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AORN Blog - The Periop Life

How to Heal From the COVID-19 Life-Quake

Covid Impact 
July 11, 2021

Rose Sherman
Rose O. Sherman, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Nursing Coach

As nurses begin to recover from the life-quake event that COVID-19 brought to their professional and personal lives, they face exhaustion, burn out and, for some, post-traumatic stress syndrome, according to nursing coach Rose O. Sherman, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN.

To counter the emotional impact and stave off long-term fatigue and distress, she’s recommending that perioperative nurse leaders shift to a trauma-informed leadership style with a focus on assessing individual traumas experienced through the pandemic.

Even though it feels like there is no time to recover, especially as surgical volumes continue to ramp up, Sherman says nurses have to make time while the experiences of the pandemic are fresh to digest what they’ve experienced and grow from it.

Time to Rebuild
Sherman suggests these three steps all nurses can take to reflect, restore, and make themselves mentally stronger to recover and be prepared for whatever might come in the future.

  • Step 1: Listen to Yourself and Colleagues
    “Every nurse needs to recognize how the events of the last year have affected them,” she stresses.

    Think about personal and professional changes you have experienced and learned from, while also acknowledging the unrest and negative experiences still being felt.

    For nurse leaders, this also means listening to staff in a way they perhaps haven’t before, Sherman says. “Leaders need to help staff nurses recalibrate back to their role, especially for those floated to work outside of the OR.”
  • Step 2: Strengthen Your Well-being
    For the next year or two, well-being MUST be front and center to focus on perioperative nurse mental health to manage high anxiety, stress, and depression, Sherman says.

    Start by setting boundaries around your work to make sure you have time in your day for resilience-building strategies that work for you, she suggests. “This could be yoga and meditation, exercise, or even creative outlets like cooking or quilting. Even just taking time to read or do something else that is restorative for you can make an important difference to help you build rejuvenation into your day.”
  • Step 3: Reflect on Lessons Learned
    Many OR nurses were furloughed or reassigned to areas where they had little or no experience, Sherman explains. “Staff didn’t always have a say in where they went, and this has created a lack of trust that nursing leaders need to work to restore.”

    She says the silver lining to the pandemic is that nurses have a new sense of what they are capable of, and those beyond the OR have a new perspective on the unique skills perioperative nurses can share, such as expertise in managing PPE. “This is important to think about for planning a more strategic response in the future.”