Over the coming months, we’ll be producing a series of articles, interviews, blogs, and videos. We’re throwing focus on the people who serve at the heart of their communities. We’ll be asking them to share some insight on their experiences and find out how they achieve composure while balancing the challenges of their day-to-day lives as clinicians, as family and community members, and trusted professionals.
In this interview, we chat with Jeannie Sterling, BSN, RNC-OB, C-EFM, a Clinical Development Analyst at OBIX by Clinical Computer Systems, Inc. Since 1997, this company has had clinicians working on staff, and Jeannie is one of the clinicians that count for nearly 40% of the 150-staff. CCSI proudly declares that the OBIX system was “designed by clinicians for clinicians”. Naturally, these clinicians are in the best position to focus on the issues faced by the nurses and expectant mothers in the hospitals.
Jeannie, who has 20-years of clinical experience in Labor & Delivery encompassing RN roles in hospitals in the States of Illinois, Tennessee, is now based out of Cave Creek, Arizona. She tells us her thoughts on the current global situation and how it’s impacted her life and the lives of her colleagues, family, and friends. What follows is an enlightening thought process which helps to bring a balanced mental health approach into life and the workplace, throws a strong focus on the underlying abilities of clinicians to think fast and act professionally, and uses training and education to bring solutions to bear on the situation.
Given the current global situation we conducted the interview online— the following are some thoughts At the Nurses Station with OBIX
It’s been 5-months since the world started to wake up to the new and fast-changing situation with COVID-19 and, while Jeannie Sterling has significant clinical experience, and therefore used to fast-moving situations, the impact was still significant.
But, as she points out, “The challenges of sudden change go to the heart of clinician training and raised some immediate thoughts when getting used to the idea.” She continues, “Masks and social distancing swiftly became the new required norm to keep us and others safe. COVID-19 outbreaks around the world have continued to cause changes in our lives that no one was expecting. As we adapted our social structures to prevent the spread of infection, we also came to realize we had to ask what was needed to prevent personal mental infection? We all have to admit that some of us have experienced a slight (or not so slight) case of the blues when holed up, quarantined, or isolated within the confines of our homes for so long, or spending long hours at work locations which are normally thriving and busy places – often happy places of course in labor & delivery units – but are now weirdly ‘other-worldly’ and strangely distanced.”
At this point, Sterling highlights the first of the tools she used to cope, which is actively recognizing we are not alone because “we are all on the same page. As months of quarantine seem endless at times, we were beginning to see reports of depression rates rising significantly as we all tried to cope with these drastic, and even unknown, social changes. Recent evidence suggests that people who are kept in isolation and quarantine experience significant levels of anxiety, anger, confusion, and stress (source: Salari, 2020). This is to be expected as humans crave social interaction and routine, something that has been turned upside down in these challenging times.”
There will likely be many nodding their heads in agreement at this thought or remembering a time when faced with these challenges in the past months. Quarantine has been a major challenge even for those with reasonably comfortable experiences. Sterling sought to focus on introducing ways to cope with the COVID-blues to help improve her own situation, while simultaneously improving the health of the world around.
“The global pandemic can make us feel confused or anxious, so we need to take some time to internalize a healthy process into our minds and bodies. Walks or runs, yoga, zoom exercise classes, or even something as simple as mindful breathing can help reduce stress. A plethora of apps are available for these tasks, and many are free at the basic levels, so it’s not hard to find tools to use, but we need to actually use them. This may seem like common sense, but the evidence does support the effects of exercise on mental health and the role we can play in elevating our physical and mental states. Endorphins are natural mood boosters that enhance feelings of optimism and satisfaction and exercise promotes the generation and release of endorphins while reducing the activity of hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, which promote feelings of anxiety and tension” (source: Livestrong, 2018).
“I get how easy it is to binge-watch Hulu or Netflix (other online streaming channels are available!) after a long day of endless conference calls or being in an unusual situation at work, but I try to budget some time for a relaxing stroll after dinner. Or I set the alarm clock to rise a little earlier in the morning and enjoy a fresh walk before the day starts. Physical exercise and mental relaxation programs may not cure the COVID-blues completely, but that extra boost the brain craves propels me into a more positive mindset. So, my second piece of guidance is to begin planning exercise into your daily life, gym or no gym, and find comfort in the benefits of moving your body. Find the time to relax, meditate, and relax your mind.”
The human race will likely look back at 2020 and wonder how so much happened in the space of a few short weeks, and not least have a significant new vocabulary to work with. Social distancing was an unknown need before COVID, and travel restriction advice was only searched on Google by a very few seeking exotic travel destinations, but these are now commonplace and have a major effect on the ability for us to interact with others. Humans are social animals, and that’s not just from a modern perspective but instead seemingly hard-wired into our DNA. Lack of social interaction contributes to feelings of anxiety, loneliness, or sadness. These past months have brought in travel restrictions around the world and most people have not been able to visit family members or friends, and all this has happened without a great deal of notice. Although unquestionably put in place for the safety of our communities and loved ones, the absence of family (or friends) may seem crippling in this time.
