The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought an unprecedented amount of anxiety, stress and uncertainty for everybody, but particularly for health professionals who are on the front line. As pharmacists, you are caring for patients day in, day out. In order to do this, it’s vitally important to look after your own well-being too.
You’ve probably heard this advice before, but it’s worth reiterating as if ever there was a time to look after everyone’s wellbeing, it’s now.
The fight or flight response triggered by stress and anxiety can be mitigated by physically moving, so whenever possible, stay active. At work this might mean taking stairs instead of lifts or taking a walk during your break (extra tip: try to make sure you actually have a break).
If you’re already very active at work but it’s the stressful kind of active, like running between wards or offices, it’s still worth trying to incorporate some activity during your free time. If you can walk, run or cycle on your commute home it will help relieve the stresses of the day, allowing you to be more relaxed and calm when you get there. It’s also worth pointing out that if stress and anxiety is having an impact on your sleep, being active during the day will also help you to rest better at night.
When you’re busy, you may not have the time or headspace to think about eating healthily. Grabbing a couple of biscuits to keep you going between patients might be your current default. Try to organise some fresh and healthy food at home to take to work with you the next day. Do you have a partner or family member who can make you a packed lunch? Packs of nuts and dried fruit will keep your energy levels steady, and fresh fruit will boost your immune system. Can you take turns at work to bring in some healthy snacks for your team?
And if you’re already feeling anxious, be mindful that caffeine and alcohol may exacerbate those jittery feelings.
Research studies have consistently shown that being in a natural environment decreases feelings of anxiety, boosts mood and reduces those ruminating thoughts. Pair this with your physical activity and you’re onto a winner. While you’re there, try some mindfulness techniques by really focussing on the present moment, taking some time to notice to what’s going on around you. Listen to the birdsong or the crunch of the twigs under your feet. Look at the blossom and flowers that are starting to bloom or pick a leaf and appreciate the natural patterns.
Make time to socialise (online) with family and friends and take the opportunity to talk about things which aren’t related to work. FaceTime the friend who makes you laugh the most or ask your children to put on a silly show. It’s also helpful to talk about your anxieties and stresses to colleagues who can support you or, if you want to talk more anonymously, make use of Pharmacist Support for independent advice.
Check in regularly with your colleagues. Be mindful of signs of stress and worry in others. Supporting each other through tough times is crucial, so actively encourage expression of concerns and fears.
The British Psychological Society has released guidance to healthcare leaders and managers to enable them to take proactive steps to protect the psychological wellbeing of their staff during and after the coronavirus outbreak. This guide also outlines the types of psychological responses you might be likely to see in yourself and others as you progress through the coming weeks and months.
The key principles are:
- Provide visible leadership
- Have a communication strategy
- Ensure consistent access to physical safety needs (e.g. personal protective equipment)
- Ensure human connection and methods of pre-existing peer support
- Providing psychological care to patients and families is key to staff wellbeing
- Normalise psychological responses
- Deliver formal psychological care in stepped ways
- Innovate to implement psychological care
- Come back to your core NHS, organisational and professional values in making decisions
- Take care of yourself and pace yourself
- Free well-being apps for NHS staff, including Headspace for mindfulness and meditation, Unmind for tools and training to manage your personal mental health needs, Sleepio to improve poor sleep, and Daylight if you are experiencing symptoms of worry and anxiety.
- Pharmacist Support Wellbeing Hub
- Mind, the mental health charity
- Couch to 5k running plan
- Healthy lunch ideas for work
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the UKCPA or its members. We encourage readers to follow links and references to primary research papers and guidance.
Competing interest statement:
The author declares: no support from any organisation for the submitted work; no financial relationships with any organisations that might have an interest in the submitted work in the previous three years; no other relationships or activities that could appear to have influenced the submitted work.