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Maintaining my mental health: Lessons learned from a pandemic
  • Education
  • Global - Latin America
  • Personalization Targeting
  • nurse leaders
  • educator
  • healthy work environments
  • self-care
  • mental health
  • Featured
We can view this as an opportunity to not only teach health promotion and health education but to also ‘practice what we teach.’

A few years ago, I fell in love with the tagline from a popular advertisement, “The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup.” I must confess I’ve never had the coffee, but I loved the thought of highlighting the best part of the day. These days, I’ve changed the tagline and time of day in my head: “The best part of ending the day is shutting down my computer.” Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy being an educator. I am happy that despite the pandemic, I am still able to teach my nursing students. I’ll also be honest and say that between the continuous flow of online classes and meetings, I have found it necessary to shut down and step away from work at the end of the day.

Suddenly, institutions closed and nursing educators were in the middle of a whirlwind to transition to complete virtual teaching. Additionally, this transition included having to recreate your classroom and office at home. Initially, I was relieved to be safe and protected but then came the realization of performing my professional duties from home. It also dawned on me that a work-from-home balance was going to be precarious at best and a constant work in progress.

The nurse in me (more so the mental health advocate in me) knew that this was definitely the time to increase the use of appropriate coping to adapt and adjust to life’s stressors. Navigating the new daily normal came with good days and not so good days, though. It’s reasonable to argue that the virtual learning space was not quite ready for a complete sudden transition to online delivery only. There were many frustrations with the internet service providers, the technological challenges, and balancing working from home. Additionally, the number of meetings increased. It felt like virtual meetings did not need spacing in between them and office hours did not apply. 

Despite all this, the biggest hit to my mental health came from the lack of face-to-face interactions with my students. I loved walking around my classroom and having active discussions during class. I loved that by the middle of a semester, I usually knew all the names and faces of my students. I took pride in being able to read facial expressions and body language as cues that learning was actually happening or not.

The nursing leader and educator within me acknowledged the positives of this pandemic for education, too. The impossible became possible, output was expected to remain on par, and nursing education would continue. Many students would now have the opportunity to begin or continue their nursing education through distance learning. While there is no substitution for the clinical component of nursing, there was, however, an increase in the use of simulation and other online resources to bolster clinical teaching and experience. There was also an opportunity created to revise the curricula of nursing schools to reflect current and future needs within a pandemic. 

Even with this understanding and recognition, there were still days when I felt overwhelmed. Days when I had to acknowledge that maintaining my mental health was more of a challenge during this pandemic but had to be a priority. Here are a few ways that I maintained both my physical and mental health:

  • I created and organized my own workspace to increase my comfort and productivity. 
  • With multiple virtual meetings and classroom sessions per day, I utilized ergonomically correct desks and chairs. In fact, a versatile desk which can accommodate periodic standing is also a great suggestion to minimize the prolonged sitting. 
  • It is also very essential to be organized and have great time management to keep the various schedules coordinated and separated. I have to confess that at various times I thought that it was impossible, but I brought my inner nurse to the forefront. 
  • I learned to accept the multifaceted role I would now be playing where my children were concerned. I would need to fill all the roles required for school, since school was at home and so was I. I also made a concerted effort to keep the work and home schedules separate. 
  • I started my day with a basic to-do list and prioritized for the day. 
  • I set office hours similar to my prior face-to-face hours. I chose not to be readily available for work outside my ‘office hours.’ 
  • Additionally, I spent a little time each day to become more familiar with the learning platform, which increased my confidence and competence. It also provided me with additional opportunities to increase engagement with my students. 

As we work towards achieving physical comfort, we also need to build our resilience and continuously work on our mental health. My final two coping mechanisms are talking and self-care. 

  • Talk with your family about how you are feeling and managing. Talk with your colleagues about the challenges and successes of the virtual teaching and learning environment. Talk with a professional if you believe you’ve tried all you can, but you still do not feel as if you’re managing. 
  • Have a circle of support and be a part of someone’s circle of support. Check in on each other.
  • There is a time for everything, including being selfish. Have healthy lifestyle practices, have a pampering routine, take a little time for yourself each day if you can or at least once per week. Take the time to turn off that work switch, turn off those computers and other devices, and take a much-needed screen break. 

