As nurses, many of us entered the profession because we had an instinctive desire to help and care for people in their hour of need. Historically, we have been able to meet these aspirations through developing a therapeutic relationship with our patients and providing them with direct, holistic patient-centred care.

However, the Covid-19 outbreak is having a significant impact on healthcare services, both here in the UK and across the globe. Nurses are having to face situations that they have never experienced before and therefore their ability to provide the core fundamentals of nursing care in the time-honoured way has been challenged. For nurses, the outbreak has meant that many are now operating outside of their comfort zone and in an environment where they feel a loss of control.
Consequently, for numerous nurses, this may be a period of increased anxiety, of feeling overwhelmed and overstretched by the situation they now find themselves working in. Even in ‘normal’ times, healthcare workers faced many challenges when it came to prioritising their own emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing, a situation that I observed when studying the prevalence of compassion fatigue in acute medical care hospital nurses (Upton, 2018).

The study found that nurses felt emotionally and physically tired by their work and, at home, experienced intrusive thoughts about their work when they should have been ‘switching off’. The nurses disclosed being self-critical and judgmental, thinking that they could have done more for their patients. This could then lead them to self-protect, by adopting negative coping strategies, such as emotional avoidance (Upton, 2018).

Evidence also emerged from the study that showed that it was crucial for healthcare organisations to provide healthy, supportive and compassionate working environments in which nurses’ emotional wellbeing is prioritized, and they are supported in developing positive coping mechanisms to manage the demands of their job (Upton, 2018).

Indeed, recently, the International Council of Nurses (ICN, 2020) has echoed these findings, having expressed concern that all nurses are at risk of psychological distress and negative emotions, an over-reliance on negative coping mechanisms and destabilisation of existing psychiatric conditions. The ICN stressed that, in order to prevent and mitigate the mental health and wellbeing consequences of this pandemic in nursing staff, there is a need to actively support and build resilience across teams and the healthcare system as a whole.
For this to be achieved, healthcare organisations and their leaders need to be made more aware of the strategies and resources that can facilitate supporting the physical and emotional wellbeing of their staff during these unprecedented times

To address this, the British Psychological Society’s Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology (CDT) Section (of which I am the external representative for the nursing profession), has drawn together a collection of resources that healthcare organisations, managers and team leaders may find helpful in supporting their staff to navigate through the ‘active’ phase of these uncertain times ( The website also contains information on how individuals can protect their own health and wellbeing at work, including self-care strategies, how to be compassionate towards oneself (self-compassion), and how to recognise compassion fatigue.

For some members of staff, the mental health consequences of the pandemic may currently not be clear, but could surface in the weeks, months and years to come. The ICN and the British Psychological Society (BPS) recognise, not only the importance of considering the immediate health and wellbeing issues that healthcare staff may be experiencing caring for patients during these new and demanding times, but also of preventing long-term emotional, psychological and physical impact. To reflect these concerns, BPS guidance and the CDT website offer resources to support restoring and maintaining staff wellbeing in the ‘recovery’ phase.
In conclusion, effective leadership is key to the success of supporting healthcare workers through these difficult times. Leaders of healthcare organisations need actively to prioritise the value and appreciation placed on nursing staff and encourage them to access and adopt strategies and resources that improve and support their wellbeing. By doing so, nurses in all healthcare settings will have a better chance of managing the stresses of their work, both today and in the future.


International Council of Nurses (2020) ICN calls for government action to stop attacks on nurses at a time when their mental health and wellbeing are already under threat because of COVID-19 pandemic. Press release. Available online:

Upton KV (2018) An investigation into compassion fatigue and self-compassion in acute medical care hospital nurses: a mixed methods study. J Compassionate Health Care 5(7). Available online: