Your Roadmap to Health

Mark Aitken
Welcome to the Summer-Autumn Edition of the Nurse & Midwife Support newsletter.

This newsletter is devoted to your health and wellbeing. It’s a reminder to make your health and wellbeing a priority in 2022.

Our mantra is Your Health Matters. It’s never been more important for you to connect with that idea.

Nurse or Midwife in PPE
I started writing this in mid-January 2022. I started writing this five times while attempting to reflect the impact of the prolonged and ever-changing COVID-19 climate, the impact of floods, bushfires, and other life challenges, including the distressing events in Ukraine. This is an unusually difficult moment in human history, and our thoughts are with all of you. 

One thing is a constant: nurses and midwives continue to push themselves to meet the needs of others. Many are exhausted or teetering on the brink of burnout with little left to give. Others are experiencing health issues including long COVID, post-traumatic stress disorder, moral distress, anxiety and depression — to list just a few. If working during the pandemic has negatively impacted your health and wellbeing, I’m sorry this has happened to you. Your work should not harm you.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge and stress many, I urge you to make your health a priority in 2022. The impact of not doing so may have dire consequences. The cumulative impact of stress, anxiety, dehydration, fatigue, exhaustion, and long work hours may lead to burnout, chronic stress disorders, overwhelm and long-term health issues.

Some nurses and midwives tell me they have remained hopeful and optimistic. They have established health and wellbeing routines and habits that have sustained them and assisted them to thrive while working and living during the pandemic. If this is you we would love to hear what has supported and sustained you while working during these unprecedented times: [email protected]

Take heed: your health REALLY does MATTER! Now is the time to act to manage your health and wellbeing. If not now, when?

If you are a nurse or midwife leader, manager, policy maker, frontline worker or support service, we all have a responsibility to look after ourselves and each other.

Look after yourself — the Code of Conduct requires it

The Codes of Conduct for Nurses and Midwives require nurses and midwives to be responsible for maintaining our own health and wellbeing. The code says: 

Domain: Promote health and wellbeing, Principle 7: Health and wellbeing
Nurses and midwives have a responsibility to maintain their physical and mental health to practise safely and effectively. To promote health for nursing/midwifery practice, nurses/midwives must:

  • understand and promote the principles of public health, such as health promotion activities and vaccination
  • act to reduce the effect of fatigue and stress on their health, and on their ability to provide safe care

Throughout the two years of the pandemic many nurses and midwives have put their health and wellbeing on the back burner as they have worked to meet the needs of others. This is a call to action to make 2022 the year you devote your attention to your own health as much as the health of others. 

In this issue

Geoff*, a Registered Nurse: Not the Only Canary in the COVID-19 Coal Mine: A nurse’s story of post-traumatic stress disorder
Geoff (name changed for privacy) shares his story of developing post-traumatic stress disorder in response to working through the pandemic. 

Tessa Moriarty: Case Notes on Self: The benefits of journaling as self-care
Mental health nurse Tessa Moriarty shares how nurses and midwives are natural writers who can use journaling to improve their health. 

Amy Benn: Your health is important — 7 tips to make it a priority
ICU nurse Amy Benn shares the tips she uses to fortify her health through the gruelling experience of the pandemic.

Podcast: From Survive to Thrive with Sam Eddy 
Sam Eddy joins our podcast to discuss how we can shift gears, refocus on your own health and make intentional changes that assist you to move into thrive mode!

The impact of stress and feeling overwhelmed

In Atlas of the Heart social worker and research professor Brene Brown writes about the impact of stress: 

“We feel stressed when we evaluate environmental demand as beyond our ability to cope successfully. This includes elements of unpredictability, uncontrollability, and feeling overloaded.” (p4)

Nurses, midwives and students know the reality of fast paced, unpredictable, stressful work that overloads and fatigues them. Working in the pandemic has stretched us like never before.

Brene Brown reminds us that stress can take its toll:

“Chronic exposure to stress can be detrimental to health. High levels of perceived stress have been shown to correlate with more rapid ageing, decreased immune function, greater inflammatory processes, less sleep, and poorer health outcomes.”(p6)

Atlas of the Heart offers us a roadmap to take control of our health and wellbeing.

The road map includes:

  • Biology: Understanding how our feelings and emotions show up in our body and why 
  • Biography: Being curious about how our families and communities shape our beliefs about the connection between our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours (biography)
  • Behaviours: Examining our go to behaviours and
  • Backstory: Recognising the context of what we’re feeling or thinking. What brought this on?

