Self-Care for the Win!
When Natalee Skelton started her first term at Goldfarb School of Nursing during the height of the pandemic, classes were all online except for a skills lab. As a student who is typically driven by her connections with others, this virtual education challenged Skelton.
"The hardest thing for me was a lack of connection with teachers," she says. "It usually helps me to get to know my teachers. I had always worked harder because of the teachers I connected with but without that connection, I felt like something was missing."
For Skelton, the silver lining of the pandemic was that it helped her grow and become more resilient. "With classes online, I learned to do well for me rather than to impress teachers," she says. "Now I try not to compare myself to others or worry about impressing others. I look at my areas of weakness and decide what I need to work on. I found my inner motivation."
She admits it was difficult to stay focused online and she struggled along with many other students. "Home became a source of stress for me because it was where I studied and went to school."
As she watched COVID-10 wreaking havoc on health care workers, Skelton even began doubting her career choice. "I was worried about what the nursing profession would be like by the time I graduated," she says. "And I was scared about the health risks nurses faced."
Expanding the Self-Care Toolbox
Initially, Skelton found her refuge in exercise but she soon realized she needed more to help her address the psychological and emotional stress she felt. She turned to her Goldfarb clinical instructor, Lynn Baer, MSN, APRN, PMHCNS-BC, who is a consistent advocate for self-care and frequently incorporates self-care techniques in her teaching.
"I talked with Lynn about how I felt emotionally drained after clinical on the psychiatry floor," Skelton explains. "I had never felt that way before and was concerned I could get burned out in that department. I could see myself working in the psychiatry field so I needed to figure out why I was feeling that way."
Baer suggested Skelton talk to nurses on the floor about how they handle it. She also taught Skelton about the difference between physical and mental self-care techniques to expand her self-care "toolbox."
"To deal with stress, I had been going on lots of walks and going to the gym when I could," Skelton says. "I was using physical exercise as a coping mechanism but I realized physical exercise wasn't enough for my mental health because you can't exercise 24 hours a day. From Lynn, I learned new forms of self-care."
Baer taught Skelton and other students about yoga, meditation and mindfulness, as well as other self-care techniques.
"Being mindful throughout the day has helped a lot," Skelton says. "Just taking 10 minutes to myself to be alone and not think made a difference. I learned that my brain was only working at 75% capacity without mindfulness. But if I took time a couple of times a day to shut off my brain, I felt like I was using 100% of my brain. I was more focused, knew exactly what I had to do, and had a clearer mind."
Skelton has built on the self-care lessons she has learned. She had previously dabbled in yoga by watching YouTube videos at home but was usually distracted by her mental to-do list. Now she takes in-person yoga classes. "With the studio's soothing music and aromatherapy, it's easier to focus on what the instructor is saying instead of being in my head about the things I need to do."
Taking Time Outs
As the pandemic's impact has eased, so have Skelton's worries thanks to new self-care techniques and her firsthand experience in the hospitals and talking with nurses. "Being in the hospital setting taught me about what I can do to prevent the spread of illness, which makes me feel more comfortable," Skelton says. "I'm much more knowledgeable about infection control and safety now."
During clinicals, Skeleton also asked nurses working on the floors how they cope with the stressors they face. She learned self-care with mindfulness and "time outs" were essential.
"Since COVID-19 happened, the nurses told me they are more willing to ask other nurses for support and to take short breaks a couple of times a day to regroup so they can better care for patients," Skelton says.
Building Self-Care Awareness One Smoothie at a Time
Over the past two years, this Upper Division student has grown from a struggling student to a confident student leader. With her graduation finish line in December, Skelton feels better prepared for whatever the future holds. "I'm more flexible and can go with the flow better. At the same time, I'm always on guard for another surge but I know exactly what I need to do now."
As the current Goldfarb Student Nurse Association president, Skelton is channeling her passion for self-care to help more students. "One of my initiatives is to build self-care awareness."
In early April, she planned a yoga night for Goldfarb students to attend in person or virtually. Students received self-care packs that included face masks and other goodies.
Skelton's next initiative expands self-care awareness even further with a project called "Self-Care Around St. Louis." With an entrepreneurial spirit, Skelton is talking with businesses around the community that are interested in supporting nursing students.
"When I tell businesses I'm a nursing student, they immediately ask how they can help," she says. "Thanks to these businesses, we're hoping to have smoothies donated during finals and discounts for spa treatments among other self-care products and activities. It's a work in progress but it's where I want to go next."
Because of Skelton's efforts, next semester each student club will host at least one self-care event. In addition, Skelton created a presentation on the necessity of self-care that is being incorporated into Goldfarb's new student orientation.
"The goal is to have one to two self-care-centered events for students each month," Skelton says. "I'm very excited for these new changes and can't wait to see where they take us."
In addition to taking time for self-care, Skelton's advice to other students who are struggling during this ever-changing environment is to look for support from teachers and peers. "Making connections with other people helps," she says. "Find support to help motivate you when you can't motivate yourself anymore."
Goldfarb is proud of Skelton's efforts to help her fellow nursing students and we're excited to see what Skelton achieves next! Keep calm and self-care on!