As a healthcare professional, you are truly on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. While your focus may be on your patients, it is more important now than ever to manage your own stress levels and practice self-care. Your health and well-being are of the utmost importance during the novel Coronavirus outbreak, as they allow you to feel your best and, in turn, provide the best care you can to your patients.
1. Remember Why You Got Into Healthcare
Mr. Roger’s famous advice (given to him by his mother) on preserving a positive outlook during a crisis is “look for the helpers.” That’s you! Reflect on what inspired you to become a healthcare professional. Your interest in helping and caring for others and your sense of compassion are amazing qualities that are invaluable to your community, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. You are helping people heal, survive, and thrive, and your work is crucial to the world right now.
2. Compartmentalize Your Work and Home Life
While at work, be diligent in following CDC guidelines for infection prevention and control to protect yourself. When you get home, set-up a decontamination station and spray or wipe all personal items with EPA approved cleaning agents. Remove your clothing and shower or bathe. Reflect on the fantastic work you did today, and how you did everything you could to help your patients and protect yourself from infection. Then take a deep breath and let the day (or night) go. Give yourself a mental break from thinking about Coronavirus. Try to focus on something that you find enjoyable at home and relax your mind.
3. Create a Routine at Home
We’ve all seen Coronavirus routines posted on social media and laughed at the considerable degree in differences among peoples’ schedules. Some people crave a highly-structured, minute-by-minute plan, while others prefer to have no to-do list at all and live moment-by-moment. Wherever you fall within the spectrum, try to keep your sleeping and eating habits as close to normal as possible, especially on your days off. Make a specific time for self-care, even if it means putting certain chores aside for the time being.
4. Take a Relaxing Bath
Many of us are missing our usual self-care routines, like getting our hair and nails done. In place of that, give yourself an at-home spa experience. Whenever you can, take a long, relaxing bath. Use bubble bath or bath bombs, diffuse essential oils, and light candles. Do a facemask and paint your toenails if you desire. Go all out and take the time to create a self-care experience you deserve.
5. Reread a Favorite Book or Rewatch a Favorite Show
Go with a tried-and-true method of comforting yourself during this unprecedented time. Feel free to fall asleep or let your mind wander. Using books and TV to distract yourself and have fun is a great way to practice self-care. Immerse yourself in comedies or steamy romances to relieve stress, and leave the heavy, dramatic material for another time.
6. Try Online Yoga
Many local yoga studios are offering free online classes during the Coronavirus pandemic; do a search for “free yoga classes online” and pick one that appeals to you. You can choose a class specifically made for stress management or something more intense if you prefer. If you don’t have a yoga mat or yoga blocks, a towel and throw pillows are good substitutes. Yoga is proven to lower cortisol levels, decrease anxiety, and support better sleep, so it’s an excellent choice for combining exercise and self-care, especially in this stressful time.
7. Schedule Video Calls with Friends and Family
If you are not in the habit of making video calls, they can feel awkward. But you’d be surprised at what a great way video calls are to connect with family and friends. Tell them about your experiences on the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic to vent a little. If you need extra support from them, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for exactly what you need. Most people are happy to help; they just may not know what you need or where to start.
Make plans to do something fun when this is all over so that you have something to look forward to together. Now is also a great time to check-in with older family members to let them know you care.
8. Eat Healthy Foods
Stress and long hours as a healthcare professional during the COVID-19 pandemic can wreak havoc on your digestive system and make you feel sluggish. Try to eat a healthy diet as much as possible, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, healthy fats, and nuts. Don’t overdo it with caffeine and alcohol, and be sure to keep yourself hydrated. Avoid processed food and foods with a high sodium content. That said, don’t be afraid to give yourself an extra treat here and there. A little chocolate from time to time can be an excellent form of self-care.
You may find yourself working more and longer hours than usual lately, but whenever possible, make adequate time for rest. Being well-rested is crucial to any self-care plan, and will help you minimize stress at work. Observe Clipboard Health’s Hazardous Hours policy and be mindful not to work more than 20 hours in a row, don’t work more than 70 hours a week, and ensure you have eight hours of rest between shifts that are 12 hours or longer.
Practice healthy sleep hygiene such as turning off your phone and electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime, using your bed for sleep and sex only, and avoiding caffeine and other stimulants late in the day. If you are still having trouble shutting off your mind, try meditating or getting out of bed and reading a book (preferably an unexciting one).
10. Watch for Signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress Syndrome
Monitor yourself for the behavioral, emotional, cognitive, and physical signs of Secondary Traumatic Stress Syndrome, also known as “compassion fatigue,” during the COVID-19 pandemic. These signs include a sense of numbing, feeling overwrought or emotionally spent, increased heart rate, muscle and joint pain, and a sense of withdrawal. If you notice any of these, please seek professional help immediately. Know that there is help, and you are not alone in these feelings. It may be helpful to stay in close contact with other healthcare professionals you trust to vent and compare notes. We are all in this together.
As a healthcare professional, you are likely busier than ever, and dealing with extremely emotional and stressful situations at work. Now is not the time to neglect self-care. As much as possible, take time to decompress and prioritize stress relief and self-care. Your physical and mental health are vitally important and enable you to do your best at work and at home. We at Clipboard Health are so grateful for you and the amazing selflessness you have shown in choosing your career and continuing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.