Being a healthcare worker can be difficult: long hours, lots of moving parts, exposure to many patients and illnesses, and tons of policies and procedures to follow. But being a healthcare worker during a global pandemic which has already claimed 375,000 lives? Immensely stressful, demanding, and overwhelming. So while you are dealing with this burgeoning trauma, it is important for healthcare workers to practice self-care.
In a time of trauma, fear, and a host of other distressing emotions, your mental health can suffer. However, your friends, family, and patients need you. More than that, you need some peace within yourself. So take on depression, burnout, and other emotions with this self-care advice. Although originally targeted towards oncology nurses, these tips are helpful for any healthcare workers who want to better focus on self-care and emotional regulation.
COVID-19: A Brief Overview
If you’ve looked at the news over the past few months, I’m sure that you’re well-versed in all things COVID-19. But in case you need some filling in, I’m here to give you the breakdown:
- COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first seen in Wuhan, China. However, over the last few months, COVID-19 has spread into 213 countries and territories around the globe.
- It is unclear when COVID-19 appeared, with stories ranging from November to January. The virus was first declared a pandemic, though, in March 2020.
- There are currently 6.26 million diagnosed cases worldwide, with 375,000 fatalities. Out of these, 1.85 million diagnoses and 107,000 deaths are in the United States alone.
- COVID-19 symptoms widely vary, with new information being discovered weekly. Potential symptoms include fever, a persistent and painful cough, gastrointestinal distress, small blood clots, stroke, loss of smell and taste, and an inflammatory condition in children. In severe cases, it can cause a cytokine storm and immense respiratory distress.
What is self-care?
Now, it’s time to move onto self-care. First off, what is self-care and why is it important? Basically, self-care is:
- Being attuned to your physical, mental, and emotional help.
- Learning to be vulnerable and explore your feelings, even if they aren’t positive.
- Being kind to yourself.
- Taking actions to uplift and support yourself, replenish lost energy, and reduce stress.
- Swapping unhealthy coping mechanisms for healthy, beneficial coping mechanisms.
Practicing self-care helps to reduce your stress. While many people see stress as solely a mental or emotional issue, being stressed can actually physically impact you. According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NAMI), stress can present itself as:
- Fatigue or low energy levels
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Frequent headaches
- Depression or anxiety
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Nausea and vomiting
So, practicing self-care will help reduce your stress. It will let you explore your feelings in a safe and appropriate way, allowing you to be vulnerable and understand why certain things impact you so much. Additionally, it will help you support others while not overburdening or exhausting yourself.
- Connect with other people. I know, I know. You can’t go out because of social distancing. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stay connected with friends, family, advocacy groups, and more! Feeling lonely can actually negatively impact your physical health. So whether you’re finding a way to volunteer, calling your parents, or simply joining a conversation on social media, reaching out to others will help create a foundation of support and process your feelings.
- Give yourself grace. As we’re going through this pandemic, I am currently separated from my family by about 1,000 miles. I find myself getting stressed and angry, worried, anxious. Sometimes I want to sleep in. Sometimes I have difficulty focusing on work. Right now, we are living through an unprecedented time and nobody is quite sure how to react. So if you’re feeling upset, or find yourself reacting in a certain way, be graceful and compassionate. You are doing the best that you can and coping the best way you know how.
- Take time for yourself. Admittedly, your job may be pretty busy right now. But when you can during the day, ask yourself how you are feeling. Check in on your mental status and emotions throughout the day. When you are feeling stressed, try and take a few minutes to breathe, walk, eat, drink water, listen to music, or just relax. When you get home, partake in something that makes you feel happy, relaxed, and comfortable: a shower, a walk, video games, a book, sleep, relaxing with a partner. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Simply do whatever it is that makes you feel most cared for.
- Learn grounding or breathing techniques. These can be very helpful in the midst of a high-stress situation. Controlling your breathing, or grounding yourself, can help you stay in the moment without feeling overwhelmed. If you’re looking for some ideas on grounding techniques, take a look at this guide.
- Take care of yourself physically. That means drinking enough water, eating balanced meals and snacks, getting enough sleep, and exercising.
Other Ways to Improve Self-Care
So now you understand what self-care is, why it is important, and specific ways to improve your self-care plan. But if you’re still looking for additional resources, here’s a few that might help:
- Mindfulness apps: Download apps like Insight Timer or Calm onto your phone. These offer guided meditations, videos and resources on mindfulness, and training from coaches to help you improve focus and sleep, reduce stress, and embrace your emotions.
- Podcasts: CancerCare is offering a 5-part miniseries on issues in COVID-19 and oncology. If you want to see how other healthcare workers are feeling, or simply listen to compare it to your own experience, you can check out the Cancer Out Loud! series.
- Audio/Video: If you’re interested in the physical aspect of self-care, then check out this 4-part video series on Tai Chi! This will help get you moving, reduce stress, and improve balance and flexibility. But if you’re looking more for the mindful aspect of self-care, these free meditations, webinars, and workshops will do the trick.
- Toolkits: The AONN and NCCN both published toolkits (specific to oncology providers) to assist with education, patient management, self-care, and stress management.