To say this particular time in history is a stressful one for healthcare professionals everywhere is an understatement. Healthcare workers have experienced stress and emotional fatigue for decades, but the situation is only becoming more complicated with COVID-19. When confronted with the ironic truth of my own declining health caused by a career devoted to the care of others, I realized the importance of proactively creating balance in my life in order to avoid certain side effects of long hours of physically, mentally and emotionally challenging work. While nurses and other healthcare personnel are some of the smartest, boldest and most resilient people I have met in my life, many wish someone would have prepared them for the unexpected side effects of helping others through some of the most intense moments of their lives.
A few of the common conditions experienced by nurses are headaches, back pain, sleep disruption, digestive problems, depression, anxiety, fatigue and eventual burnout. Although these ailments may seem common, it is incredibly difficult to be fully present while caring for others if one is feeling unwell, especially if the major cause of distress (both physical and mental) is attributed to his or her daily work setting. I began noticing many of these symptoms in my own life and knew that I needed to find a solution, not only for my own well-being, but also to support my fellow colleagues.
I was certain that my problem could not be ultimately solved by masking the symptoms with medications, and I needed to find the root cause of what was going on. While many life-threatening conditions can and should be treated using conventional western, medical modalities, it was clear that the discomfort in my body was associated with racing thoughts, moments of acute stress and the physical wear and tear that I was experiencing at work. Daily yoga and a healthy diet couldn’t fully reverse the issues I was having, so I decided to make an appointment that would eventually change the path of my career.
Like many new patients to acupuncture, finding a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner felt like a last resort. My opinion of alternative medicine was not only influenced by a culture that emphasized mainstream practices, but also by my job working in a hospital setting where mild conditions are seldom addressed. The practitioner was calm, listened closely to my symptoms, asked many questions about the subtle details of my health and performed a thorough assessment. His approach to care, which I now know is common among acupuncturists, was very individualized and relied heavily on the subjective information I provided, such as pain, emotional status changes and abnormalities in various body functions, e.g., digestion.
After a single treatment of acupuncture, I felt significantly less pain in my body and, within two weeks of taking a Chinese herbal formula, started noticing an improvement of the internal problems I had been experiencing. Acupuncture actually promotes self-healing and improves nervous system regulation. Personally, more restful sleep and sharper cognitive function at work followed. What nurse (or their patient) doesn’t want that?
Every day, whether working in the hospital or treating patients using acupuncture and herbs, I am thankful for both conventional western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine for allowing me to achieve and sustain balance, which is something I did not possess when I was too busy taking care of others to check in with my own health status. I have been gifted with more energy and drive and, subsequently, feel excited for the opportunity to share these healing techniques with other healthcare professionals who feel motivated to show up for their patients in the most positive, engaged way possible. The silver lining of my own health challenges has been the recognition of how these two medical approaches can complement one another. When used in combination, they provide healthcare professionals and patients with holistic and individualized treatment plans that encourage genuine wellness, greater energy levels and ongoing personal empowerment.
Katie Shea is a registered nurse, yoga teacher and aspiring acupuncturist and herbalist living in Austin, TX. In addition to her passion for helping herself and others achieve wellness, Katie loves running, traveling, reading and being outdoors.