We can view this as an opportunity to not only teach health promotion and health education but to also ‘practice what we teach.’ An opportunity as nurses to either reinforce or demonstrate healthy lifestyle practices, including positive mental health. An opportunity to ensure that we prioritize ourselves. Self-care is one of the most important factors in our delivery of healthcare, no matter what sphere of nursing we practice in. Take the break you need, shut down from work at the end of the day, utilize best practices and strategies. Remember there’s no good health without good mental health.  

Sheryl Garriques-Lloyd, MSN, BSN, is a lecturer at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. She is a member of Sigma’s Omega Kappa Chapter. 

Sheryl Garriques-Lloyd
The pandemic brought me purpose
  • Inspirational
  • COVID-19
  • volunteering
  • Featured
Volunteering fuels my spirit. When the pandemic began, I had to find other ways to meet my social and emotional needs. After six months of vaccinating people, I have found my purpose again.

Since my retirement more than 20 years ago, I spend much of my free time volunteering in my community. I am an octogenarian retired school nurse, and volunteering fuels my spirit. When those opportunities were ripped away because of the pandemic, I struggled with my increasing isolation and inability to do what I’ve cherished doing all my life—helping others.

One of my friends (who also happens to be a seasoned school nurse) saw the toil the pandemic had on me and gave me daily homework as a challenge. I began journaling the pandemic data to help me meet my social and emotional needs. I dedicated my thinking to the group I knew best, retirees with questions I wanted to answer. My devotion to my New Jersey Retirees’ Education Association (NJREA) responsibilities kept me on my toes and it assured my family that I was just fine, although I did often wonder.

After months of isolation, I finally had an opportunity to volunteer with the Camden County Medical Reserve Corps. I would become a vaccinator as soon as COVID-19 vaccines were available. This was the spark of hope I needed to come alive during such a difficult time. Living alone during the pandemic, especially for seniors, has been very difficult. But I continued to write daily and sought out learning opportunities to keep my brain engaged. For example, I loved the contact tracing course through Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health where I was introduced to the new language of pandemics.  

NJREA communications supported my work by posting articles that I wrote on the NJERA website for others to read. Some of my friends could see themselves in the scenarios that I wrote. My themes  ensured that the retirees were in the landscape of thriving and getting a form of “reaching out and being touched.” Responses brought lots of humor from the readers as the year seemed to go quickly. 

The 2020 holiday season left little to look forward to. There would be no family visitations, no church, reading books became hard, but the vaccines were becoming available in January 2021. And so, on 5 January 2021, I accepted a whole new challenge with new people, new procedures, and learning about CDC regulations and the COVID-19 virus. I became a vaccinator at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine! My world began to open up again; I was volunteering, contributing, learning, and finding my way back to doing what I love most—nursing the community. I started to look forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays because they were my volunteer days.

When I wasn’t at the clinic, I was reading and investigating what I would now be teaching others. I promoted positivity for others to get vaccinated as I taught vaccine after-care. I encouraged them to share their experiences with their friends and family to get vaccinated, too. Hesitancy was never an acceptable philosophy. I had confidence as a nurse educator that I could form a strong bond of hope and trust one patient at a time.

I have now completed six months of vaccinating people, some of whom were my friends—my former principal, a current administrator at my former school, and a secretary from my high school. Often there were a multitude of people willing to wait in line for me to give them their second shot. I used simple questions like, “Tell me what you have heard about getting the second shot,” which quickly opened the dialogue for me to address any of their concerns and build that trust.

As a nurse who loves the history of nursing, I have always wanted to be like the nurses who responded during previous pandemics, and now I have. In 30 years, what will be written about this time? Will it be written with a critical eye about how a virus brought out the best and the worst in us? The pandemic has ruined and taken so many lives, and I feel fortunate to say that for me, the pandemic brought me purpose again.


