Finding Joy During Chaotic Times: Dealing with COVID

Within the last five months, the entire world has suffered appalling disease and loss, but joy isn’t out of reach if you take care of yourself.

In the U.S. alone, the toll stands at over 150, 000 lives lost and well over 4,352,304 infections from the novel coronavirus. For anyone working the frontlines in this stage of need, it might be unseemly to discuss the idea of “joy”, especially when providers are pictured in sound bites looking fatigued, weary, and struggling to be able to finish one more shift.

But for those of us in supportive roles, who have lost friends or family members, or who are trying to patch together relatives and civilians who are fearful and frightened, the concept of joy remains a necessary part of the human endeavor, especially during chaotic times. Joy is the framework for smiles and laughter, the giggles that hold us together between days filled with anxiety and an uncertain future. Joy is needed for days that are filled with disease curves that refuse to flatten and citizens who are convinced masks are designed to control them. Joy is the reason nursing is a rewarding profession rather than one filled with drudgery and endless tasks. Joy is the big picture as opposed to the gloom staring you in the face.

But how do you find joy when you need it? 

Finding Joy at Work

One of the most important lessons to learn in nursing is to listen to the experts, the ones who know the most about happiness and learning to love the profession. They have worked with professionals who work in Oncology, ICU, ED, and other stressful areas. What they learned is that sick and depressed nurses make more errors. Nurses who take care of themselves, who find a mentor, a colleague, a purpose in their calling, are more likely to thrive in the hardest and most challenging of environments. “Self-care” is extremely important.2 

Joyce G. McMurrain, program coordinator for student nurse externs at WellStar Kennestone Hospital, calls this “refilling your own bucket.” She believes you need to stay active with friends and family and find a sense a purpose within yourself before you can give that same sense of intention to another. You need to believe what you are doing is impactful and meaningful, and that would be impossible if you are fatigued, stressed, and feeling burned out.3 

Burnout, which has been defined as a “state of continuous psychological stress within work life”, has mostly been studied as a phenomenon that affects those who work at the bedside, but it affects nurse leaders and administrators as well. Burnout may also affect retired nurses, such as nurses who might have been called back during the pandemic, even those who have been asked for duty, but felt they were unable to perform tasks due to physical disabilities or possible care giving needs at home. Even they may have needed help finding a new purpose or meaning in a world that changed drastically over a five-month period.1

Compassion Satisfaction

“Great things are accomplished when people work as a team” says Dr. R. Ricciardi, NP. One of the best things about nursing is that there are so many dimensions to the profession, and such diverse ways for nurses to contribute and be a part of a team. If nurses cannot be part of the bedside process, they can contribute online as part of a research network, answering questions and posting articles for bedside nurses who do not have hours to watch podcasts. Nurses can scan epidemiological news for updates, or they can sew masks from kits contributed by donors and drop them off for civilians! The possibilities are endless. 

Burnout, unfortunately, if left unaddressed among healthcare professionals, will diminish both provider and patient satisfaction. If it persists, as previously mentioned, it can contribute to errors.1

Nurses enter the profession to provide the best possible care for their patients. They find joy in doing the work of delivering compassion to others. This is called compassion satisfaction. When this feeling is diminished, whether through a sense of powerlessness on the job, time constraints, decreased resources, or an imbalance in work-life quality, nurses no longer find “joy” within their work and burnout ensues. Certainly, nothing in life could provide more stress to nurses than dealing with an ongoing global pandemic with ensuing waves of outbreak.

Special Circumstances

For nurses who have been furloughed during the pandemic, or who have had their hours curtailed, finding joy may be the last item on their “to do” list. For every specialty nurse working in a “hot zone” who may be called into double or triple overtime, others may have seen rural clinics or small hospitals close, especially as routine visits and elective procedures stall or cease.

For nurses with decreased income and hours to fill, joy may be harder to find. They may need to seek time with registries, if possible, or find alternate (but related) fields. If unable or hesitant to work due to immunosuppressed or potentially compromised young or elderly family members, it may be a time to concentrate on family instead of work. Collaborate with other nurses and consider job-sharing, if possible. Maybe one person can run errands for a group of friends.

Consider initiating a group of online nurse colleagues to share family photos (best memory, family dog, old wedding photos, etc.). Time at home may be perfect for finding (and sorting) those photos you always intended to work on, but never found the time! It may also be the perfect time to share ideas for favorite movie, best book, favorite song, best at-home recipe’. Soon, you will be making memories, and those always bring joy to the participants! 

Our group, by the way, is hard at work watching the finalists for “best Tom Hanks movie”. It is a long list!

Conclusion

Nursing is one of the most rewarding professions in the world, but it can be incredibly draining during a global pandemic when disease and death have captured much of the attention of the world. To remain healthy and sound, as well as effective providers, nurses need to recapture joy in their lives, no matter how frenzied life has become.

Joy can be simple; it can be engaging with another human being, it can be taking time to concentrate on family and relatives, but it must be a part of life. Joy helps us bloom into caregivers who remember a purpose and direction, no matter the turmoil and chaos around us.

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