Self-care for healthcare workers during Covid-19

Posted by Dr Eleanor De Ath-Miller - September 22nd 2020

It started as a sprint and now it's a marathon. If you are on the frontline of COVID-19 in a Victorian hospital or community healthcare setting you may notice your body and mind on high alert while you spend the majority of your waking hours caring for others.

There’s nothing selfish about taking care of your own basic needs – the health of your body + mind need to come first. When you catch yourself saying that you’re ‘too busy for self-care’, try this reframe: ‘When I take care of myself in small ways, I can be my best self to take care of my patients (and others around me)’.

Here are some more simple tips for fitting your own oxygen mask first, or perhaps repairing the one you have.

  1. You’re human, and that means your mind will try to Fix All the Problems and Reduce All the Uncertainty. Put your energy into the things within your control and leave more mental space for doing your job and caring for yourself during the pandemic. Help your mind out by asking yourself – what can I control at work, right now? Write down what you can do, share what ‘might’ work with a colleague, and see if you can let the rest go.
  2. It’s easy to get into the habit of overriding your body when you are under pressure. Focus on your wellbeing fundamentals – SLEEP + MOVE + NOURISH + CONNECT. Find the tiniest action you can take towards self-care. Switch screens off an hour before bed. Find new ways to move your body. Take regular meal and water breaks at work (and actually sit down to eat). Reach out to a grounding colleague each shift for a chat. Stay connected with your people outside of work.
  3. What you focus on matters. When you can choose where you focus your attention, you can also choose where you spend your energy. At work, when you feel your stress levels rise (or there is a stressful event), take time to ground yourself in the here and now with some deep breathing and focus on long exhalations. At home, check into a free app like Headspace’s ‘Weathering the Storm’ and try a 1-or-2-minute mindfulness exercise daily for a week to get the habit rolling.

Clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Eleanor De Ath-Miller is helping health professionals from all over Australia create Covid-19 wellbeing plans. Get in touch for individual or team wellbeing coaching. If you need urgent mental health support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.