Give us a call on 1800 667 877 and one of our counsellors can help you figure out what your roadmap looks like. 

How is health defined?

According to the World Health Organisation, health is defined as: 

A state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

As you read this you may be scratching your head or rolling your eyes wondering how you make your health and wellbeing a priority during the pandemic when you are in the care and service of others with competing priorities and responsibilities. If you are reading this, chances are you are looking for health support or know someone who is.

Tips to assess and support your health and wellbeing

Ground yourself

Before you read on, take a deep breath and create awareness in the here and now. 

Acknowledge how you feel. 

Give yourself permission to feel however you are feeling. 
It’s OK not to be OK and it’s OK to be OK. Each of us experience stress and pressure differently. If you acknowledge you are not OK, please reach out for support. Nurse & Midwife Support is here to support you 24/7, no matter the issue you need to talk about.

Many nurses and midwives are running on empty — in overdrive with an over-activated sympathetic nervous system. This state is not sustainable. Act now — turn down your flight and fight response through intentional mindfulness and breath work.

Back in Winter 2021, our friends at Evolve Yourself Institute joined our podcast to discuss managing pandemic fatigue. Now, they have shared resources to help you focus on breath and create awareness. They’ve also joined our call to action to focus on your health and wellbeing.

Carving out a moment for you may help you to reflect on and establish your health and wellbeing goals for 2022.

Make your health and wellbeing a priority in 2022

Make an I will statement:

I will make my health and wellbeing a priority in 2022.

I will make time for me.

Assess your health and wellbeing

You assess those you care for every shift. Take a moment to assess your health and wellbeing.

On a scale of 0–10 — you know this type of scale! — rate your health and wellbeing, where zero is excellent health and wellbeing and ten is extremely poor health and wellbeing.

Now, reflect on that rating. What can you do about it? If you rated your health and wellbeing as good, keep doing whatever you are doing — it is obviously working for you. If you’ve been doing anything particular to tend to your health, drop me an email! I’d love to hear what works for you. 

Make a plan to improve

If you’ve realised your health and wellbeing needs some attention, here are some strategies that may help. 

  • Make an appointment to see your GP or preferred health practitioner. You may be eligible for a funded health plan-discuss this with your doctor.
  • Complete a health and wellbeing survey and your own self care plan. By completing the survey, you will have an opportunity to take the time to reflect on your current state of health and wellbeing through the development of a self-care plan. You will then be able to decide whether you intend to improve any aspects of your current state of health and wellbeing. This may include a list of up to three specific health-related activities. 
  • Check out our wellness plan for some ideas.
  • Make daily choices that benefit your health. Check out Amy Benn’s ideas to help you prioritise your health. 
  • Start a journal. Regular journaling enables time to reflect and write down thoughts and feelings, set goals and evaluate our health and wellbeing. Check out Tessa Moriarty’s Case Notes on Self in this issue to help you get started. 
  • Share your experience, emotions and feelings. Tell your story — to a therapist, friend, colleague, or even stranger. Talking about your experiences and how you feel is a useful way to make sense what has happened.
  • Contact us on 1800 667 877 — we are always happy to discuss your health and wellbeing and provide guidance on how you can make it a priority.
Tell your story

Many nurses and midwives tell me how important it is to share their story — their truth — of how working and living in the pandemic has affected them. They want to be free to tell an unsanitised version of their experience. They say that it is vital to share ‘their truth’, and that it is heard, validated, and acknowledged. 

Indeed, for many it is an important part of recovery. Talk to a trusted colleague, supportive family member or friend. Tell them that you need to share your story. Pick someone who you know is a good listener and has your back. Not those who may shut you down, who cope differently or whose own burnout makes them aloof, remote and dismissive. 

Sometimes we need to share our story beyond our immediate confidantes. Writing can be a fantastic outlet for that. Writing can be cathartic and help us to make sense of our experiences. In this issue, we share the writings of George, a nurse who has developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a response to his experiences living and working as an aged-care nurse through the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank George for sharing his experiences with us and encourage you to consider writing down any experiences you might be struggling to process. 

Read George’s story: Not the Only Canary in the COVID-19 Coalmine 

Celebrate your story

Sometimes, stories are a celebration, even if they include painful or complicated memories. We’re running a competition to celebrate your stories of nursing and midwifery friendships. We’d love to hear from you. 

