Taking care of your mental wellbeing during COVID-19

Posted 20 May 2020

Date: 20 May 2020

Author: Dr Helen Munro

Helen Munro, FSRH’s Vice President for Membership shares some advice on how to take care of your mental and physical wellbeing during this unprecedented time.

Healthcare professionals across all sectors are faced with work-related challenges and stressors at the best of times. However, with the arrival of COVID-19 uncertainty and pressure have never been more palpable. Despite this, the pandemic has exemplified the key attributes which make the NHS a world leader in healthcare, and one that I am proud to be a part of. During this challenging time, the professionalism, tenacity, camaraderie, innovation and self-sacrifice shown by each member of its vast workforce highlights the very best of who we are.

From my own experience over the past few weeks, speaking to many of our members and reviewing the results from our rolling members survey, the impact that the pandemic has had on SRH service provision across the UK is greatly evident. The capacity for specialist services has decreased with a reported 29% of staff being redeployed to front line hospital services, and for some of you I know this figure is even higher. With this change in capacity, and following government guidance, our practices have had to adjust, and quickly, changing almost day by day in those first few weeks. I know you have risen to the challenge, many of you moving into the acute wards, or supporting community testing centres. Now, more than two months in it is impossible to ignore the additional physical and mental pressure that we are under during this time.

We are faced with the reality of our personal and professional lives being inextricably linked like never before. Our concerns extend from the wellbeing of our patients, to our colleagues, our loved ones and finally to ourselves. As healthcare professionals we are used to putting the needs of others first, but now more than ever, we need to try and take care of our own wellbeing too.

Staying calm and grounded in times of upheaval and change is not always easy. And that’s ok. It’s ok to find this ‘new normal’ challenging. It is ok to be fine one day and struggling the next. It’s ok to ‘not be ok’. We cannot change the situation, but we can implement simple, yet effective changes to our routines to better support ourselves and each other.

1. Practice self-care

Although the phrase is spoken often, it is actually a very important part of maintaining good mental, physical and emotional wellbeing; simple in theory and also in practice, but often hard to prioritise.

Take the time to understand what it means for you and to actively plan it into your day. Whatever you decide to do, be mindful of how it makes you feel and what impact it has on your wellbeing. On your days off especially, try to incorporate things that you enjoy and help you relax such as exercise or cooking, reading a book or catching up with your favourite box-set (mine is Friends!).

2. Optimise your breaks

It’s not easy especially at this time, but whilst at work, try and find moments, even briefly, where you can pause, count to a minute slowly and focus on your breathing. Although short, these brief but regular moments can help reset, regain focus and calm your nerves.

During your breaks, make sure you eat nourishing foods that will help sustain you and maintain energy levels. Plus if you can, get a breath of fresh air too and try not to spend your breaks going through emails, scrolling through social media or reading the news (we are all guilty of this!).

3. Try and rest well

Our sleep patterns may be more varied than usual right now but try and maintain your sleep routine. A restful days/ nights sleep can help us not only feel refreshed when we wake up, but sleep also supports our immune system, emotional regulation and helps us function better when we need to. And watch the alcohol consumption-sleep will never be as beneficial after one too many!

4. Stay connected

Stay connected to the world outside of work and keep in touch with family and friends on a regular basis, don’t isolate yourself. Whether it’s a quick catch up or a zoom quiz, it’s important to stay social and tap into your support systems.

Connect with your colleagues too via the FSRH COVID-19 & SRH delivery: Healthcare professionals peer support Facebook page. Set up a WhatsApp group or Skype others working in SRH to share experiences and ideas.

5. Remember you’re not alone

Although it can be difficult at times, please do remember that you are not alone. This is an extremely difficult time, so if you are struggling, speak to your supervisor or line manager about your concerns. There are also several external organisations who you can contact or who have resources you may find useful such as:

• The Samaritans who have partnered with the NHS to provide a free confidential support line for all NHS staff and volunteers if you are struggling with anxiety.

• Supporting Doctors 45 min video on how to manage stress and anxiety through the crisis.

• The NHS recently updated their staff bereavement support for staff during COVID-19 which you can read here.

• You can also access wellbeing apps Headspace and Sleepio for free, both of which can help you with mindfulness practices and improved sleep.

Through these ‘strange and scary times’ as our Vice President Dr Jane Dickson aptly described them, please do take care of yourselves and each other. On behalf of everyone here at the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare we thank all of you for your ongoing service to not just the ongoing provision of essential SRH services but in responding to the wider healthcare needs of our hospitals and communities at this time.