This brings Sterling to another action. “Little of what we discovered was terribly new, but is essential to a balanced mind, so we fired our laptops up and scheduled virtual calls with our family and friends. We decided to set up a virtual grill-out with friends afar and enjoyed a good laugh and smiles with others via cyberspace. It may not be ideal, but interactions, even as small as this, lifted our mood and that of others. Laughter does make the heart merry, and it really is the best medicine. When we laugh, endorphins are released. There’re those endorphins again!”
One of Sterling’s colleagues has a personal yoga platform that has allowed her to participate in recorded/live stream yoga sessions. Taking just a few moments out of a busy day to breath, relax, meditate, and get in tune with one’s body and mind not only relieves the daily stress, but also allows for a few essential moments to let calm enter and dissipate pressure from ballooning fear which can rise quickly from a large-scale event and its potential effects.
Staying in touch with family and friends has proven vital, and the same importance is true in the workplace. Each morning her department has a stand-up meeting which all team members attend on video. During this time the team discusses projects, concerns, and celebrate successes, and all the while seeing everyone’s smiling faces. More times than not the meetings continue with light-hearted personal conversations which give that feeling of enjoying a cup of coffee and a good laugh or two with your team.
At the bedside, as a labor and delivery nurse, Sterling continues the practice. She works 2-weekend shifts per month and during this pandemic has found the same dedicated application of effort applies to front line workers. The key is to keep the mind, body, and socializing balanced.
“Even though required, the PPE and N-95 masks can cause nurses to be prone to the pandemic, or PPE, fatigue. Whatever you want to call it, new-style nursing can be a strain. It’s difficult at times to converse with patients at the bedside because our voices, faces, and most of all, our smiles are being hidden by the N-95s. How frightening must it be for our expectant Mothers during a time that is supposed to be a beautiful time of birthing? But by keeping a smile in our eyes and keeping the patients well informed, we can ease the discomfort. The nurses must stay strong for the patient community and each other. It’s amazing what a smile and sense of humor can bring to the nurse’s station and our patients.”
She continues, “we have found it vital to keep the communication open, and to share concerns with one another about our patient load, as well as individual nurse’s needs. I have noticed that asking questions such as ‘what can I do for you?’, ‘did you get lunch?’ or ‘did you have a chance to breathe without your mask on?’ work very well. Granted, most nursing units function this way as a team, covering one another, but this has become so much more important during this pandemic. Nurses are already very strong on empathy, but at this time when nursing care has extra steps to it, it’s even more important to remember to engage and not assume. Isolation isn’t always felt when alone. It’s perfectly possible to feel alone in a crowd, and we have a responsibility to help alleviate that feeling – and it’s so easy to achieve; ask a question, be empathetic, be aware. Always consider the patient, co-worker, and oneself, and we can keep that smile and positive air to combat this virus.”
We Are Not Alone
“It’s important to reiterate, time and again, that no one is fighting this viral pandemic alone. We are all in this. We must all remember to seek clarity during this time by keeping the focus on our mind, body, and soul.”
Sterling remains on the right side of the optimistic/pessimistic line, although says she finds she slips across it regularly. “For me, I have found one of the most important things I need to remember – even to write down to remind myself – is this is not forever and will rebalance. That thought can bring me back from the edge of dark thoughts, or some feelings of panic, and when I put that perspective on the day, I can keep it all in the day.”
Sterling finishes the interview with some final thoughts which focus on sharing experience, strength and hope. “For the times ahead, let’s all stay positive the best we can. We are all in this together and will find new ways to get through this pandemic situation as safely and consciously as possible. We need to share those with others without fear of judgment, but in the knowledge that what helps us can help others and – in the same spirit – accept that other people’s experiences can also help us. We may not have the capacity to individually change the direction this pandemic is going, but we can focus on, and actively impact, our own direction. Also remember that ultimately all of our individual efforts make a surprisingly positive combined result. Together we can make 2020 the year of perfect vision; refocusing our bodies and minds with clarity. Get up, get out, and get your body moving. Take some “you” time to relax and meditate. And stay connected with those around you. Most importantly, remember to laugh while you mask up and put a smile on!”
It may be as simple as looking at the day through a new perspective, but Jeannie Sterling has found a way of connecting the mind and body in a manner which benefits both, and others.
In a world which seems scary at times, the idea of getting through with renewed daily hope and achieving a balance of mind and body is surely a feeling we can all embrace wholeheartedly. Remember, we are all in this together, and together we will get through to the other side. Lessons will be learned in macro-scale in future, but individually we can make a difference.
Comments and thoughts?
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Salari, N., Hosseinian-Far, A., Jalali, R. et al. (2020). Prevalence of stress, anxiety, depression among the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Global Health 16, 57. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-020-00589-w
Nair, Lakshmy. (August 14, 2020). How Exercise Improves Mood. Retrieved from: https://www.livestrong.com/article/530791-does-exercise-make-you-happy/