Your health is important — 7 tips to make it a priority

Amy Benn RN
ICU nurse Amy Benn shares the tips she uses to fortify her health through the gruelling experience of the pandemic.

telehealth clinician at work


Following a treacherous 2020, we never would have believed 2021 would be tougher and more challenging for nurses and midwives — but for many, tougher it has been! Now, nurses and midwives have once again been required to dig deep and step up to fresh challenges of 2022. As always, nurses and midwives have continued to care for patients, residents, clients, communities and families. For this and being the exceptional person you are, we thank you.

If you are still working — thank you.

You provide help to people who need it. When people are sick and come flooding through the unit door you are there. After every challenge thrown at you: from wearing PPE until you are dehydrated and with pressure marks on your face, to the anxiety that you may bring Covid-19 home to your family. You have navigated staffing issues and extended your work hours including increased workload and acuity. Be proud, that you extended yourself beyond what our teachers at university ever said you would have to do. That you came through 2021 is an achievement. That you’re persevering through 2022 is phenomenal. 

If you have adjusted your role, thank you.

If you have changed your role because of the pandemic — well done. 

If you have managed to work from home, elsewhere, moved departments or simply adjusted your hours — well done. 

In a time of high pressure and great uncertainty, making strong and difficult moves to take care of yourself and your family is essential.

As an ICU nurse, I have adapted my role and work environment. I have worked in four Intensive Care Units across three hospitals and many clinical areas prior to being vaccinated. I have worried about my health, the wellbeing of my colleagues and constantly evaluated the risks to my health, and my loved ones. 

I have also made many adjustments, like learning to maintain self-care and relationships while I live alone and adapting to working from home in a different job. My colleagues and I lost the ability to support one another in person when, with a few hours’ notice, we were all sent home with our headsets and laptops to triage and take calls from the COVID-19 response phone line. The way many will work into the foreseeable future remains uncertain.

If you are kind, thank you.

Competing demands have come from every angle. Executives faced pressures to keep things afloat. These pressures and demands flowed down to managers to implement. They were dispersed on to the educators and frontline staff. The tsunami of high acuity patients flooding through the door placed greater pressure on everyone. At times this has caused great friction in the workplace. Snide remarks and comments when doing your best, cut deep. When I was working with constant change, and not knowing anyone on shift, those that showed me where to go and what to do were appreciated beyond measure. The acts of kindness, sense of humour and comradery under stress has made me so proud and happy to do what I do best. 

If you have been kind to your colleagues, if you extended yourself and your leadership, if you have managed to keep the ward running — thank you. 

Who knows when or if this pandemic will ever end?

Will we ever see a ‘normal’? What does that ‘normal’ look like? Change is inevitable. Looking back at history over the decades, I can see many, many changes and challenges which our profession has endured and overcome. However, we need to except that our current situation and the demands may continue. 

If you feel exhausted, unfortunately you are the only one who can put yourself back together at the end of the day — even if I wish I could do it for you! 

What I can do is share some health and wellbeing tips that I have found useful.

Nurses and midwives do not ever wake up, turn over a leaf and feel “healthy.” However, tiny little tweaks, small consistent acts will add up over time to create habits for a healthier, happier experience. 

Here are my suggestions to fortify yourself.

1. Limit your exposure to negative information when not at work.

Be conscious of what information, media and social media you consume. 

We are constantly exposed to media. It is available 24/7 on our phones, on the radio, on billboards and our TVs. There’s actually a word for our tendency to continue absorbing news media beyond the point where it is helpful for us: doomscrolling, the act of spending an excessive amount of screen time devoted to the absorption of negative news. It’s something most people have found themselves doing through the pandemic, and it’s not helping us at all.  

It takes effort and planning to reduce the amount of information, news, and media we consume.

One idea to minimise your exposure to harmful media is to have a plan for your commute. It may be a favourite soothing playlist, a podcast or audiobook. Choose something that makes you smile, laugh and makes your heart sing. 

Be proactive and choose the notifications you want on your phone. Reduce or eliminate alerts that come from social media. Consider replacing notifications with others that are beneficial to you — for example, breathing and meditation apps. I have Headspace and the Waking Up app. I don’t have time to stop and breathe with my eyes closed, but I do have 40 seconds to listen to the ‘moment’ on the Waking Up app, which makes me feel a lot more centred through the day. Even keeping your phone on airplane mode or do not disturb for the first hour of your day can make a difference. 

2. Brighten up your day on your plate.

For years I thought that because I had coleslaw for dinner with five different vegetables that I was meeting the recommended vegetable servings a day. Boy, was I wrong! The actual serve relates to the quantity of vegetables, so having ½ cup of cooked vegetables, or one cup of salad is considered a serve. 

Some tips for getting more vegetables in during your busy schedule:

  • Snack on veggie sticks on the way home from work. 
  • Always include vegetables for lunch and dinner, even if the recipe does not have any.
    • I make a side of greens with onion, garlic and olive oil.
    • Adapt your recipes for added veggies. For example, grated zucchini is a nutritious but virtually undetectable addition to many common recipes, such as bolognaise, chile con carne, stir fry, or curry. 
    • Add some frozen packet vegetables in with your meal/for lunch/dinner. 
  • Pick up pre-made salad mixes from the supermarket for easy meals.
  • Snack on fruit between meals. 
  • Include a piece of fruit for breakfast or dessert.

3. Prioritize sleep, rest, and your sleep-wake cycle.

Taking the time to get clothing and meals organised for the next day can set you up for a good start to the day and give you some time to seek out a little Vitamin D in the morning. Getting sunlight first thing in the morning may benefit your sleep. Sitting outside, going out to the bin, or just checking on the garden in the morning can work wonders. 

Dimming lights or only using lamps in the evenings, turning off devices, TVs, and technology for 30-60 minutes before bed and resting and relaxing can also be beneficial.

4. Write down your thoughts. 

If things are bothering you, or you cannot sleep, put pen to paper. Even recounting the boring events of the day and getting them out of your head, and onto a page can help to empty your mind and process the day. If writing is hard consider recording your thoughts on the voice memo app.

You may like to start with this journaling activity spending 3 minutes on each topic:

  • Today I did… 
  • Tomorrow I plan to…
  • The moments that made me happy or grateful today are…

Tessa Moriarty wrote an article on journaling for this edition of the newsletter, check it out!  

5. Hydrate before you caffeinate.

Before you fill up your cup with your favourite brew, fill it up with water and enjoy it. Savour the fact it is hydrating you and supporting your health. Drink as much water as you can and as often as able. Avoid those dehydrated headaches and sluggishness by keeping up your water intake through the day. Drinking fluid earlier in the day and tapering off in the evening can mean you are less likely to get up during the night. 

6. Tiny little tweaks add up. 

As Nurse and Midwife Support remind us — Your Health Matters. Do less, cancel things from your schedule that are non-essential and do not bring you joy. Cancel all the ‘stuff’ that you do not actually need or want to do. Focus on quality time, give yourself the gift of experiences and remove clutter from your life.

Be kind to yourself and others. Pat yourself on the back for what you achieved in 2021 and make 2022 a year that serves you and your wellbeing. 

7. Reach out

If you need support I recommend contacting Nurse & Midwife Support on 1800 667 877. They’re here to listen, whatever it is that you need to say.