Self-Care for Healthcare Professionals

What's Your Powerful Self-Care Plan for the Post-Pandemic Blues?

By Karyn Buxman, RN, CSP, CPAE

“I feel empty.”

“I’m so depressed.”

“I feel dead inside.”

These are typical responses I heard when interviewing nurses this year (2022) from coast to coast. For years we, in the nursing profession, have been watching the oncoming nursing shortage like watching a slow-moving train wreck—you don’t want to see it, but at the same time you cannot look away.

Decades ago, we predicted a shortage due to the aging and oncoming retirement of Boomer nurses coinciding with the rest of the Boomer population reaching their peak healthcare demands. What we didn’t predict was a global pandemic that would shake the world of healthcare to its very core.

It is obvious that the state of healthcare today is no joke. But it may be a laughing matter, if one understands the premise that humor oftentimes is generated by painful circumstances. There is nothing funny about sufficient staffing, a light workload, or a healthy work-life balance. The things that drive nurses and other healthcare professionals crazy tend to be the very things that make them laugh.

In her pioneering work on humor and healthcare more than four decades ago, nurse researcher Dr. Vera Robinson concluded that humor was a means of communicating anger, fear and frustration in a socially acceptable way. This was evident in the numerous posts and memes seen in social media, such as tweets voicing frustration at the changes in recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

  • CDC just said you only need to quarantine if you (sic) on a ventilator. But if ya ventilator got wheels and a battery pack you gotta take yo ass to work.
  • If you’re bitten by a Zombie, the CDC says you can stay at work until you begin to crave brains at which point you should take a 15-minute break and then get back to doing your job.
  • CDC says do your quarantine on your two 15-minute breaks.

Just as many survivors of hurricanes, tornados and floods may suffer long after the disaster is past, such is the case with many healthcare professionals post Covid.

Reports of mental health issues have significantly increased among healthcare professionals. Recent surveys reveal healthcare workers reporting an increase in feeling stressed out and stretched too thin. Physicians have reported more depression and suicidal thoughts. All have reported feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

While nurses often have no control over the stressful events that happen in their lives, they do have a choice in how they respond to those happenings. For decades upon decades, nurses and other professionals have been taught how to create a plan of care for their patients. However, when I’ve polled professionals across America as to whether they have ever developed a self-care plan, it is rare to find the person who has.

No one strategy will be appropriate for every situation, so an individual must have a repertoire of options. Healthy choices include a good diet, plenty of exercise, plenty of sleep, meditation, calling a friend, creative work, and crying in solitude. Few of these are easily accessible for most nurses and healthcare professionals in a hospital setting, or even outside the hospital, given they’re also juggling a plethora of other demands including family, education, military, or community. Fortunately, there is a means of coping with stress that is easily accessible and can be practiced in some manner at any place and at almost any time: humor.

Passive humor appreciation involves responding to humor produced by others—a colleague, a patient, a sitcom, or social media for instance. Active humor appreciation (also called humor production) involves remembering or creating humor to amuse yourself or others. The former requires an external locus of control. The latter involves an internal locus of control. In terms of coping and building resilience, being able to amuse yourself is a far more powerful and portable skill.

What’s next? Putting this knowledge into your own self-care plan. Taking a CPR class can potentially save a life, but it’s of no use if you tell a person having a heart attack that you know all about CPR. Action must be taken! It’s not enough to know that humor is helpful. You want to take action so that you can reap the rewards, including feeling healthier and happier. Create your own self-care plan—and be sure to include some humor.

Here are some suggestions for you:

Passive humor appreciation:

  • Bookmark social media sites that match your sense of humor. Some healthcare providers prefer gallows humor: humor involving body fluids, dismemberment and death. Others have had it up to their eyeballs in darkness are looking for something more lighthearted. Know where you can go for a quick fix when needed.
  • Keep something that amuses you within arm’s reach. When you’re most in need of humor is when you’ll least be able to find it, so keep it handy and don’t make your tired brain work any harder than it already is.
  • Have a humor accountability partner. Find a friend, colleague or family member to exchange something amusing every morning. This will keep you consistent and benefit both of you, and you’ll have twice the material to enjoy.

 

Active humor appreciation:

  • Pull up a funny memory and make a mental note of it. Research supports that remembering humor can be as powerful as experiencing the humor in real time. An example might be recalling an embarrassing moment you can now laugh about. Tap into this memory when your shoulders get tight or you’re feeling agitated about the situation at hand.
  • Recall the sound of a laughing baby or child and hold it in your mind. The sound of children’s laughter is found by most people to be amusing and uplifting. Put this on your brain’s speed dial.
  • Try laughing for no reason. While the initial laugh may be fake, many studies support that even fake laughter can offer health benefits. Bonus: often the simulated laughter becomes genuine laughter.

 

Dr. Lee Berk, associate dean of research at Loma Linda says, “If we took what we now know about laughter and bottled it, it would require FDA approval.” Don’t fall victim to the post-pandemic blues. Take what you now know, start implementing your own plan of self-care, and enjoy a good laugh.

You can find some additional quick fixes of humor at StressRecoveryToolkit.com

Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, neurohumorist is a successful author, international speaker, and lover of dark chocolate. You can reach her at Karyn@KarynBuxman.com

 

References:

Buxman, K. (2013). What’s So Funny About…Nursing? San Diego: What’s So Funny About…Publications

CDC website (2022, May 12). Health Worker Mental Health.

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/newsroom/feature/health-worker-mental-health.html#:~:text=22%25%20of%20healthcare%20workers%20experienced,%25%20were%20women%20%5B1%5D (accessed 11-1-22)

Lee, B. (2022). ‘CDC Says’ Jokes Trend After New Covid-19 Isolation, Quarantine Guideline Changes. Forbes.com.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/brucelee/2022/01/01/cdc-says-jokes-trend-after-new-covid-19-isolation-quarantine-guideline-changes/?sh=1d0b4adf1ead (accessed 11-1-22)

Robinson, V. (1991). Humor and the Health Professions. New Jersey: Slack Publications

Søvold, L., Naslund, J., Kousoulis, A., Saxena, A., Qoronfleh, M., Grobler, C. & Münter, L. (2021, May 7). Prioritizing the Mental Health and Well-being of Healthcare Workers: An Urgent Global Health Priority. Frontiers in Public Health. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.679397 (accessed 11-1-22)