Due to Covid-19 we are in a world that is vastly different, when lockdowns are put in place the levels of stress that is felt becomes acute. Even though lately there has been some offering of space to breathe here in Australia as numbers of people with Covid-19 has stayed relatively low, mind you stress is ever present as there is a feeling that the pandemic could return in some way
Whether in the community or in a hospital setting work has changed for some nurses and we have adapted as required. Watching the news is a constant reminder that different states around Australia have had to intermittently enforce lockdowns to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Also, watching what countries are facing globally is just unimaginable especially when resources such as oxygen are not available. As a nurse there are feelings that surface that are bitter-sweet as we watch from a distance and knowing that it must be a helpless situation for these health professionals who are struggling.
There’s no price that can be put on emotions at the moment, when I saw the ANMF (Vic Branch) & NMHPV were running a virtual conference on Wellness, I was super keen to hear more about how we as nurses can look after ourselves especially at this time.
The day had many presenters who shared research, observations and personal stories, they related in a way that felt very human. At the start of the virtual conference what set the tone was when Glenn Taylor the CEO of NMHP said “We are here” – these 3 words are so simple, yet it had impact.
Keynote Presenter – Julia Baird
Julia Baird is a well known Australian Journalist, Broadcaster and Author, she has recently written a new book, which was a dedication to her mother – The book is ‘Phosphorescence’ (not affiliated). Julia talk focused on resilience, finding deliberate inner awe and inner light with ourselves.
Julia’s presentation touched that as we are still living in a time of uncertainty, for anyone to find strength it takes deliberate pursuit by looking for joy, especially when a persons world has darkness or is going through despair in their lives.
Julia touched on nature and it being ‘intrinsic to being human’, for example being exposed to sunlight, water (rivers, lake, beaches) and plants allows us to make time to embrace ‘little drops of stillness in your day’.
Twitter- @bairdjulia https://twitter.com/bairdjulia
Presenter – Matt Ball
Just Listening- Matt is a Nurse Practitioner, Psychotherapist and Founder of the Humane Clinic. Matts work is about forming emotional connections and allowing people to truly feel like they are deeply listened to.
Matt talked about current medical models as not seeing the person and he touched on- that its not always about fixing stuff, not always about giving advice and definitely not about labelling people too, its the listening to another person that is important.
Just Listening is for anyone who is in emotional distress by allowing a person to share what is important to them. During the conference we saw photographs of the set up of the Just Listening team at market places with seats available, these photos acknowledged that the team can be reached in the community in everyday settings.
Listening’s power is in connection through compassion, its definitely not an easy skill yet it is effective for the overall health of a person, they may be holding on to thoughts for many, many years- its good to talk.
Presenter – Professor Kim Foster
Professor Kim Foster is a Professor of Mental Health Nursing, and presented research findings on Resilience and the Emotional Labour of Nursing.
Professor Kim presented how nurses manage or regulate their emotions at work, it was fascinating as it seems we have two levels as nurses. The first is the ‘front stage’ a level that at the surface shows our professional selves on display and we adjust our behaviours accordingly.
The second level is the ‘behind stage’ which is a level that is deeper and where our true/real feelings are kept, it is out of surface view. We don’t show these emotions that are meaningful freely as an individual, to myself as a nurse this actually makes so much sense.
As nurses at work we have these unspoken ‘rules’ that we follow where we express some feelings and other things we suppress to meet the emotional requirements of the job. We may even generate specific feelings for interactions with patients and then generate a different appearance with our co-workers and managers.
At work as nurses emotional labour can be large as we are a ‘conduit for communication’, we maintain relationships that may seem appropriate for the situation and an effect to the individual nurse can be emotional dissonance regardless of how they are truly feeling.
Professor Kim talked about resilience as being dynamic and it can be built over time, it is a protective process for the negative effects of emotional labour, it helps a person to recover and adapt.
Constant emotions in nursing can lead to stress and then burn out as the daily work of a nurse takes up so much emotional energy, thats why we need self care to reduce the strain, increase empathy and our replenish energy too.
Research is finding that nurses that participate in further learning is beneficial as it helps to help reduce emotional labour. Also, another strategy when at work is to act authentically with your emotions and allow the emotions to be shown on the ‘front stage’, maybe its ok to bring out our true selves at work.
