For the past 15 months, healthcare providers across the country risked their lives to care for those who needed us most. After spending more than a year at the forefront of a global health crisis, many of us, naturally, harbor feelings of stress and anxiety. Now that the world is returning to something resembling normal, we can pause, reflect, and observe how much we’ve all grown throughout this experience.

 We Rose to the Challenge

During the first wave, we didn’t have many resources to combat the virus or its emotional impact. Many nurses felt lost. In spring 2020, I struggled to stay positive. My institution is in New York City, one of the pandemic’s first epicenters, but I was lucky to have supportive coworkers and leaders who understood exactly what I was feeling.

My fellow nurses and I tried to make the best of an extremely difficult and detrimental time in history. Communication was key to cope as we made the most of the personal protective equipment we had available; hearing the same sentiments of uncertainty and distress from my coworkers helped to validate the experience for all of us. Our safety was nursing leadership’s top priority, along with patient care, and they clearly communicated infection control updates. Although they seem like small gestures, providing staff meals every day, generous community donations, Healthcare Hero Clap Outs every night at 7 pm, and accommodations like travel vouchers to ensure we could safely arrive to work, made a tremendous difference.  

COVID-19’s impact will forever affect how we provide care. During the peak of the pandemic, as we raced toward a vaccine, the journey felt grim. But it’s leading us to a light of life at the end of this daunting, dark tunnel.

We Know That Care Is Critical. This Time, We Applied It to Ourselves.

The pandemic taught me that caring for myself is just as crucial as caring for others. Although it may seem like an easy lesson, many nurses, myself included, often forget or minimize it. Self-care looks different for everyone. For me, it’s my spin bike, which I virtually ride with friends. Carve out moments every week, every day, to care for yourself and do whatever makes you feel good. Those little rituals are what’s kept me going.

I also learned that support from my fellow nurses is crucial. My nursing leaders and staff are incredible. Rather than breaking under the weight of the pandemic, we grew stronger. We supported each other and shared little moments of positivity in a world filled with a lot of negatives.

And you know what? Nurses can control the new world COVID-19 has created. During times of transition, clinicians rely on leadership for guidance and support. Open lines of communication between staff and leadership enable greater understanding of the situation and make everyone feel secure in times of uncertainty. Nurses must continue to create a safe, healthy, and respectful culture in our personal and professional lives.

We Embodied Resiliency

Now that we have a vaccine, I have hope. Thanks to the vaccine and a greater understanding of the virus, my focus is shifting from maintaining to rediscovering normalcy.

ONS member Anne Ireland, MSN, RN, AOCN®, CENP, summarized the nursing world in one word: resilient. However, navigating life after a pandemic is complex and requires effort.

Connection is the best way to foster and maintain resiliency. Nurses have more tools at our disposable than ever before to confront the pandemic and its repercussions. Nursing organizations like ONS offer an abundance of educational courses and mental health resources tailored to nurses.

And we also have each other. Seek out nursing blogs that promote positivity. These resources remind us how strong and capable nurses are. The ONS Communities are another outlet to share our feelings on the COVID-19 pandemic and remind us that we aren’t alone.

As vaccination rates continue to rise, my hope for the future is that nurses can now care for ourselves as much as we care for our patients. Typically, I would spend a day off shopping in Manhattan, going out with friends, going to the gym, and relaxing in whatever way I felt in the moment. I am slowly finding myself returning to that life after feeling so far removed from it. I’m finding a healthy balance between maintaining cautious optimism and caring for high-risk patients during a deadly pandemic. I hope that my fellow nurses and healthcare heroes can rediscover themselves, too.