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From nurses and physicians to EMTs and first responders, health workers have some of the most difficult jobs, which often require them to sacrifice work-life balance and face critical stress levels. During the COVID-19 crisis, the already demanding jobs of health workers became even more intense: lots of overtime, higher exposure to the virus, stress, heart-breaking choices, and a hard to bear death toll. All these factors have had a severe impact on the mental wellbeing of health workers, causing psychological distress. According to a BMA study, more than two-fifths of UK doctors have reported that their mental health is worse now than it was before the pandemic, and that they’re struggling with symptoms of stress, burnout, anxiety, and depression. 

 

Unfortunately, the status of the COVID-19 pandemic is still uncertain. Although several companies have developed vaccines that are in the final stage of clinical trials, we will have to live with the virus for a while longer. For many health workers, a vacation is out of the question because of the Coronavirus, and if you’re in this situation, you have to find other ways to recharge. Mental wellbeing is more important than ever, and these strategies will help you cope with the pressure. 

The importance of a supportive workplace culture and mental health resources

Ever since the first wave of infections hit Europe, it became apparent that healthcare workers would be under incredible levels of pressure. Fortunately, Governments and healthcare institutions started to take measures as soon as possible and initiated mental health support programs for their staff. If you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, ask your colleagues and supervisors if there is such a program where you work – you may be entitled to free therapy sessions or have access to free mental health resources, such as subscriptions to meditation apps. 

 

Even in the absence of these resources, a supportive, positive workplace culture can make a huge difference, so reach out to your peers for support. You are all in this together, so don’t hesitate to talk about your experiences in this period, how the pandemic has impacted you, and what strategies you use to cope with pressure. 

When things become overwhelming, therapy can help. 

Long periods of mental stress and traumatic events can cause anxiety, depression, even PTSD. In the past few months, thousands of healthcare workers in the UK have been facing both of these. According to the World Health Organization, doctors could be facing long-term challenges because they have been exposed to more fatal cases than usual, and they’ve had to take morally tough decisions.

 

When the experience becomes too overwhelming, and you feel that stress and burnout are no longer manageable, therapy can help. A professional therapist can listen to what troubles you, help you understand the factors that are affecting you the most, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

 

If your schedule doesn’t allow you to go to in-person therapy sessions, or you’d prefer a low-risk setting, online therapy can be just as helpful. 

 

Contact a professional counsellor if: 

 

  • You feel emotionally drained and burned out 
  • You are having trouble sleeping 
  • You’re experiencing feelings of guilt, remorse, or worthlessness 
  • You have anxiety and depression symptoms 
  • Your loved ones have recommended you to seek help 
  • You need someone to talk to about what’s been going on lately. 

Tip: If possible, seek a therapist who has worked with healthcare patients before. They will be more familiar with your situation and can offer you targeted advice. 

A balanced diet and physical exercise are more powerful than you think. 

When your schedule is busier than usual, and you’re under a lot of stress, diet and exercise are often the first to suffer. Vending machine chips, takeout, processed foods, fast food, snacks and coffee replace your healthy planned meals, and, instead of your fitness routine, you’d rather just watch Netflix until you fall asleep. 

 

Even if it’s more difficult now, eating healthy and staying active is key in boosting your physical and mental health. First of all, they can strengthen your immunity and help your body fight off infections, which is very important these days. And, secondly, healthy food and exercise have been proven to reduce stress, help you sleep better, and improve your ability to focus. 

 

Best foods & drinks for stress-relief: 

  • Omega-3 rich fatty fish 
  • Carrots 
  • Yoghurt 
  • Dark chocolate (in small quantities) 
  • Nuts 
  • Turmeric 
  • Chamomile and lavender tea 

Exercise ideas: 

Do whatever you feel comfortable with and what works best in your case. Some prefer intense cardio workouts and long runs, while others love doing Yoga and Pilates at home. No matter what you choose, try to be active at least 30 minutes every day. 

Healthy habits that can help with stress relief 

We all have guilty pleasures that pick us up when we’re under a lot of stress, but relying on them instead of looking for long-term solutions to the problem will do more harm than good. 

 

These are the unhealthy coping mechanisms that you should avoid as much as possible: 

 

  • Smoking, drinking, and substance abuse 
  • Compulsive buying 
  • Gambling 
  • Stress eating 
  • Pretending the issue doesn’t exist 

Instead, look for constructive ways of dealing with stress. Mindfulness exercises, meditation, breathing exercises and yoga can help increase your mental resilience and control anxiety symptoms. They can also help lower blood pressure, which is a common problem among healthcare workers. 

 

Mindfulness is a subjective topic, so you don’t have to follow a very strict method. For example, you can start the day with a few breathing exercises, or use your favourite meditation app during lunch break to unwind – whatever works for you. If you have hobbies, they can provide a much-needed distraction, so find time for them as much as possible. 

 

And last but not least, remember that these days we should all be practising physical distancing, not social isolation. Even if you can’t visit your friends and family or go out like you used to, that doesn’t mean you are alone. You can still talk to your loved ones through video calls, and they’ll be happy to hear from you. 

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