Real Time Tools for Nurses to Cope With Their Own PTSD

Real Time Tools for Nurses to Cope With Their Own PTSD

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Written by Juli Curtis BSN, RN

Growing evidence shows that nurses are suffering with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), not only in the United States, but all over the world. PTSD is a very real mental health challenge for many people.

What is PTSD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) outlines the following criteria for PTSD:

  1. Intrusive thoughts such as upsetting repeating memories, flashbacks, or nightmares.

  2. Avoidance Behaviors and Thoughts 一 avoiding talking about the event, or avoiding people or places that are reminders.

  3. Alteration in Mood or Thinking一 inability to remember the event, feeling detached, self-blame, lacking positive emotions.

  4. Changes in Reactivity 一 irritability, angry outbursts, hypervigilance, anxiety, difficulty sleeping.

Holly Carpenter, a senior policy advisor with the American Nurses Association states, “nurses are often the ones who are serving as the loved one and helping the patient navigate the end-of-life journey.” To make matters worse, Carpenter says, “there are the things that have always been there — long shifts, sometimes mandatory overtime, a workload that’s heavier than you’re comfortable with, having to work through breaks or lunchtime, having to come in early and stay late.”

Marwah Abdalla, a clinical cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center explains, “acute stress includes symptoms like nightmares, inability to stop thinking about COVID-19, feeling numb, detached, and on guard. This is concerning. We know that if these symptoms persist for more than a month, it can lead to PTSD.”

Present Moment Tools To Cope

The Window of Tolerance is our personal zone where we feel safe, comfortable, and at peace. Feeling calm and controlled while dealing with work and life indicates you are within this window.

But when stress kicks in, we can feel pushed outside of our safety zone. Thankfully, there are present moment tools we can use to bring us back into our Window of Tolerance. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends the following tools for managing stress:

  • Practice deep breathing. It may sound foolish, but deep breathing is a proven stress relief tool. If needed, there are smartphone apps to help you train in this technique.

  • Remember, this experience is real and valid. You are not “broken” and you are not alone.

  • Focus on your strengths and repeat mantras such as, “I am a good nurse. I am a kind person. I am smart. I am resilient.”

  • Ground yourself in all five senses. Linger quietly for a few moments on what you hear, see, smell, taste, and feel.

  • Spend time on a positive thought such as a quote, verse, or scripture.

  • Laugh to release endorphins by watching funny media or hanging out with friends.

Improve Physical Health to Maximize Mental Health

Nurses are notorious for not taking their own advice. What advice would you give a good friend who was struggling? Taking care of your body as well as your mind is crucial for optimal mental well being.

  • Eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean meats. Cut back on consuming junk food.

  • Avoid excessive alcohol intake.

  • Drink plenty of water.

  • Get 7-8 hours of sleep.

  • Stretch.

  • Increase activity starting with something as simple as walking.

  • Try yoga, meditation, mindfulness, or prayer.

  • Spend time with trusted friends and family.

  • Accept physical and emotional support from friends and family.

Need Additional Help?

  • Seek out a support group either in person or online.

  • Consider professional therapy.

  • Be open to medication.

PTSD is challenging and scary, but there is hope. Remember that recovery and healing is a continual process. Show yourself the compassion you have for others, celebrate any progress, and never give up. You’ve got this.

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About the Author:

Juli Curtis BSN, RN is a freelance health and wellness writer and the owner of Write Health Right Now, LLC. She has been a nurse for over 30 years in a wide range of settings from critical care to insurance. In her free time, she is an avid nonfiction reader and loves to cook. She lives in rural Illinois with her two boxers, Rizzo and Manny.


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