The country and world has endured weeks of unprecedented challenge due to coronavirus. As we go further into the crisis, we need to be mindful of how well healthcare workers may be coping with the unprecedented way of caring for our most vulnerable COVID-19 patients. Here, Neil Loach, Senior Lecturer in Postgraduate Healthcare and Lead for the Specialist Community Public Health Nurse (Occupational Health) Pathway, discusses the importance of self-care and provides advice to nurses and healthcare workers on how to practice looking after themselves.
There is a wealth of evidence available to us as academics as to the benefits in practicing self-care and the relationship with better health outcomes for patients. This is easier said than done during an extended lockdown period; our roles require us to look after the needs of our patients and there is also the increasing demand upon shifts and personal pressures to contend with. However, there are a number of things that only need a small amount of time to put into place and while this may be difficult to get your head around when there are so many pressures on time, it certainly isn’t impossible.
To help with the current crisis, I have written an e-book looking at the ways in which healthcare workers can take care of themselves, while at the same time remembering to keep an eye open for signs of distress in fellow workers.
As Vice-President of iOH, The Association of Occupational Health and Wellbeing Practitioners, I have a keen interest in the psychological wellbeing of healthcare workers and have been a lifelong advocate for good mental health among NHS staff after seeing many worker referrals while in practice as a Lead Nurse for Occupational Health within the NHS.
Using the work of Keith Carlson, an American nurse and career coach, I have adopted a nursing process approach to my book, in the hope that it resonates with healthcare workers and creates familiarity. I have also used my own photographs in the book as a way of practicing my own mindfulness.
Here are some of the top tips mentioned in the book.
What does self-care mean?
It’s often forgotten but is increasingly important in order to practice safely and effectively as a healthcare worker. It can be easily achieved with a little discipline.
Essentially, self-care is the practice of looking after and improving our own health and wellbeing in order that we can improve our resolve, and therefore in this situation, potentially our patient outcomes. This is particularly important at times of adversity and stress
1. Stay hydrated
While this may seem obvious, staying hydrated is often a challenge for nurses. To combat dehydration, take small sips of water throughout your shift. Consider investing in an insulated tumbler to keep beverages at the preferred temperature.
2. Take breaks
When you are busy with patients, it can be easy to overlook your own needs. Making time for breaks throughout your shift is important; a few quick trips to the toilet can prevent unnecessary and painful urinary tract and bladder infections.
3. Eat well, plan healthy meals and snacks
As a nurse, you may be burning through calories faster than you think. You will need to frequently refresh your energy reserves so make sure you have healthy meals and snacks readily available. Avoid relying on foods and drinks that contain high levels of caffeine and sugar. Instead, select nutritious foods that are portable and require minimal preparation.
4. Keep in touch with friends and loved ones
Shift work and being on-call can wreak havoc on your personal life. While it may be essential to pass on an outing with friends or family at the moment, maintaining these relationships virtually can do wonders for your emotional health. Though you can’t say yes to every invitation, strive to virtually meet up with others outside of work at least once a day.
5. Use mindfulness
Meditation techniques, like deep breathing and guided imagery, can be instrumental in relieving stress and refocusing on the present. With a growing number of smart phone apps as well as meditation videos designed solely for nurses, finding a suitable format and style has never been easier. Mood self-assessment tools are available and there are also many apps available on your smartphone to assist with this also.
6. Exercise if you can
Stamina and strength are necessary to perform your job duties properly, and exercise can help. Find an exercise you enjoy — whether it is walking, cycling or yoga — and do it at least a few times a week. There are plenty of free apps available that will help with the current situation. When the gyms re-open there are often discounts available for healthcare workers that will then allow you to try out a few different exercises and find what works best for you.
7. Sleep is so important
Even if you are not working the night shift, creating a relaxing sleep environment can ensure you get the rest you need. Blackout curtains, eye masks, earplugs and white noise apps on your phone can be helpful options.
8. Be kind to yourself
Take time to remind yourself what an awesome job you are doing. Be kind to yourself and rest assured that you are not alone in this. Talk about how you are feeling and seek the advice and guidance of your managers and peers. You would do well to keep a journal of your thoughts and feelings so that you can reflect on them later. Remember, YOU are doing an awesome job!
Please take the time to share this book with any healthcare workers you know. It is vital to improve the mental health of those who may be struggling.
To download the book, visit: https://apple.co/2y5QLcy