Jeanne Kiefner, MEd, RN, FNASN, NJ-CSN, is a retired school nurse from New Jersey. She has served as an instructor in two New Jersey university school nurse certification programs. She is a member of Sigma’s Delta Rho Chapter. 


Jeanne Kiefner
Make it through the night
  • North America
  • Inspirational
  • inspirational
  • critical care
I replay over and over in my head what I will do in each possible scenario to help this brave, little one make it through their first night.

I have worked in two very different areas of nursing now, but both with a surgical emphasis. And I’ve felt in both areas that caring for your first post-operative patient who just underwent surgery that day is almost like a universal “rite of passage”—a crucial moment of professional growth as a nurse. It is a moment that arrives generally after several months of experience on the unit with other patients first, and only once you and your trusted nurse mentors feel you are ready for this next challenge.

I currently work in the world of pediatric cardiac critical care. The small patients who have just gone through open-heart surgery (which is generally six or more hours long) are of the highest acuity and critical status on our unit. It can be incredibly overwhelming and difficult for caregivers to see their child hooked up to so many different machines, drains, pumps, and monitors, but it is our duty as nurses to try and ease that fear through education. Most importantly, we need to help families see that beneath all the wires and tubes and heavy sedation, their child is still there and still needs their love. 

I thought I was ready. I thought I was brave until I experienced a baby battling valiantly through the shock of open-heart surgery. That to me is one of the many forms of pure bravery.

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
-Les Miserables

I arrive at your bedside. Your current nurse is exhausted. She sent you off to surgery, awaiting your return many hours later. Then there was the flurry of activity in your first few hours back in your room—stabilizing you, cleaning you up, and organizing the mass of tubes, wires, and drains protruding from your tiny body. And here I am to explain to your family that beneath all of that is their tiny baby.

I see you, caregivers. I see it in your eyes, and I hear it in your voices—the worry, the yearning to just be there, but overwhelmed by emotion and uncertainty, no matter how much you’ve prepared for this day. Try to trust us. Try to go and get some rest. Try to sleep. Try to replenish your energy. Take care of yourself, tonight especially. Your baby has been through so much today—but so have you. We realize that. Try and find some peace for tonight, and hear my promise to you, to your baby: This is not just any night, it is the FIRST night. The first night is going to be difficult, but we will not leave your baby’s side. She will not be alone, brave caregivers. You will not be alone, my brave little one. We are going to make it through the night.

It’s just you and me now, little one. I set to work, organizing, documenting, and assessing. No detail is too small to be acknowledged. Temporarily paralyzed and heavily sedated by medication, I look to the nuanced ways your tiny body communicates with me. Beneath the veil of medication, I know you are still in there. I know you can still feel pain, fear, and discomfort.

Am I hurting you? Are those little tears I see leaking out from the corners of your eyes? Why aren’t you breathing comfortably anymore? Is it because you don’t like laying on your left side? I know you don’t like it as much as your right side, but we have to try, just for a little while. How about if I move your little arm like this and your little pillow like this? Is that better? And now here comes a dose of extra medicine to ease that extra discomfort.

My goodness, you are so brave, little one.

Over the hours, I stare at the monitor screens in your room, vigilantly, as though I am engrossed in a captivating film. I watch the numbers change in real time, watching closely for even the slightest deviation from your baseline, repeating over and over in my head what I will do in each possible scenario that may arise tonight. Planning. Preparing.

Other nurses and doctors float in and out of your room. They ask about you, and they stand with me in silence watching the monitors. The solidarity of their presence strengthens me. They offer to relieve me, so even when I temporarily leave your side, you are not alone, little one. Just as I promised.

The hours tick by. I perch on the edge of the armchair in your room to give my aching feet a moment of reprieve. Not even on the chair by the desk just outside your door. What if something happens? It’s too far away, and she needs me.

I see your blood pressure drop. One point. Two points. Three points. A new baseline is established. Is this acceptable for her? Will her body tolerate this? I alert the doctor. He arrives at your bedside. We stand together, eyes shifting back and forth from the monitors to you. We pause, watching for another change, wondering if we need to intervene. Over and over we do this routine as the hours pass by. You wobble on a tenuous tightrope of physiologic stability. I see you, little one. You are fighting. Fighting through this night so valiantly. 

