Oncology nurses are known for their resilience and ability to navigate high-stress situations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented and has made significant demands on all healthcare professionals. Clinicians are experiencing distress that causes increased feelings of fear, anxiety, frustration, sadness, grief, and a sense of powerlessness. Although these reactions are a normal response to trauma, without appropriate intervention they can lead to depression, compassion fatigue, burnout, and longer-term emotional distress. As the COVID-19 crisis continues, prioritizing self-care is essential to help manage the ongoing stress of caring for patients and their loved ones.

Nurses provide care daily to both patients and their caregivers. Given this, many are already aware of a number of self-care techniques and tools, making them readily available and accessible. How can we tap into these profound inner resources to cultivate continued resilience and a sense of safety in ourselves? The following are some ways to access these resources and cultivate an effective self-care plan.

Your reaction to this crisis is normal Acknowledge your feelings as they arise. They are normal and to be expected; allow yourself to experience them and reach out to others when needed. Keep in mind, your reaction may appear different from your colleagues or loved ones. This is also normal. Remember to practice self-compassion.1

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Cultivate self-regulation Our thoughts shape our emotions and physiological stress responses. Finding ways of working with thoughts and reconnecting to the body can decrease stress and regulate your nervous system, which can improve your health, quality of life, and overall well-being. There is no one-size-fits-all technique that works for everyone, and it is important to find techniques that resonate with you. A number of tools are available to assist you such as grounding techniques, breathing exercises, and journaling.

Take breaks Remember to take breaks and check in with yourself. Ask yourself: How do I feel? How does my body feel? What do I need? Even 5 minutes to take a walk, eat something, drink water, listen to a favorite song or practice a grounding technique can make a difference in providing needed nourishment and helping you return to your work more refreshed.

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Maintain your physical health Make sure you are eating balanced meals throughout the day to keep your body and mind nourished. Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Try to keep sleep routines to get adequate rest. Physical exercise is also an important component of maintaining your physical health. If you have an exercise regimen, continue to follow it, adapting it as necessary for physical distancing. If you are new to exercise, there are numerous resources available to you now. Many gyms are streaming classes for free that range from low- to high-impact exercise. Yoga is another option, and yoga studios are also providing free classes right now.

Reach out for support Reaching out for support by talking with colleagues, loved ones, or a mental health professional can be incredibly helpful in processing your experience and finding new ways of coping. Counseling in particular can be helpful during this time. Sharing your experience with others can help you better process it and also help you find ways to navigate moving forward.

Stay connected This can be difficult during physical distancing, but connection is more important than ever. Numerous studies have shown how human connection impacts both emotional and physical health.2 Phone calls, texting, video chat, and social media are all ways to connect with your loved ones while staying safe. These connections can feel just as authentic and meaningful as being with loved ones in person. They are also a reminder of the wholeness of our lives and can help reconnect us to the things we find most important.

Connect with your spirituality Whether or not you adhere to a specific spiritual belief system, each of us has a spiritual dimension. Everyone holds certain beliefs and values about what makes life meaningful, one’s purpose in life, and feeling connection beyond oneself. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, remember that spirituality is always something that can be accessed. Connecting with this part of ourselves can help nurture inner strength and increase hope.

Self-Care Resources

Calm is a popular mindfulness app offering free meditations to ease tension and aid sleep.

COVID-19 Navigator Toolkit is a free toolkit for healthcare professionals who work with oncology patients available through the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators website.

Headspace is a popular mindfulness app, currently offering free meditations including Weathering the Storm and Headspace for Healthcare Professionals.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) offers free meditations audio/videos and a Tai Chi video series.

Mindful Awareness Research Center, available through the UCLA Health website, offers prerecorded and live online classes, as well as a meditation app

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) recently published a toolkit specifically created for oncology healthcare professionals to use during the pandemic.

Videos on mindfulness (Tools to Cope With Anxiety) are available on the CancerCare website.

Sarah Kelly is social work internship program coordinator at CancerCare.


  1. Neff KD. The science of self-compassion. In Germer CK, Siegel RD, eds. Wisdom and Compassion in Psychotherapy: Deepening Mindfulness in Clinical Practice. Guilford Press; 2012:79-92.
  2. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stephenson D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2015;10(2):227-237.

This article originally appeared on Oncology Nurse Advisor