NEWS

How Nurses are Managing During COVID-19

nurse stands looking to the side

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Key Takeaways

  • 74.6% of nurses reported physical health at a five or lower on a 10-point scale, with 53.8% of nurses indicating that the pandemic made their physical health worse.
  • 80.7% of nurses reported mental health at a five or lower on a 10-point scale, with 79.2% of nurses indicating that the pandemic made their mental health worse.
  • 78.5% of nurses reported stress, while 65.5% indicated burnout, 29.5% reported depression, and 37.5% indicated anxiety.

COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on the mental health of essential workers. A study published in Nursing Administration Quarterly found that 78.5% of nurses reported stress, while 65.5% indicated burnout.

While many have experienced negative effects on their health due to the pandemic, nurses are a particularly vulnerable group during such a crisis.

The Study

This study was based on 264 nurses and found that participants who indicated working shifts of at least 12 hours during the pandemic were more likely to sleep fewer than 7 hours nightly, get less physical exercise, eat fewer fruits and vegetables, consume tobacco, and experience burnout.

Researchers found that more than half of nurses had worsening mental and physical health relating to COVID-19, while nurses whose workplaces supported their wellness were 3-9 times more likely to have better mental and physical health, minimal stress, no burnout, and high quality of life.

Despite the clinical implications of this research, participants were not random, but nurses associated with Trusted Health, so a limitation of this study is that the findings are not necessarily generalizable.

Employers Need to Support Nurses

Psychologist and chief medical officer at Big Health, Jenna Carl, PhD, says, "The pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of Americans but our healthcare workers are especially at risk for experiencing its negative impacts. It’s clear from this study that workplace benefits make a significant difference in the mental and physical health of employees."

Carl explains that this research shows the value of employers, particularly health systems, to provide their frontline workers with mental health support. "Most notably the study finds that nurses who reported higher workplace support amid the pandemic were five times more likely to get at least seven hours of sleep and up to 9 times more likely to report good physician and mental health with little to no stress or burnout," she says. 

Carl illuminates, "There’s a growing body of research on the impact of the pandemic on frontline healthcare workers. The increased risk of contracting COVID-19, the trauma and stress experienced in the healthcare setting, and the increased workload of nurses make them particularly vulnerable to mental health challenges."

Jenna Carl, PhD

The hectic schedule of nurses and healthcare workers during the pandemic requires employers to be creative about mental health and wellness support.

— Jenna Carl, PhD

Given the links between sleep habits and mental health, Carl illuminates how more attention should be paid to how sleep habits impact mental and emotional wellbeing, and performance at work. "Employer benefits programs—particularly for healthcare workers—should include sleep support using proven and evidence-based approaches such as cognitive-behavioral therapy," she says.

Carl explains, "The hectic schedule of nurses and healthcare workers during the pandemic requires employers to be creative about mental health and wellness support. Healthcare workers need consistent, on-the-go access to care since many cannot afford to take an hour out of their day for a traditional talk therapy session."

Carl highlights how digital therapeutics for mental health can provide a stigma-free, always accessible option that fits into healthcare workers’ busy schedules, while employers should consider providing space for staff to openly discuss their mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. "While it can be challenging for healthcare workers to take time off, consider strategically staffing your workforce in a way that allows for shorter shifts, time off, flexibility, and more frequent breaks," she says.

High Burnout Rates in Nursing

Licensed psychologist, clinical researcher, and vice-president of behavioral science at One Drop, Harpreet Nagra, PhD, says, “Burnout amongst nurses is a well-evidenced phenomenon, in fact, healthcare professionals tend to have higher rates of burnout despite appropriate support in place."

Nagra explains that COVID-19 has required higher rates of engagement from nurses, with longer hours, shorter breaks, and the introduction of more grief and loss into their daily work life. "Burnout kills people," she says.

Harpreet Nagra, PhD

Fatigue can stem from working long hours, plus uncertainty about how long we'll be wearing masks, doing deep cleaning of work environments, blurring boundaries between home and work life, and feeling pressure from our employers to work more as companies continue to cut costs and reduce staff.

— Harpreet Nagra, PhD

Nagra highlights, "Fatigue can stem from working long hours, plus uncertainty about how long we'll be wearing masks, doing deep cleaning of work environments, blurring boundaries between home and work life, and feeling pressure from our employers to work more as companies continue to cut costs and reduce staff." 

While healthcare providers may be seen as natural caregivers, Nagra explains that taking time for themselves is not a natural trait for many and systemic change may be the best solution to get these individuals to rest and recover appropriately.

What This Means For You

As this research demonstrates, nurses are struggling with physical and mental health challenges as they navigate COVID-19. Especially as individuals continue to navigate a global pandemic, greater efforts are needed from employers to ensure the wellbeing of healthcare staff. Government funding may also support the health of essential workers.

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3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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