The Standard (St. Catharines)

How the home life of nurses has been affected during the pandemic

- By Jane Pinzhoffer

Nurses have faced extraordin­ary risks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, experienci­ng a considerab­ly higher rate of infection compared to the general public. Month after month, these brave people have put their own lives in peril, vulnerable not only to the virus, but to persistent and harmful effects on their mental well-being.

At the start of the pandemic, when basic PPE like N95 masks, gloves, and face shields were in short supply, many felt not only fear, but also anger and frustratio­n with a system that was so ill-prepared and failed to protect them.

Many nurses worry about contractin­g COVID and infecting their own families, particular­ly older or vulnerable relatives. Since a lot of people with the disease are asymptomat­ic, they don’t know if they have COVID or not and they’re afraid to go home. In some cases their families are scared of them. For most of us, home is our refuge. It’s where we feel the most safe and secure. But for nurses on the frontlines, understaff­ed and overworked, peace in the one place most of us take for granted is often denied them. It’s not surprising that being socially cut off from family and friends can lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

Nurses are also exposed to the same stresses caused by COVID that we all face in terms of altered routines and changes to normal life. They still have to juggle the demands of family life like parenting, home schooling, negotiatin­g the demands of child care, seeing to elderly parents, dealing with separation from loved ones, and financial insecurity due to the pandemic. Not to mention the many other challenges in an individual’s personal life that can be mentally draining on top of work pressures. While many of us are suffering from anxiety and depression during this extremely stressful and frightenin­g time, nurses are dealing with added pressures in an extremely high-stakes environmen­t.

When you consider the number of work-related sources of stress that they have to cope with, it’s not hard to understand why many nurses have experience­d an intense anxiety resulting in exhaustion and burnout. Consider the difficult additional workload caused by COVID layered onto an already challengin­g working environmen­t where it’s extremely difficult to connect with any support. The restrictio­ns they face wearing PPE and the long hours of work, leading to physical exhaustion. Seeing co-workers succumb to the disease and increasing­ly high-turnover among staff, as well as worrying about patients who are unable to see their families before they die, or feeling frustrated because they’re unable to provide patients with the level of care they’d like to.

Self-care for Nurses during the

COVID-19 Pandemic

Nurses are wonderful at taking care of others, but not always as skilled at taking care of themselves. National Nursing Week is the perfect time for nurses to step back and practice selfcare.

Nurses may not feel that looking after themselves is a priority in the midst of surging cases during the third COVID-19 wave in Ontario; however, selfcare is needed the most when it’s the hardest to do. If your own physical and mental health needs are neglected, it’s almost impossible to look after others without running the risk of burnout.

The first step is acknowledg­ing that you’re struggling and need to find ways to cope. Sometimes even small adjustment­s can make a big change in your stress levels. Exercise is not only important for physical health; it can also aid in relaxation and mental wellbeing. Make healthy food choices, stay hydrated throughout the day, and get plenty of rest. Stay connected with family and friends, even if it’s only virtually. Take your breaks and days off at work. Remind yourself that under the circumstan­ces feeling angry, stressed, or overwhelme­d is normal. It’s okay to seek support or counseling services.

In December 2020, the Registered Practical Nurses Associatio­n of Ontario (WERPN) conducted a comprehens­ive online survey of 765 Ontario nurses to examine the impact of COVID-19 on RPNS. It covered both work and home life and revealed that nurses were facing a critical breaking point as a direct result of their job since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

• 71% experience­d a breaking point either at work or home due to their job during the pandemic

• 83% spend less time with their families out of fear of exposing them to COVID-19 from their work

• 96% felt their daily experience at work had become more stressful because of the pandemic

• 83% felt their mental health had already been adversely affected In spite of these staggering figures, 67% of nurses surveyed also said they’d never felt more proud to be a nurse— a testament to the incredible resilience and kind-heartednes­s of those in the profession.

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