Macramé to mowing: Ways for nurses to wind down during a pandemic

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What’s this about everyone making sourdough bread? If you work as a nurse, you probably haven’t had the kind of free time that allows you to indulge in the 24-hour-plus turnaround for making artisan bread.

But just like the folks who are stuck at home 24/7, nurses during the pandemic need some ways to wind down. Even if you’re not on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients, nursingis extra stressful right now. Your job may even be slower than it was before March 2020, but you’re still faced with added social distancing and quarantining — and every friend, family member and newscaster constantly sharing opinions and asking questions.

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To make it through the high pressure workdays and the sheer stress of knowing how serious a pandemic is, it’s important for nurses to relax and recharge -- and forget about life for a while.

Maybe you don’t have time to make that sourdough, but your nursing colleagues have some great suggestions for ways to wind down that are more manageable for medical professionals.

Here are their tried-and-true wind-downs for nurses:

Take it outside. Priscilla Hall is busy as a midwife researcher and senior instructor at Emory University’s Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing. At home, though, she’s on her own, and she says one day can start running into another. She has three pets, but her family lives far away. “I like being outside, I think that is helping,” she says. “I live close to a forest preserve, and I recently took my dog to Amicalola Falls.”

Delaney McCann, a registered nurse who is currently a full-time nurse anesthesia student in South Carolina, concurs with the outdoors unwind. “After being cooped up for three or four or even five days a week between your job and your home, it’s nice to spend a day outside,” she says. “I like to plan a little day trip to a new place to hike if the weather is nice and maybe bring a picnic or some adult beverages to enjoy outside.”

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Try to see your friends, as safely as possible. Hall and two good friends from work go out to dinner almost every Friday. They’re careful to go to a place where it’s never crowded. They wear masks up to the door, and then they enjoy complaining about their lives and laughing, Hall says. “It’s a little risky, but we always get a booth by ourselves, and it’s worth it.”

Break open a book. Since you can’t go out for entertainment nearly as easily as you did pre-pandemic, McCann urges her fellow nurses to unwind by finally getting some reading done at home. A Pulitzer Prize Finalist’s memoir is her No. 1 reading pick for nurses who need to recharge. “When Breath Becomes Air” is neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi’s first-hand account of his life as he experiences a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis as a patient.

And if you want to completely escape the medical scene, McCann recommends “Where the Crawdads Sing,” a first novel/murder mystery/coming of age story by Delia Owens.

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Watch a funny show or listen to a hilarious podcast. McCann and a few friends think it’s “pretty fun” to get together virtually or to gather with social distancing and all watch edgy (adults-only) comedians from “Girls Gotta Eat” or Heather McMahan’s “Absolutely Not.” She says, “I have ‘quaran-teamed’ with two of my school friends so we could keep our sanity and not be totally devoid of all human interaction during COVID,” she says. “But you can also watch them from your own homes simultaneously if you aren’t comfortable going to each other’s houses.”

Tie some knots. McCann has also picked up macramé as a pandemic wind-down recently. “To me, it is mindless but also productive,” she says. “I usually listen to podcasts while I do it or sometimes use it as my meditation time. I make plant hangers since I am also a dedicated plant mom. I can buy a small spool of cord for about $6, and that is really all you need unless you want to add beads or other embellishments.”

Pamper yourself. Spas are out, at least on a regular basis, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use their techniques to relax at home. Fiona Crawford, a registered nurse who works in an ICU float pool in Chattanooga, is a big fan of the “long shower with face masks and body scrubs,” she says. “It also helps to cook nice meals or walk the dog.”

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Revel in simple household rituals. Some wind-downs are counter-intuitive, but they make sense once you try them. Third-shift ICU nurse Hunter Stanford, for example, suggests this quirky relaxation method: “Believe it or not, cleaning is my wind-down,” he says. “I throw on some music and by the time I’m done with my bathroom, I’ve forgotten about whatever it is that had me worked up in the first place.”

And flight nurse Nelson Long, who has about 30 years of experience in the nursing field, suggests mowing a lawn. That’s one of his go-to activities on work weeks. “You’re outside in nature, which is always soothing,” he explains. “And you get a sense of accomplishment -- with each pass, you can see your progress. And nobody dies if you do it wrong!”

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