In response to the surge of hospital admissions as the Omicron strain of COVID-19 spreads across the state, the Victorian government took the rare step of activating the emergency alert, Code Brown, on 19 January1. The alert aims to ease the strain on the Health system by sending Health workers to areas where they are needed most, redistributing resources, and bringing in Defence personnel to drive ambulances. Code Brown also allows hospitals to cancel or postpone their nurses’ leave, to increase staff numbers. For nurses already over-worked from two years of the pandemic, being unable to take leave or being recalled from leave could add to their feelings of stress and exhaustion.
While Code Brown sends a message to the public that the health system is now under extreme pressure, many nurses were already experiencing this pressure. Since the earliest COVID cases entered our hospitals, Health staff have been working long hours under difficult conditions, and dealing with a virus whose impact was unknown then and is still unpredictable.
Signs of Stress in NursingDuring the pandemic, when you’re providing care for a large influx of patients, you might lose sight of your own wellbeing. It’s important to look for any signs of stress that you are experiencing. They can include:
- Muscular tension
- Feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope
- Mood swings and irritability
- Frustrated and intolerant2
Tips For Dealing With Stress For Nurses
These tips might help you to relieve some of the pressure that comes with your work:
- Keep in mind that nursing during COVID is a difficult and unique situation, and your colleagues are probably feeling stressed too. '
- Find out if your hospital or clinic offers any mental health support for the staff that could be useful for you
- Talk with your colleagues about the stress of your job
- Talk openly with them about how the pandemic is affecting you and your work
- Remember that you and your colleagues are doing your best in this crisis and your role is crucial.
- Despite your long working hours, try to keep elements of your usual routine –
- Get adequate sleep, as far as your shifts allow
- Eat well and choose healthy food options; drink plenty of water
- Include breathing exercises, meditation and exercise in your day.
- When possible, take breaks during your shifts to get fresh air, stretch, rest, and talk with colleagues, friends and family.
- Give yourself a media holiday – don’t read or listen to social media or news stories about the pandemic if they are increasing your feelings of stress.
- Do something you enjoy!