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Health and well-being for healthcare professionals

Support and resources to help you with the changes that have taken place in light of coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak is having a significant impact on healthcare professionals and has undoubtedly added to the already busy schedules within healthcare settings. For many healthcare professionals, this is a time of increased pressure and stress, particularly around disruptions to regular patient care or risks to yourself or your loved ones.

It is quite normal to experience feelings of distress in the current situation and it is important to recognise that this is not a reflection on your ability to do your job or to cope. Looking after your mental health will help you cope and provide the best possible care for your patients.

Tools to support your well-being

As demands on your workplace increase, staff may be redeployed to work in areas where there is a high need. As such, you may find yourself temporarily moved away from your usual role or department. It’s common to experience some increase in stress as you adjust to this.

  • Ask for help if you feel like you need a refresher of skills in your redeployment. See our e-learning resource for more information.
  • When feeling overwhelmed, write down what worries you about the new role can help you address these worries more logically.
  • Try to see if you can connect with some positive meaning out of being redeployed. For example, a sense of contributing to a wider purpose, or a feeling of helping out. Doing so can off-set some of the stress that comes from redeployment.
  • You may also experience feelings of distress at not being able to care for your haematology patients in the usual way. This is natural. Remind yourself that this change is temporary, and you will be able to return to your primary role.
  • You may also be hearing more distress and fears from patients and carers as a result of their routine care being affected by COVID19. A simple tool to use in such conversations is Listen, Validate, Reassure. Patients and families need to know that they have not been forgotten in the crisis. Allow patients and carers to express their concerns. Validate their feelings (‘I can hear that you are feeling…’ ‘It’s natural to feel worried…’) And reassure them that any risks to their health are being managed and keeping them well is still a priority. Use facts about how your department is minimising risk.
  • You may experience a range of emotions after conversations like this, such as sadness, stress or even guilt. Remember you are doing your best, and much of this is outside of your control as an individual. Focus on the things you can do that make a difference - speaking to and reassuring your patients. Having a brief talk with a colleague after a distressing phone call with a patient can also help. Consider referring very distressed patients or carers for additional psychological support.
  • Tell your patients about the information and support on offer from Blood Cancer UK. We have lots of information about coronavirus for patients, and our Support Services Team are happy to talk to anyone struggling emotionally, whether patient or carer/relative.
  • It’s important to acknowledge that the causes distress, for you and your patients, may not be possible to fix right now and that is ok – you are doing your best.
  • Be aware of the tendency to put your own needs last and feeling guilt when engaging in self-care, particularly if you need to self-isolate due to illness.
  • Remember it is completely valid and understandable to have off days and to do what feels right for you.
  • Acknowledge what was difficult at the end of a day and decide to let it go. Find an action you could take to tell yourself you’re switching off, whether it’s leaving the building, removing your uniform, or travelling home. Use this time to let things go, so you can recover before the next shift.
  • You may want to ask yourself ‘what was going on for me today?’ and write it down or share it with someone you trust.
  • When you notice a negative thought or thinking pattern (‘This is just awful’ 'I can't see an end to this' ‘I’m not doing well enough’) can you replace it with a more helpful one? (‘Even though things are bad right now, they will get better’, ‘Although this is difficult, I have the strength to cope’.) This is not to say that fears or concerns aren’t valid, but that looking at them another way may help you move on.
  • Think about what you’d say to a friend in this situation.
  • Focus on achievements at the end of the day – start with one – you can use this ‘going home checklist’ as a guide.
  • Being kind to yourself is incredibly important, so think about the difference you made and allow yourself to be ‘good enough’.
  • Note down one small thing you will do to care for yourself at the beginning or end of each day – make sure it is visible.
  • Write five things that you look forward to post-COVID-19 – make sure it is visible.
  • Recognising what you can and cannot control is important – make a list of:
  1. what you can control such as your attitude, the things you do at home and limiting news coverage and social media
  2. what you cannot control, such as the actions of others and how long this will last. Then focus on the things that you can control.
  • Reduce levels of stress by trying mindful exercises – some just take seconds and can be done anywhere. There are a variety of apps for NHS staff that have short guided exercises.
  • Even during a busy shift, try to take short breaks that are part of your rota to help you recharge, such as sitting quietly for a few minutes away from clinical areas. Listening to a song or having something to eat or drink might help take you away from everything just for a few minutes.
  • Where possible, try to maintain some routines in your day to provide structure and stability.
  • Try to maintain a healthy diet as much as possible, including drinking enough water.
  • Try to undertake regular physical exercise to boost your mood. Walking, jogging or other moderate exercise is proven to enhance well-being. You may want to do this at the end of a shift to de-clutter your mind.
  • Particularly for shift workers, here are some simple tips on sleep
  • Use coping strategies that have worked for you in the past.
  • Spend time on things you enjoy outside of work.
  • Stay connected – talk with family and friends regularly and maybe include some coronavirus-free conversations as well.
  • Try these free or discounted products and services to support well-being.

For NHS staff who are vulnerable

NHS England has issued guidance on supporting staff who are in vulnerable and high-risk groups. It is important for healthcare professionals who are in the high-risk category to avoid going to work, so it may be helpful to speak with your employer about situation in order to make reasonable adjustments. You may also want to tell your GP, or hospital team if you have an ongoing condition, about your situation, so they can provide the relevant evidence.

Compassionate leadership

Compassionate leadership in the time of coronavirus is essential– a concept that needs to be supported and demonstrated by managers.

The British Psychological Society provides recommendations to help senior staff to proactively take steps to protect the mental health of both clinical and non-clinical teams.

Healthcare professionals with children

If you have a family or children, they may experience heightened anxiety about you being at work, and the possible risks to you. They may also worry about risks to them. These worries are natural, and the following suggestions may help you to navigate this difficult situation:

  • Listen to and validate their concerns - 'I can understand your fears'.
  • Take the time to offer an explanation that is likely to reassure them. For example, the precautions you take during your journey to work, at work, and after work to minimise the risk of infection to yourself and to your family.
  • Facts and explanations can help with any distress they are experiencing, but some degree of fear and worry is natural.
  • Doing something that fosters your connection with them when you are at home can help.
  • If you have a family member who is in a high-risk category and you are worried about them, speak to your manager about your concerns regarding their safety in order to make a plan to keep everyone safe.

Where to go for support

We appreciate that clinical supervisions and Schwartz Rounds may have been stopped but there is alternative support available to manage the emotional impact of work. In the case that you are struggling with severe or acute feelings of distress such as depression or feelings of panic that could affect your ability to work, speak to your line manager as soon as possible so you can be supported.

Your feedback

Please do get get in touch with us if:

  • there is anything you feel that Blood Cancer UK could be doing to support your work
  • there is a resource that has been helpful to you that is not listed here
  • there is content here that you believe is inappropriate or outdated.

Thank you to Surabhi Chaturvedi (BA Hons, MA, MSc), Psychotherapist & Counsellor (BACP Accredited) working in Haemato-Oncology, and Reta Sowton, Clinical Lead for Cancer Supportive Care, for their support with the content of this page.

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