Self-care in health care: A UOG nursing professor’s drive to help medical providers help themselves
Story by Akina Chargualaf
When COVID-19 hit Guam in early March 2020, frontline health care professionals
were battling not only a deadly virus, but stress and anxiety from a shortage of staff
and the fear of possibly bringing the virus home to their own loved ones.
Ana Joy Mendez, an associate professor of nursing in the University of Guam School of Health and a registered nurse with a doctorate in psychology, recognized early on that this pandemic would take a different kind of toll on the people who would be needed the most.
Even before the pandemic, she had witnessed that health care workers who had support from family members, friends, church groups, and work, often coped better than those who did not.
"Since the start, I really felt like it was a war,” Mendez said. “And you cannot just leave other nurses to keep doing what they are doing with no rest. That is why everyone had to do what they could. And I am proud of all the nurses in Guam, and even our nursing students, who stepped up as if it's not an option."
And Mendez stepped up herself. With an extensive background in psychiatry and mental health, Mendez was able to help address the worries weighing on nurses’ and health care professionals’ minds during the first wave of cases on island. She brought her knowledge to support groups specifically for health care providers that were being conducted by the Isa Psychological Services Center at the University of Guam.
Mendez has brought her expertise to social workers as well by personally training the staff at Catholic Social Service staff how to de-escalate stress-induced situations – both for themselves and for their clients.
Two years into the pandemic, cases are still on the rise and new variants have added even more unknowns, and the potential for anxiety, stress, and depression among health care workers has not waned.
Over the course of her community trainings, Mendez, who serves as division chair of the Nursing Program, came to realize that the practices she had been teaching to professionals in the community would greatly benefit the next generation of nurses before they even start their careers.
This semester, she started a program within all UOG nursing classes called I-10. The program allots 10 minutes of every class for self-care and stress reduction. The professors choose whether to incorporate I-10 at the beginning, middle, or end of class, and the sessions have included everything from yoga to deep-breathing exercises to journaling to aroma therapy.
"Students are much appreciating the relaxation activities that we have every class, including practicum," said Assistant Professor of Nursing Rosielyn Babauta. "I like this relaxation implementation that we're doing, and it's helpful for me as well."
Mendez said the approach might be helpful in other classes and institutions as well.
But as a researcher, she wants to first assess the program’s impact by surveying students
on its usefulness at the end of this semester.
Taking time for self-care and also to care for others is something Mendez encourages everyone to do.
“What is needed is just someone that is there,” she said. “Sometimes people may not want to help because they may lack the confidence or think they need specific training and credentials. But sometimes in life, you realize that what you have is more than enough.”