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Building Resilience in Nurses

While late spring 2021 brought a slight reprieve from COVID-19’s impact — with various industries declaring a “post-COVID” era — the recent resurgence of cases due to variants and the fight to get communities vaccinated has the healthcare community reeling once again.

As frontline workers, nurses are particularly affected; many have returned to being overworked, overloaded and stressed. This resurgence may be even more defeating than the first wave, as the presumed light at the end of the tunnel seems farther away than it had before. So, now — more than ever — it’s crucial that nurses understand and adopt ways to improve their resilience.

Resilience, Defined

Nursing Management: The Journal of Excellence in Nursing Leadership defines resilience in respect to the nursing field as “the ability to face adverse situations, remain focused, and continue to be optimistic for the future.” In this context, resilience encompasses both personal and professional capacities.

A nurse may be personally affected by adversity in mental and physical health aspects (depression, anxiety or lack of sleep), but adversity can also burden their professional competencies. For example, a nurse who has been pushed to their limit may be more prone to make mistakes.

Due to the pandemic’s brute-force effect on fortitude, healthcare professionals at all levels have recognized the dire need to improve resiliency among frontline staff. The lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic should set a precedent for future generations of nursing professionals.

Resilience Tactics and Habits

Nursing Centered, a division of Sigma, recently highlighted the “seven habits of highly resilient nurses,” which include the following:

  • Beginner’s mind. This mindset allows nurses to know what they know as well as what they don’t know — and that’s okay. Such an attitude keeps nurses in the moment and prevents them from ruminating on aspects out of their control.
  • Let go. It’s important to note that letting go isn’t “giving up.” Rather, it’s releasing a need to control the outcome of a situation. “All the exposure we have to pain and suffering can invoke a lot of negative feelings, including helplessness, and it’s important to be able to let go,” states author Diane Sieg, RN, CYT, CSP, former ER nurse and mindfulness coach.
  • Compassion. Sieg notes that this habit starts with being kind and gentle to yourself. Ultimately, self-compassion leads to better patient interactions because nurses are better equipped to handle anything that comes their way.
  • Gratitude. Sieg notes that being cognizant of your situation helps a person feel content. She notes: “We may think we have to be happy to be grateful. Just the opposite is true. We need to be grateful in order to be happy.”
  • Authenticity. By living an open, honest and engaged life, nurses who live in authenticity feel better and are less likely to turn to self-destructive habits for solace.
  • Commitment. Sometimes, nurses find committing to patients’ care easier than investing in their own self-care. It’s tempting to say, “I don’t have time for this,” or “resilience isn’t that” But, it’s impossible to live one’s best life without taking care of your own needs.
  • Trust. Sieg praises nurses’ intuitive talents for patient care, but she asks them to apply that same intuition to their physical and mental health. “We use it all the time in patient care, when we have a gut feeling or hear a little voice telling us something we may not want to hear,” she says. “You have to be present to listen to your inner voice and then choose to trust it, for your patients and for yourself.”

Leaning on Leadership

It’s a tall order to expect nurses to adopt these habits and other resiliency tactics independently. But, that’s when leadership can step up and provide resources (and environments) for nurses to thrive — despite the immense challenges staring them in the face.

Nursing Management identifies three leadership strategies for building nurse resilience: formal education programs, social support and meaningful recognition. Additional trends from the organization’s review included participating in self-care, fostering relationships and establishing boundaries. This, in turn, allows leadership to foster greater opportunities for nurses’ well-being.

In a way, nurses can also act as “leaders” in their own resiliency by revisiting the foundations they established during their nursing education. It’s easy to get enveloped by the trauma their profession entails, but nurses can also lift themselves by remembering why they got into the profession in the first place.

Learn about the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Registered Nurse (RN) to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) online program.

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