It's 5:00 a.m. I am exhausted. My head aches from the mental exertion I’ve engaged in all night: making sense of the numbers and the changes, why they’re happening, and what it all means for your little body. I remind myself of your heart’s original physiology, how exactly it caused you to struggle in those first few days of life, and how your heart has been repaired by skilled hands and sharp minds.

But we’re almost through the night. Morning is coming, at last. You are stabilizing. I pick at, primp, and rearrange your tubes, wires, and drains, adjusting your position in the crib. A swipe here and a swish there, like a painter touching up their masterpiece. You are my greatest masterpiece, little one.

I should sit down. Relax a bit. But I can’t. Not just yet. We’ve almost made it through the night.

And now that moment is here. The sun has risen. Your new nurse for the day has arrived. To them, you look comfortable, peaceful, and stable. There is a sense of calm and transient serenity in your room. But you and I know better, little one. We know what it took to reach the morning.

You are small, and you are mighty—the bravest little soul I ever did see. Each night you are in my care, I will marvel at the new strides of recovery and healing you have made.

But for now, in this moment, we have done enough, little one. Together, we made it through the night.

Isabelle “Izzy” St. John, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a pediatric intensive care nurse at Children’s Wisconsin and is currently pursuing her DNP. She is a member of Sigma’s Eta Pi Chapter at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in Wisconsin, USA. A version of this article originally appeared on her blog,
The Wordy Nurse.

Isabelle St. John
From nurse to legislator
  • main-2020-5-12
  • Membership
  • Global - Asia
Ching-Min Chen, DNS, RN, FAAN, is a nurse, nurse leader, and nurse educator. She’s also a former member of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. She believes that nurses are the backbone of healthcare for people everywhere.
question Prime minister small

Ching-Min Chen, DNS, RN, FAAN, is a nurse, nurse leader, and nurse educator who has been a Sigma member for nearly 30 years and is currently a member of the Lambda Beta at-Large Chapter. Throughout her Sigma journey, she has served as a committee member and as a board member. She became a nurse after hearing her sister talk about her internship experiences. Ching-Min began in the neurosurgery department of a hospital in Taipei and soon left Taiwan to study abroad at University of Illinois at Chicago in the US, where she obtained her RN to BSN. From there she went on to Indiana University for her master’s and doctoral studies, which focused on community health nursing. 

She is also a former legislator in Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan. Though she never planned on becoming a politician, when President Tsai Ing-wen appointed her as legislator-at-large in 2018, she saw it as either her destiny or something she should do because of her own sense of mission. Only the second legislator in Taiwan’s history to have a nursing background, Ching-Min decided it was important to seize every opportunity to draw public and the government attention to her nursing colleagues’ working environment, pay, and treatment as well as public health. “In order to achieve the ultimate goals of community health, the ultimate means is through health policy-making. The creation and implementation of laws and policies is the most direct way to address the health of the public,” she said. 

Even before her appointment to the legislature, she encouraged her students to get involved in public affairs to take care of patients’ rights and to take to the streets when necessary. Political participation is everyone’s responsibility, she said. Ching-Min also encourages her students to experience the political process with site observation at the legislative Yuan. “Learning by doing is the most effective way.”

Ching-Min is proud of being a nurse. “Nursing is closely related to society, which covers health promotion, disease prevention, and care for the sick, disabled, and the terminally ill patients, promoting a safe environment, and implementing research projects and development,” she said. “In short, nurses have played a critical role and made a significant contribution to make society safer, healthier, and stronger.” Despite the critical role nurses play in a society’s health, nurses are often undervalued. She sees her work as helping promote and improving the way nurses are seen and valued in society. “There has never been such an important moment as today to show support for strategic investment in nursing.” This, she said, will help improve healthcare for everyone.

Ching-Min Chen, DNS, RN, FAAN, is a nurse, nurse leader, and nurse educator. She served as a legislator-at-large in Taiwan's Legislative Yuan from 2018-2020. 

Ching-Min Chen
Ching-Min Chen
Ching-Min Chen

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