My COVID Story: Finding Gratitude
I have worked hard over the years to create a work-life balance as I pursue my nursing career. I hit the ground running as a neurosurgery and trauma nurse in a busy downtown Toronto hospital when I graduated. After almost six years, I burned out. I knew this lifestyle wasn't sustainable, so I chose to become an orthopedic and neurology nurse instead. Compared with trauma nursing, this was a breeze. I had my nursing routine mastered and was entirely in the flow.
Then came COVID-19.
Orthopedic surgeries were canceled, neurology patients attended virtual office visits, and my floor became a COVID unit. My flow came to a screeching halt. There was no more routine to rely on, policies were changing by the hour, and stress levels continued to increase.
We weren't medically or emotionally equipped for the system-wide shifts as a result of COVID-19. At first, I kept my spirits high and focused on staying positive. It worked initially, but in retrospect, I think I was in denial. Tensions grew on the floor, and rules kept changing while our protective equipment (PPE) supplies slowly began to dwindle.
I also became a new dog mom to a rescue pup from Mexico during this time. While I did not anticipate fostering a dog during COVID-19, I quickly learned to adapt to comforting a terrified new family member and fighting a fast-growing pandemic.
Reality Hit: I was In Way Over My Head
My regular coping mechanisms (traveling, socializing with friends, or getting a massage) were no longer available due to COVID-19. My shifts became longer as each person entering the hospital was individually screened. It was time-consuming to meticulously clean all my belongings at the end of each day.
I had three dog walkers cancel on me once they found out I was a nurse. I respected their decision, but I was stuck with a new dog and a much longer workday. I had no choice but to move back in with my family, who live 65 kilometers from my hospital. This meant I needed to drive an hour each way in addition to my already long shift.
Like a thick, dark cloud, overwhelm settled into my being. I felt like I was drowning. I dreaded working; my head was spinning from the changes and the utter fear of COVID-19. Deep breathing no longer worked, meditation left my mind spinning in a negative spiral, and my body was too physically exhausted to do yoga. I was in survival mode and felt utterly defeated.
So What Did Work? Gratitude
Not the" #gratitude, I am so #blessed" kind, but the gratefulness that brings tears to your eyes as your entire body feels appreciation for what is working. This was not easy; I was initially scared and anxious, then angry because I didn't sign up to work overtime during a global pandemic.
Building My Practice
Every morning as I woke up at 5 a.m., I would take the time to acknowledge what was working in my life and why I was fortunate to have it.
1. Although she is a lot of work, my dog is the absolute light in my life. She has shown me how play is essential, nature heals, and being present in the moment is a must.
2. Living in the suburbs used to make me shudder, but now I give thanks for the silence and open space. Condo life during a pandemic isn't the most serene. Backyards are a slice of heaven when everything is in lockdown.
3. Family time is a gift. Given my packed schedule, I would only see my family a few times a month. Now I see them every day, and I don't need to self-isolate alone as I juggle being a single dog mom, COVID-19 nurse, and growing my holistic health business.
The Science of Gratitude
Our brains cannot simultaneously process feelings of fear and anxiety in addition to the joy of gratitude. Therefore, when feeling overwhelmed, being grateful interrupts that neural pathway and shifts your brain chemistry.
Gratitude regulates stress hormones and enhances dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which allow you to feel more joy while modulating negative emotions. When gratitude becomes a daily practice, it not only makes you feel happier it also reprograms your brain to look for the positives in your life regularly, which shifts your mood toward more happiness.
My Daily Gratitude Practice
Every morning, I place one hand on my heart and take a breath as I acknowledge what I am grateful for. It's not about making a quick list and getting it over with. It is about feeling deeply into every statement and letting it resonate in your body.
That being said, I still feel overwhelmed as I go into work to battle COVID-19 from the frontlines. I also give space for the heavier emotions that come up and don't pretend everything is perfect. But with gratitude, I feel much more balanced and in control when feelings of overwhelm arise.
Header Photo: aydinmutlu/E+/Getty Images