Twitter – @FostKim https://twitter.com/FostKim
Presenter – Paul McNamarra
Paul is a Nurse that works in Mental Health, he’s an Educator, a Digital Citizen and he is also known as Meta4RN. Paul is one of the original nurse’s to have a blog in Australia, I have been a fan of his work for many years now and I was excited that Paul was presenting at this conference.
During Paul ’s presentation he covered 4 topics on ‘Mental Health in the General Hospital’ during Covid-19, they were like micro-presentations that was an effective way to portray a specific message for each of the 4 topics.
Also, I noticed during the presentation that Paul used different digital formats such as written word, memes and video, which kept my attention throughout. Check out Paul’s blog from this presentation- https://meta4rn.com/2021/05/03/anmfvic/
The 4 different topics on ‘Mental Health in the General Hospital’ are –
1. “The 7 D’s”, this presentation was in written format and highlighted the job of a Mental Health nurse in hospitals, touching on –
- Deliberate self-harm
- Disturbed behaviour
- Dangerous Diets
- Dodgy drugs
2. Pivot, the presentation format was a Meme of the ‘distracted boyfriend’, it highlighted examples of ‘pivots’ made during Covid-19.
Pivot (verb) A word more palatable than “change”, “adapt” and “survive”; came in to common use during Covid-19.
‘My local distillery pivoted from gin to hand sanitiser” and “Liaison Psych pivoted from patients to staff’.
3. PPE, this presentation was a screen shot of an image from a mobile phone and highlighted ‘Positive Practice Environment’ (the other PPE), basically nurses taking measures to care of themselves during Covid-19.
“With Covid-19 preparedness, the nursing teams were amazing. Of course they were anxious – they’re not stupid! – but they are smart and creative. They described ‘the other PPE (Positive Practice Environment)”.
4. Clean Hands, Clear Head, this presentation was in a video format, it highlighted through the exercise of washing hands to take a moment to breathe and speak to ourselves.
“Find moments during the day for self care. What if every time you cleaned your hands you cleared your head?”
A bonus was a quote – “It’s better to be back burning rather than putting out fires” – Meta4RN
Twitter- @meta4RN https://twitter.com/meta4RN
Keynote Presenter, Magda Szubanski-
We all know Magda as Sharon from the hilarious comedy- Kath & Kim, she is a same-sex relationship advocate and is a human rights advocate.
Magda’s presentation discussed intergenerational trauma and her own personal experience with pain and trauma. She talked about how comedians work with their emotions and feelings, that is the draw to comedy and a way to keep away from any darkness in their lives.
The conversation opened up regarding Magda working with Will Connolly aka “Egg Boy”, in regards to their large age gap. A snapshot from the conversation was- ‘it’s easy to take positions and put too much emphasis on age gaps, yet a 19 year old and a person who is 60 years old can work together as generation gaps are nonsense- focus on similarities’.
In Magda’s talk I caught two sayings that had me thinking more- “nurses can be wounded healers” and “failure isn’t a character flaw, its a learning”, this was as she spoke fondly of nurses.
“Being good, feels good” – Magda Szubanski
Twitter- @MagdaSzubanski https://twitter.com/MagdaSzubanski
Presenter, Dr Rob Gordon –
Dr Rob Gordon is a Clinical Psychologist with decades of experience in trauma psychology, he has been working in the field of disaster recovery since Ash Wednesday in 1983. During the day Dr Rob Gordon presented too, but there was so much depth to his work that I cannot do his work justice through a blog.
He covered how stress can be constant for months or even years and how acute stress can effect a persons physical health, psychological health and on their capacity of energy too.
A snapshot I caught was – ‘Diver’s have been under pressure and if they try to surface too quickly, it can cause the ‘bends. The same is with coming out of stress, it takes time to decompress and may be difficult to unwind from fatigues and anxieties’.
Facilitated panel with nurses
During the day there was a facilitated panel with nurses who discussed their lived experiences with alcohol. This was outstanding as these nurses were openly sharing and talking about the disruptions to their personal lives and work lives. It was a very personal journey for each person and highlighted that nurses do need help with sensitive health issues too.
On Reflection –
As nurses we do help others to heal but without a doubt our work can offer constant stress’s and it takes its toll. We need to heal with intention and take the small wins that give us joy, it’s ok just to feel authentically and not mask our feelings deep in places that are hidden.
It may be just the time we are currently in, I think it’s ok to feel vulnerable as what was shared throughout the day of presentations had a genuine feeling of humility, it was an outstanding day.