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Anxiety and Nurses: The Impact on Job Satisfaction. Sick Leave Post-pandemic

Updated: Dec 8, 2023


Anxiety and nurses: the impact on job satisfaction. How the pandemic has affected sick leave and self-medication within nursing


It's been reported that sick leave by nurses has increased by over 18% compared to pre-pandemic numbers. This increase shows that nurses are more at risk of mental health problems as well as Covid related illnesses, such as respiratory problems. The figures show an increase of 34% for mental health-related sick days and a staggering 52% for respiratory problems. The increase in staff sickness put further strains on an already struggling healthcare system and nurses themselves by becoming more burnt out, losing morale, and developing an array of mental health problems.

Along with increased staff sickness, studies have found an increase in alcohol consumption as a way for people to deal with work stresses. Alcohol consumption has been used as a way for nurses to self-medicate throughout the pandemic for several reasons.


Amid a worldwide health crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is crucial to acknowledge the impact of stress and worry on nurses. Nurse burnout can be reduced, and job satisfaction increased by assisting those with mental health issues. Counselling services, self-care programmes, and paid time off are only some practical measures that can be used. A healthier, more resilient staff that is better able to offer quality care to patients is what healthcare organisations can achieve by investing in nurses' well-being.


What influenced increased alcohol consumption?


Various work and personal factors contributed to the rise of self-medication during the pandemic.


Let's look at them in more detail:


Workplace factors


● Workplace stress increased tenfold during the pandemic caused by a knock-on effect from staff shortages, redeployment, staff exhaustion, and added personal stress.


● Many nurses found themselves working overtime, on days off, and extra already long shifts to cover staff absences.


● Nurses felt guilty for taking time off to recover, knowing there was no one to replace them; this ended up in many considering leaving the profession.


Personal factors


● Frequent lockdowns caused personal stress, and people could not participate in activities usually used to help de-stress after a long week or go to see friends and family.


● Parents were contending with home-schooling as well as their nursing jobs


● Zoom was frequently used to stay connected with loved ones and often involved alcohol as a way to connect and relax during this new and strange way of socializing.


The pandemic's influence on alcohol consumption


Many nurses found their alcohol consumption increased slowly during the course of the pandemic, rising from just drinking on the weekend to having alcohol on several weekday evenings as well. Alcohol was seen as a 'reward' for working hard and surviving stressful situations at work.


It's crucial to remember that excessive alcohol use can hurt a nurse's mental and physical health and their ability to give great care to their patients. Excessive alcohol use can cause several health issues, including liver damage, high blood pressure, and increased cancer risk. It can also exacerbate mental health issues such as anxiety and despair. Furthermore, nurses who are intoxicated may be unable to make intelligent decisions, interact effectively with patients and colleagues, or offer adequate care. As a result, nurses must be aware of the possible hazards linked with increasing alcohol intake and seek help if they are struggling with alcohol usage.



Moderating alcohol consumption


Studies have shown that most people can realize the increase in their drinking behaviours and recognize that they aren't the norm for them. This gives these individuals the power to reduce their alcohol intake, setting rules to not drink during the week or being on call for work.


Unfortunately for others reducing their alcohol consumption became impossible, and although a rare occurrence, some people lost their jobs from intoxication. Reading between the lines of this article shows the guilt nurses have felt throughout the pandemic, needing to take time off to look after themselves but worrying about their patients and colleagues with no one to cover their shifts. And how nurses have covered up their struggles by using alcohol as a coping mechanism and reward for their hard work.



Reflection

  1. Did you feel you could take the time off that you needed?

  2. Did you notice your alcohol consumption increasing during the pandemic?

  3. Why do you think this was? Were you able to moderate it?

  4. Did you experience any mental health challenges during the pandemic, and how did they impact your work as a nurse?

  5. Have you noticed any changes in your alcohol consumption since the pandemic began, and do you think it's related to work-related stress?

  6. How have you coped with the increased workplace stress and demands during the pandemic?

  7. Have you ever struggled with guilt or shame for taking time off work to prioritize your mental or physical health?

  8. What steps have you taken to prioritize self-care and support your well-being while working as a nurse during the pandemic?



References

American Nurses Association (https://www.nursingworld.org/)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (https://www.nice.org.uk/)

American Nurses Foundation (https://www.nursingworld.org/foundation/)

Royal College of Nursing (https://www.rcn.org.uk/)

National Institute of Nursing Research (https://www.ninr.nih.gov/)


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