Tired and worried nurse sitting up against the wall holding stethoscope.

Many of us are all too familiar with the adage "put your own mask on before helping someone else with theirs." That being said, I can honestly say that I did not expect to be quite literally searching the hospital for a mask to wear before entering a coughing patient's room. However, that's exactly what I was doing this week.

Since personal protective equipment is currently being conserved, we have each been given a dust mask from Home Depot to use instead. "Store it in a brown paper bag for the next several weeks so you can keep reusing it," the charge nurse tells us. The mask rubs irritatingly against my face all day. When I request a surgical mask, I am told that I may use a bandana or forgo wearing a mask altogether if I would prefer that instead. Shortly afterward, I'm told that one of my patients has just tested positive for COVID and they are transferring her to the COVID floor. That's the fourth time that has happened this week. And no, I didn't have PPE on for any of them.

RELATED: The Ultimate Guide to Self-Care for Nurses

Did We Sign Up for This?

Sitting down at the nurse's station to chart, I continuously hear talks of "COVID this, COVID that." For 12 hours at a time, I'm surrounded by this topic. My co-workers are all panicking, and it's starting to get to me too. To make matters worse, we recently received an email informing us that we need to be prepared to float to other floors of the hospital, effective immediately. We will have limited to no training before floating to these unknown units. "You are nurses," they say. "You signed up for this."

But did we really sign up for this? I don't think so. While I understand that these decisions are based on the good of the many, I am not "the many." I am one of the few. All frontline staff is essential, so it is up to us to take care of ourselves. We are needed now more than ever before. And in order to rise to the occasion, it's critical that we take care of ourselves and put our own masks on first.

Self Care For The Nurse

Let's start with the overarching question: Are you in or out? The decision of whether to stay at your job or not is a personal choice, but it is an important one. If you decide to stay, formulate a plan to prioritize your self-care. Here are a few ways to start.

RELATED: Self Care: NCLEX-RN

Eat. Make healthy food choices that will sustain and strengthen your body. And while you're at it, make sure you're drinking plenty of water too.

Get out. Try to spend time outside every day, even if it's only for a few minutes.

Uh, that's a ‘no' for me. It's okay to not pick up all the extra shifts. Give the amount of time you choose to give, and know that you absolutely are doing enough. Remember: You are taking care of yourself so you can continue taking care of others.

Separate your space. I know it's challenging, but leave work at work and don't bring it home with you. This goes beyond shedding your scrubs in the garage and heading straight to the shower. Choose to think about things you can control, and avoid dwelling about COVID. Give your mind a break.

Renew yourself. When you're off work, do something that you love. This could be gardening, exercising, or walking the dog. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to reset.

Get Your ZZZZs in. Make sure you're getting an adequate amount of sleep. This helps heal your body and mind.

Be a Light. When put under pressure, our internal thoughts can get the best of us. We are seeing everyone's "dark side" in a whole new light right now. Ask yourself, ‘Who do I want to be when this is all over? When I look back, what type of actions will I be proud of? We want to look back and know that we did our best to spread hope, not fear. We can't control much during this time, but we can control ourselves and how we choose to respond. As nurses, our responses have a significant effect on people.

Breathe in, breathe out. Recognize this time as an opportunity to grow. This includes evolving your experiences, skill sets, decision- making abilities, and simply who you are as a person. Growth may look different for all of us, but we are well-positioned to choose to better ourselves.

Always remember that YOU are a priority and a key factor in keeping people alive. Nurses have a huge impact on the world we live in today. It's critical that we make time for self-care so we can keep fulfilling that important duty. Now go put your mask on (if you can find one) and make a difference.

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Janine Kelbach, RNC-OB
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