All across the country, healthcare experts are stepping up to provide essential care services to those most in need. While many industries have enabled employees to work from home in order to halt the spread of the coronavirus, healthcare workers have no such luxury. If you work in healthcare, you’re no doubt right in the thick of it, dealing with the implications of strained resources, long hours, extensive quarantine procedures and the fear of what happens next.
No doubt your organization has instituted guidelines about safety steps to follow, how the institution is responding to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic and how to do your job properly. So rather than cover that same ground, we want to provide some insight into something that can be just as important: self-care.
Many healthcare workers are likely struggling to find the energy to do anything more than report in to work each and every day, but you still need to make time for yourself. When you’re at your best, your patients receive the best care.
To that end, here are some tips to consider when it comes to taking care of yourself even as you spend an inordinate amount of time taking care of others.
This is the big one. Even though it probably seems like there’s not enough time in the day to do all the things you have to do as an employee, a spouse, a parent, etc., it’s critical to make time for the requisite amount of sleep in your day.
What’s the requisite amount? Seven hours or more. Some of you may be laughing right now given all of the demands you have to meet in a given day, but this can’t be emphasized enough. Healthline has a great refresher on why you need this much sleep, as well as tips on getting there.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, your body isn’t equipped to stay healthy. You have a higher risk of making mistakes. Your response time is diminished. And perhaps the scariest part: after extended bouts of not getting sufficient sleep, you may not even realize how tired you are or the decrease in your abilities.
So what to do? As hard as it may seem with extended workdays and all your other commitments, try to stick to a nightly sleep routine. Turn the phone off when you’re home for everything except emergencies, especially in the hour right before you go to bed. And if you’re still struggling to achieve the requisite number of sleep hours, try to steal away time for a short nap break during the day.
Those working from home right now are likely reeling from an overabundance of family time. Healthcare workers face the opposite problem. It’s easy to feel like you’re missing valuable time with your loved ones when you’re spending 12+ hours per day in a stressful clinical environment.
That makes the time you do have with your loved ones that much more important. Make sure to lean on and spend time with those closest to you. If they’re your immediate family, still take the time to play games, have dinner, and do all the things you would normally do around the house. If you have loved ones outside your own home, particularly elderly parents who probably crave a connection right now too, reach out to them regularly for conversation.
And if the weather cooperates in your area, grab the whole family and get outside. This may seem counter-intuitive in a quarantine environment, but most jurisdictions at this point in time are encouraging people to go for walks or explore parks, so long as you still practice the social distancing etiquette that’s so important to halting the spread of COVID-19.
(one thing to note: if you have kids, think more nature parks than playgrounds. Getting in the outdoors to explore is much safer than touching a bunch of playground equipment).
On the other end of the spectrum, you also should continue doing the things that bring you joy. That means carving out time for the hobbies you love and the pastimes that are uniquely you.
These are probably the easiest things to let slide during an emergency situation, but without them, it’s easy to sink into a malaise. The risk is greatest if you find yourself falling into a routine of going to work, where you worry about patients’ needs, and then coming home and worrying exclusively about loved ones’ needs.
You have to recognize that you have needs too, and one of the best ways to do that is to treat yourself to the things you love.
Sometimes, that could mean taking 15 minutes at the end of the day to read a book or watch a show you enjoy. It could mean setting boundaries with your loved ones to tell them that, on your day off, while you very much look forward to spending quality time with them, you’re also going to take two hours to go for a run, to work on a craft project or do whatever else fills your bucket.
One of the best ways to stay mentally balanced is to also stay physically balanced. A dedicated workout session will help keep you healthy in both body and mind, plus it has the added bonus of helping you fall asleep faster at night.
Even if the day is jampacked and you don’t have the you want to dedicate to fitness, even 15 minutes of stretching or yoga while at work can give you the boost you need to get through the remainder of the day. And if you’re looking for a more extensive workout, but you’re bummed that the gym you normally go to has been closed down, get creative with how you exercise. Even Outside Magazine, whose very name suggests the opposite of in-home exercise, has put out 12 different things you can do from the comfort of your living room, and a simple Google search will reveal hundreds more suggestions.
Now is the time to stay healthy, even if you have to think inside the box to do so.
Face to Face
One of the biggest threats facing healthcare workers is something that’s a little harder to define, but no less serious: loneliness.
True, you may spend your day interacting with patients and members of your team. But that’s no replacement for human contact, especially if a quarantine order has you staying far away from those you want to see the most.
There are no easy answers in this situation, but modern technology has eased the burden somewhat. Apps like Skype and FaceTime enable you to have face-to-face communication with those you care about, and I can guarantee that, in these difficult times, the people you reach out to will be just as grateful for the human contact as you. We’ve gotten so used to texting and communicating via GIF and Emoji, but there really is no replacement for seeing someone’s face or hearing their voice, especially if you’ve gone weeks without that sort of contact.
When you do find yourself sinking into a depressed state, reach out to loved ones. And if that doesn’t help, then don’t be shy about reaching out for professional counseling. While the number of counselors and therapists seeing patients in person has declined dramatically, these same professionals are turning to online meeting tools to continue offering help. There are entire apps, such as BetterHelp, that can connect you to a therapist that meets your needs.
In fact, technology is being used in all sorts of ways to make life soldier on with at least some sense of normalcy. Religious services can now be found on YouTube in place of in-person gatherings. Movie studios are releasing some of their most popular movies early on streaming services. Musicians are live-streaming performances in place of full-fledged concerts.
There’s no limit to human ingenuity, and there’s no better proof of that than the healthcare professionals who continue to dip into reserves of boundless enthusiasm and dedication to help patients in need. But make sure to save at least some of that creativity for you. Doing so will have a positive impact not just on you, but on the entire world around you.