7 Days of Pandemic Self-Care for the Healthcare Professional

The life of a healthcare professional is filled with unexpected challenges under normal circumstances, and yet healthcare workers pride themselves on rolling with the changes. With the current coronavirus pandemic playing out around the world, however, life has gotten much harder for a large swath of the population.

In terms of jobs, healthcare employment alone declined by 43,000 jobs in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the coming months, the U.S. unemployment rate could hit 16%, White House Economic Advisor Kevin Hassett said April 26.

In terms of employees’ health, at least 9,000 healthcare workers may already be infected with COVID-19, and at least 27 have died treating patients. This places a huge burden on an industry already in serious need of new nurses and allied health professionals. On top of staffing concerns, employees who remain in good health are faced with shortfalls in supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE), test and pharmaceutical shortages, and shifting policies and procedures.

The stress is coming from a variety of directions. As a dedicated healthcare professional, you may be working long, demanding shifts, and coming home to seclude yourself from your loved ones, while eating unhealthy foods or irregularly eating meals. Your partners may find themselves carrying more of the family responsibilities, and they may be trying to do so while working from home or looking for work, which causes additional stress and anxiety.

You and your family need some care and attention too right now. Self-care is a term that has been tossed about quite a lot lately. You’ll find lists upon lists of “ways to practice self-care” if you search for the term online. And, while a pedicure and face mask sound like a lovely way to relax, the suggestions may not completely translate to the current environment we’re living in.

At the root, self-care is about recognizing your own personal needs and how to fulfill them. It’s not about what your job needs from you, or what your family and friends need from you. It’s about what you need from and for you. We all know it’s not sustainable to take care of everyone else and not take care of yourself, at least not for long.

Does this sound like you or someone you know? Read on for real concepts you can incorporate into each day to combat the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical fatigue you may be feeling in these difficult times.

Find Your Equilibrium

a person cuts fruit on a cutting boardWhen life starts to feel out of control, it can be hard to feel like you have a grasp on anything around you. If your typical schedule has shifted dramatically since this crisis began, consider ways to take charge of the areas of your life you can influence.

Having a routine gives us a sense of control when we feel like chaos surrounds us. Maybe you find yourself working very long hours and you feel grubby when you come home; having a nightly personal hygiene routine can give you something to look forward to at the end of your shift.

Some people like to exercise control over their diet by meal prepping on a day off, making it easier to know what you’re going to eat and when. If you’re an early bird, you might want to think about giving yourself extra time in the morning to enjoy your typical routine. A few more minutes with your coffee and quiet can change your outlook for the day.

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Be Mindfully Present

a father baking happily with his children

You’ve probably heard about the practice of mindfulness at this point, but grasping the concept can be a little more difficult. The actual art of being mindful is simply about recognizing the moment you are in. That’s it. Be aware.

You can try being mindfully present by focusing on a sound or song in your space. You might listen to the birds outside your window as you wake up or a new favorite song during your commute.

Try to be mindful of a sensory feeling. Notice how it moves you. Hold onto those feelings or emotions for a few moments and explore them, even if you’re a bit uncomfortable.

If you have a spiritual practice, try being more present with the emotions or connection. Don’t just go through the motions of your practice, but really pay attention to what you do, why, and how it makes you feel. Practicing mindfulness in all facets of our lives can help bring a sense of calm and order and motivation to propel us through the chaos that surrounds us.

Reach Out and Connect

a woman smiling on a video call with a friendIf you have a family at home, or coworkers that you still communicate with daily, you may not think that you need connections to the outside world. But we all need to feel connected to our community, even more so when our normal opportunities to connect are no longer possible.

Social media gives us the illusion that we are connecting with others, but often the view through a screen is not an accurate representation of what is really happening in someone’s life. It’s important that you reach out to friends and family members, even if you can’t connect face to face. We have so many tools that we can use to keep in touch.

Try planning virtual events with your loved ones. A monthly ladies’ night can be moved online, where you can share wine recommendations and stories from home. Or you can plan a dinner date with your best friend, sharing a recipe, cooking the same thing separately, and eating together over FaceTime. If you have family members who are on the other side of the world, or just have opposite schedules, you can use apps to send voice messages that can be stored and enjoyed later.

Maybe you’ve been itching to get out your crafting supplies and a friend’s birthday is coming up. What better time to make a special card and slip it in the mail? Not only will it brighten your friend’s day to receive your thoughtful card, but it will lift your spirits to put your energy into something you know will spark happiness. Whatever way you go about it, the important thing is that you don’t lose your connection to the people who matter to you while your focus is pulled in so many directions.

