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HealthOctober 12, 2021

Self-care for nurses during the pandemic: How spiritual practices may help

By: Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Stress is a condition occurring when individuals are faced with pressures and demands exceeding their ability to cope.

For the nursing profession, 2020 and the global pandemic became — and remains — a significant source of stress. By November 2020, over 249,000 people in the United States died because of Covid-19. Of these, almost 16,000 people were healthcare professionals.

Nurses have been challenged to remain at the bedside, providing competent, compassionate care while grieving the loss of patients and coworkers. For many, these deaths challenged self-identity, changed lives, and evoked feelings of anger, hopelessness, and despair.

But for many, spiritual practices help to alleviate stress. A recent article in Holistic Nursing Practice explores the spiritual practices of five nurses in an effort to highlight their intention to nurture their well-being and promote wholeness.

Covid-19 and stressful working environments

As a result of continued exposure to grief and loss on Covid-19 units, many nurses expressed feelings of stress, depersonalization, emotional exhaustion, and dissatisfaction with their work. In addition, many faced a loss of connection with their own families as they were expected to work longer hours caring for others. Many nurses choose to self-isolate instead of exposing family members to Covid-19 and turned over care of their children to others.

A study conducted by Shechter, et al found that nurses and nurse practitioners experienced higher levels of acute stress, anxiety, and depression compared to their physician colleagues. Major factors contributing to these results included:

  • Fear of transmitting the virus to family members
  • Lack of PPE
  • Lack of control in the workplace and uncertainty of themselves and coworkers in contracting the virus
  • Social distancing from families, which increased feelings of loneliness

Those same study participants identified several self-care activities undertaken to help mitigate stress and other troubling emotions. Engaging in spiritual practices and religious and nonreligious practices were among the top interventions participating nurses used to help cope.

Other studies reflect and support these results. Other practices found to be especially helpful included yoga, stress-reduction meditation, listening to meditation music, and writing in a journal or diary.

How spirituality differs from religion

Although scholars have defined spirituality as being different from religion, many people still use the two terms interchangeably. According to some academics, spirituality may be defined as the search for existential meaning and a search for something within ourselves and outside ourselves. Religion, on the other hand, is typically viewed as being concerned with organized systems of faith.

Regardless of a person’s faith, spirituality may be seen as the core of humans that gives meaning and purpose to each person’s existence. Three concepts which may help to foster spiritual interconnectedness are connection to the self, connection to others, and connection to the environment.

Spirituality in nursing practice

The article details the spiritual practices of five nurses who used such interventions to help cope with the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nurses describe using a variety of spiritual coping practices, including:

  • Being in nature
  • Fasting
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Reading the Bible or other devotional books

While suffering can be seen as simply a part of life, exploring different spiritual practices can help nurses cope with the stress the pandemic imposes on daily life. Such practices reduce the negativity that certain life stressors cause. Even though it is not possible to change the facts of the pandemic, spirituality may be seen as essential for helping people confront stressful situations, connect to a higher power (including God or the Universe), and rise above stressful life events.

Sarah Handzel, BSN, RN
Freelance Health and Medical Content Writer, Wolters Kluwer Health
Sarah has over nine years’ experience in various clinical areas, including surgery, endocrinology, family practice, and pharmaceuticals. She began writing professionally in 2016 as a way to use her medical knowledge beyond the bedside to help educate and inform healthcare consumers and providers.
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