Staying healthy can be a challenge right now, but self-care is critical to you and your patients.
In order to take good care of your patients, you need to first take good care of yourself: during the coronavirus crisis self-care is critical.
This is good advice for a healthcare professional to heed in the best of circumstances. And it’s safe to say that we are faced with less-than-ideal circumstances at the moment, with the COVID-19 pandemic overloading the healthcare system with patients in need of treatment. ADVANCE recently wrote about the importance of prioritizing mental health while working in an environment as uniquely challenging as the hospital, and the toll that poor mental health takes on healthcare workers, their colleagues, and, ultimately, their patients.
“There are real costs associated with failure to proactively address employee well-being, both of which impact the customer receiving care,” Yolanda Graham, MD, senior vice president, chief clinical/chief medical officer at Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health told ADVANCE.
And mental health is clearly a critical piece of the overall well-being puzzle. But it’s just one piece, along with physical, financial and social well-being, for example. Maintaining every facet of one’s health in the unprecedented, uncertain moment we find ourselves in is not easy, to say the least. As we all struggle with a sense of isolation, anxiety and very legitimate fear, the time seems right to offer some tips for practicing self-care, at work and at home.
First Things First: Make Time for Yourself
We offered this advice to nurses in 2018, and it’s every bit as valuable today—if not more so—regardless of your role in healthcare.
“You’re constantly taking care of other people and attending to their needs, but you can’t do this properly if you let your own needs fall by the wayside. It’s important to make sure you take the time for bathroom and meal breaks. You can’t perform your best if you are distracted or feeling hungry,” for example.
In fact, some states have rules (and penalties in place) surrounding missed meals and breaks, because, “as important as your job is, it’s just as important to take care of yourself.”
Sticking to It: Maintaining a Routine
This is obviously a tricky one. Your job, by definition, is unpredictable. You might not even have a routine at work, given the nature of the environment you work in. The healthcare setting moves fast, and you know better than anyone that no two days are the same. That’s never been truer than right now, in the midst of this global pandemic. But it’s important that you keep up with at least some of the activities that keep you sane at home, and help you recharge your batteries for the following day’s work.
If you have a hobby that keeps you busy around the house, make sure you find time for it. Or seek out a new one. Want to learn how to cook a new dish? Take up crafting? Learn a second language? There’s a YouTube video for all of that and much, much more. For many, routines also include exercise. And while the gym might be closed, and congregating in large groups at places like parks and playgrounds is forbidden, you can still go outside.
Take a walk around the block with the family—keeping an appropriate distance from others in the neighborhood, of course. This is beneficial for the kids as well, as it’s easy for them to go overboard with screen time without schoolwork or organized outdoor activities to keep them occupied. And you can still get your daily workout in without the gym equipment. There are plenty of at-home routines that give you a great workout, and plenty of apps to help you find one that works for you.
Keeping it Healthy: Maintain a Balanced Diet
Eating right at work can be a tall order for most, let alone healthcare workers, who can sometimes scarcely find time for a meal break at all. Quick and often unhealthy options make the most sense in the moment. Things don’t get a lot easier at home, where it’s just as tempting to go for something that’s fast and easy, which often also means processed and high in calories, sodium, saturated fats and so on. The current situation adds yet another degree of difficulty. Going to the grocery store probably isn’t advised. The shelves are largely bare anyway, between those hurrying, in person and online, to stock up on essentials.
The good news is that, while toilet paper and hand sanitizer might be precious commodities at the moment, actual food is still in abundance, says Diane Rigassio-Radler, director of the Institute for Nutrition Interventions at Rutgers University.
“ … There is plenty of food in the United States, and food distributors are working to keep shelves stocked,” Rigassio-Radler recently told U.S. News & World Report.
She advises stocking up on canned, frozen and dried non-perishable foods, but choose wisely. Canned foods might last for years, but typically have higher sodium content than others. Dried foods such as dried beans, pasta, shelf-stable milk, root vegetables (carrots and potatoes, for example) and squashes (like acorn or butternut) are also wise choices to keep on hand at home, says Rigassio-Radler, noting that, as always, a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables, proteins and grains boosts immunity. And, while it might be tempting to overindulge in alcohol at a stressful time like this, she suggests limiting added sugar and alcohol intake, while drinking plenty of water.
Avoiding Isolation: Stay Connected While Staying Away
We’ve all learned the meaning of “social distancing” over the last few weeks. As it became clear that the Coronavirus was spreading quickly, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced its recommendation for maintaining increased physical space as a way to hopefully stem the tide. This means no hanging out with friends and family, no sporting events, no happy hours after work. And there’s no telling how long this will last.
Research has shown the correlation between a strong sense of social connectedness and overall health. So how do you keep that connection when face-to-face interaction is off the table? Call a friend, or a group of friends, for a video chat. This obviously doesn’t replace in-person conversation, but catching up virtually, even if it’s just to commiserate over how tough it is to be stuck at home, can go a long way toward maintaining some semblance of a social life.
Tune in to social media. Let’s be honest. There’s a lot of negativity, not to mention fear-mongering, to be found in the social media sphere. But it’s also a place where you can keep up with friends and relatives, especially those who you might not be in touch with on a regular basis. It’s also a great place to share baby pictures, and shots of pets doing funny stuff. And who couldn’t use that right now?
Finding the Facts: Seek Out Credible Information
Part of what’s made the Coronavirus pandemic so scary is the overwhelming amount of information coming from every angle. Of course, not all of it is accurate. Knowing the facts about COVID-19 can help cut down on your anxiety, not to mention help put a stop to the rumors and falsehoods that spread along with the virus. The CDC offers an online hub designed to share facts and dispel myths related to the Coronavirus. For example, the immediate risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus that causes COVID-19 is thought to be low, according to the CDC. The organization does note, though, that older adults and individuals with significant underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk of serious complications. The CDC also provides a separate web page with updated information and guidance as it becomes available.
Avoiding Overload: Take a Break from the News
That said, sometimes it’s necessary to tune out from all things Coronavirus even if only for a few minutes. Staying glued to your television or phone can easily lead to overload, and winds up exacerbating anxiety and uncertainty instead of relieving it. If it’s TV time in your house, maybe check out a comedy or something light. Or pop in some earbuds and enjoy music that relaxes you. Or, if it’s feasible, take 15 minutes and just turn everything off. Enjoy a few minutes of silence to re-center yourself.
- Elite Learning, 2020. Accessed 3/19/2020. https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/behavioral-health/mental-health-a-priority-for-healthcare-workers/
- Elite Learning, 2018. Accessed 3/19/2020. https://www.elitecme.com/resource-center/nursing/10-self-care-tips-for-nurses/
- Wall Street Journal, 2020. Accessed 3/21/2020. https://www.wsj.com/articles/five-home-workouts-to-do-during-the-coronavirus-outbreak-11584792000
- CNBC, 2020. Accessed 3/22/2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/best-apps-for-workouts-at-home-if-you-cant-get-to-a-gym.html
- U.S. News & World Report. 2020. Accessed 3/24/2020. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/best-apps-for-workouts-at-home-if-you-cant-get-to-a-gym.html
- Holt-Lunstad J, Robles T, Sbarra D. Advancing Social Connection as a Public Health Priority in the United States. Am Psychol, 2017. Accessed 3/24/2020. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2017-36583-002
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Accessed 3/25/2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/symptoms-testing/share-facts.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020. Accessed 3/25/2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fsummary.html