Get Your Heart Rate Up

A woman does yoga in front of her computerMovement is important to your overall well-being, energy, and immune system function, and when our schedules get off track it can make it harder to get the movement our bodies need. Even if you have a job where you’re on your feet all day, you need alternate forms of movement.

Gyms may be closed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get movement in your life in many other ways. Many gyms have moved classes online, so you can follow from home, and they’re often free and on-demand. Or you can start with the basics and just go for a walk around your neighborhood or a nearby natural area, and you may even meet new neighbors (from a distance).

Long stretches at a desk or on your feet can take a toll on your body. Yoga is an easy way to work out the kinks, and you need next to nothing to do it. The internet is teeming with free yoga videos that you can practice from your living room or spare bedroom, or even from your phone in your yard.

Do you love to feel the music? Have an impromptu dance party in your kitchen with your kids or via video conference with a group of friends. Either way, it’s sure to get your oxytocin pumping.

Even cleaning your house can be a great way to fit your daily movement in, and you get the reward of a neat home.

And don’t forget the important art of play. Your pets and kids will appreciate some fun time with you, and you’ll feel better hanging out with the important beings in your life.

Connect with Nature

A family hiking outside on a wooded trailYour ability to connect with the natural world around you might be hampered if you live in a city or suburban area. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still connect with nature.

First, explore wherever you call home. Sitting on your balcony with a few plants and fresh air may be plenty to rejuvenate you. If you have a house with a yard, you can tend to a garden or your landscaping to get that connection with the earth.

You might choose to take a blanket outside and lie down in the grass soaking up the ozone and sunlight. You can also look for parks where you can safely walk while remaining socially distant.

If you don’t have access to any green space, you can immerse yourself in virtual nature. Take a virtual tour to explore wonders like the Grand Canyon National Parkcherry blossoms around the world, or even wander through some of the most beautiful gardens on earth. If you haven’t checked out one of the 176 live nature cams available through explore.org, you should. They have Zen landscape cams, birds, cats, dogs, African wildlife, and much more.

Take It One Step at a Time

a man cleaning a counter with yellow glovesIt is easy to be overwhelmed when you create a to-do list with a dozen projects. Where do you start? The best place to start is with one task. If you have a to-do list that is daunting you, try breaking it down into more manageable tasks.

Take spring cleaning, for instance. Many people are trying to get long lists of organizing and cleaning tasks done in time for summer fun.

Instead of saying, “I’m going to clean every room in the house today,” start with one room at a time. Create your list based on what you’d like to accomplish in that room. Then break that down into single items or tasks that you can start working through.

As you begin to tick off more tasks from your list, you’ll feel more accomplished and motivated to tackle the next item. Once a room is done, you can make your next list of tasks for the room you’d like to complete next. This approach can be translated into everything you tackle—work, kids, home.

Do One Thing You'll Be Happy You Did Later

a person packing soil into a new potted plantIt seems like everyone is learning a new skill, redecorating their house for the umpteenth time, starting a new side gig, and so on. When you look at social media, you may think you’re not maximizing your time at home enough.

But do you really care to learn how to bake the perfect sourdough bread loaf, or is a quick trip to your local bakery a better use of your time?

You don’t have to accomplish great things during this socially distant time. No one expects you to come out of this with a new hobby or passion. However, if you could do something you’ve been wanting to accomplish for a long time, make it a priority now. If that thing is impossible to accomplish from home, you could still do some research and planning that will set you up for success when you have freedom to travel again.

Having something positive to focus on besides just surviving will help renew your sense of purpose and help you see this period with a brighter lens. The idea here is to prioritize what matters to you and do something that you’ll look back on with pride.

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Katherine Detwiler

Strategic Product Marketing Manager, Relias

As Strategic Product Marketing Manager at Relias, Katie Detwiler harnesses her passion for education and for the healthcare industry to ensure hospitals and health systems can deliver impactful education to their providers. She has over a decade of healthcare and business development experience with multiple SaaS companies. For the past four years, she has served as president of the NC Triangle Chapter of Ellevate Network and has been a speaker on the topics of healthcare education, adult learning principles, women’s leadership, and career transitions. Katie was a recipient of the Diversity & HR Solutions’ 2018 Collaborative Community Impact Award and received her bachelor of arts in education from Wheaton College.

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