin opened a whole new world right in my back yard. This app helps you identify birds through prompts you plug in. Now this app has evolved into being able to assist in identification from just hearing the song of the bird.
- Bring out your inner child. Using sidewalk chalk to draw Easter bunnies, spring flowers, and Easter eggs with the neighbor toddler, it made me realize that chalk isn’t just for kids.
- Make a word search and give to family and friends to do
- Do a paint-by-number
- Try an adult coloring book
- Swing on a swing
- Jump on a teeter totter
- Roll in the grass and look at the clouds
- Grab a jump rope or hula hoop
- Try something new. Now that COVID restrictions are loosening up, there can be a whole myriad of things: join a Spenga class or painting class, learn how to knit, attend a yoga class.
- Capitalize on social media. Type into Facebook an interest you have and follow and like it. My newfound interest in birds has led me to several Audubon and Birding sites. I have attended events this spring on migrating birds and discovered there are more ducks than just mallards and wood ducks.
At work, you can focus on things to improve self-care throughout your workday. We have challenged ourselves to think of ways to break free for a moment or two. I am in an outpatient setting, so these things may not apply to your workplace, but try to incorporate one of these things into your workday.
- Take a lunch break away from your workspace
- Take the stairs when you can and not the elevator
- When walking from one location to another, walk outside if you can
- Find a quiet spot and practice “breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth” for 10 minutes. I was reminded of this during the new yoga class I tried out.
- If you park in a parking garage, instead of taking the elevator or stairs, if it is safe to do so, walk up the ramp. I am often on level 6 or 8, and this gives me more steps towards my 10,000 a day.
Professional development and goal-setting for such come out of “taking care of you.” Renewed energy for your profession is a result of self-care and is the antithesis of “burnout.” Challenge yourself to do something you wouldn’t ordinarily do.
- Apply for an AONN+ scholarship. I did. I really wanted to attend the Midyear Conference, but funding was an issue. I applied and received the scholarship to attend.
- Work on committees and advisory boards. Volunteer for such. Your voice as an oncology nurse can be heard.
- Apply for grants. This is outside my comfort zone, but I am applying for a local grant at my institution using for my framework the Reducing Racial Disparities in Cancer Care Using the ACCURE Trial as a Model Learning Guide published in a recent issue of the Journal of Oncology Navigation & Survivorship.
These have been difficult years for all of us, but by practicing self-care and focusing on you, out comes a better and stronger YOU.