Most nurses and midwives have at least one special nurse/midwife friend and confidant who gets them. The friendships we make with our colleagues offer great support throughout our careers. They’re with us to celebrate the highs and commiserate the lows. We share similar work experiences and challenges, so other nurses or midwives can understand what we are going through. 

Tell us about your special nursing and midwifery friendships and you could win AU$1000 towards the professional development opportunity of your choice. We know how busy everybody has been over the summer months, so we’ve extended the deadline to March 31st 2022! 

Find out more about the competition

Focus on your professional self-care

For most of us, this is a rough time to be a nurse or midwife. We encourage you to seek additional support to protect your personal health as you navigate this extremely difficult time for our profession. 

In Episode 27 of the Your Health Matters podcast we spoke to Julie Sharrock, Mental Health Nurse Consultant, Clinical Supervisor and Educator about the benefits of clinical supervision and professional self-care. We think now is a good time to revisit this important episode — have a listen! 

In the podcast Julie discussed the impact of emotional labour:

"We use ourselves in our work. When we do that, it takes a personal toll on us, of course, but it's also very rewarding. Self-awareness and reflection is very, very important in terms of maintaining ourselves as a therapeutic instrument. I guess from a clinical supervision [perspective] it’s like maintenance of myself as a therapeutic tool.” 

Julie maintains that clinical supervision is providing service to self as a therapeutic tool — a vital component of self-care. She urges us to be aware of the impact of the emotional labour of our work and how if unchecked it is a risk factor for burnout.

Julie reminds us:

“Resilience and burnout are in relation to the work context. Burnout is not a failing of the nurse or midwife. It’s a syndrome that develops when there’s a mismatch between the demands of the work, the supports (or not) in the workplace and the demands and stresses, interpersonally for that nurse or midwife. Organisations can no longer relinquish responsibility for creative supportive and safe environments for their nurses and midwives. I really believe that very, very strongly.”

It is not surprising that two years into the pandemic, nurses and midwives report being fatigued and exhausted. Fatigue is recognised by WorkSafe Victoria as a risk factor to health and safety. It places people at risk of injury and health issues. If you are an employee or manager and don’t already focus on preventing employee fatigue, now is the time to make it a priority. Make fatigue management part of your health and safety plan. 

Employers and employees have a responsibility to prevent fatigue and exhaustion in workers:

“It is normal to feel tired or drowsy after prolonged physical, mental or emotional effort at work. Fatigue, however, is an acute and/or ongoing state that leads to physical, mental or emotional exhaustion and prevents people from functioning safely. Working long hours, with intense mental or physical effort, or during some or all the natural time for sleep, can cause fatigue. All of these have obvious implications for workplace and public safety. Fatigue can also have long-term effects on health.” — Work-Related Fatigue: A Guide for Employers, Worksafe

If you’re feeling burnout or fatigue, it’s important to take it seriously. Get in touch with us to discuss strategies to prioritise your health and wellbeing into this future. 

On this episode of our podcast: Burnout prevention

There are steps you can take to prevent burnout even in the toughest situations. 

On episode 30 of the Your Health Matters podcast, we are once again joined by Sam Eddy, Mental Health First Aider, experienced workplace trainer, coach and educator. We talk to Sam about his latest offering: From SURVIVE to THRIVE, a 12-week self-paced online course focusing on burnout prevention and recovery. 

Listen to the episode 

Hope is key

I’m ending this newsletter introduction with a message of HOPE. Let’s face it — we could all use a large dose of hope right now.

In Atlas of the Heart, Brene Brown reminds us: 

“We need hope like we need air. Hope is a function of struggle. We develop hope not during the easy or uncomfortable times, but through adversity and discomfort.” p100

Brown argues we experience hope when:

  1. We have the ability to set realistic goals: I know where I want to go.
  2. We are able to figure out how to achieve these goals, including the ability to stay flexible and develop alternative pathways: I know how to get there, I’m persistent, and I tolerate disappointment and try new paths again and again.
  3. We have agency — we believe in ourselves: I can do this. 

Think about how you can use these principles to help yourself find hope even when your situation feels overwhelming.

I hope that 2022 is a year that you find the time and energy to focus on your health and wellbeing and YOU make it a priority to look after YOU and thrive.

Our promise at Nurse & Midwife Support is that we will support you to do it!

Your Health REALLY does Matter!

Mark Aitken RN
Stakeholder Engagement Manager 
Nurse & Midwife Support