The novel coronavirus pandemic that started in early 2020 continues to affect our world and lives daily. Among the many consequences of the spread of COVID-19 came the lengthened hours, stress, and risks for healthcare professionals. Just because healthcare professionals are trained on how to care for others and perform that vitally important service does not mean that they always provide the best standard of care for themselves. Here is a guide on how healthcare professionals can care for themselves in a pandemic.
Acknowledge the Risks and the Realities
While it may seem obvious that there are risks associated with their chosen profession, many healthcare workers intentionally distance themselves from the effects of their work, both for others and for themselves. This can be helpful as a coping mechanism so that professionals can continue to serve while their patients are in need. Still, acknowledging the risks and the realities of the current situation can also be beneficial, especially in circumstances where doing so would allow healthcare professionals to demonstrably recognize the positive contribution they are making.
As would be expected, many of the associated risks for serving as a healthcare professional during the pandemic were and continue to be physical, including the increased chance of contracting the disease when caring for patients battling COVID-19. However, emotional risks are just as important to acknowledge. Some healthcare professionals may find further CNA training, courses, and certifications appropriate and helpful. Education never stops, especially with the nature of a novel virus where best practices, treatment methods, and resources are always changing. Further study, especially when it acknowledges the individual’s wellbeing, can help healthcare professionals better care for others and for themselves.
Cultivate an Atmosphere of Safety
No preventative measures can guarantee complete safety from the virus, but active promotion of an atmosphere of safety, for their patients but even more for themselves, is a critical way for healthcare professionals to practice self-care.
Wearing face masks and following social distancing measures when possible are the general public ways to maintain physical safety during COVID-19, and this applies to healthcare professionals as well. More specifically, the use of proper personal protective equipment, always important for those working with sick patients, is more critical than ever during this pandemic.
However, cultivating this atmosphere of physical safety does not have to mean sacrificing individuality and personality. Healthcare professionals should seek ways to express their passion for their career, to rejuvenate their spirits as they do the work that makes such a huge difference. Comfortable scrub jackets with proud labels of specific jobs are a simple but powerful way for healthcare professionals to stay safe, comfortable, and invigorated in their chosen field.
While an atmosphere of physical safety is important, healthcare professionals need more than gloves and a mask to be cared for. Measures to promote emotional safety range from engaging in the workplace community, taking breaks, maintaining structure at home, and focusing on pacing. When stress, anxiety, depression, or other high-emotion circumstances continue, healthcare professionals should be proactive in seeking mental health care and support for themselves.
It’s important to remember that creating an atmosphere of safety, both physically and emotionally, is a constant process rather than a checklist item that can be completed once. In the midst of a pandemic, especially for those working on the front lines, safety is something to strive towards.
Prioritize the Basics
Typically, the most basic ways for anyone, healthcare professional or not, to boost their health are the same: sleeping longer, eating better, and exercising more. The reason we hear these same measures promoted so often is because they are effective but hard to stick to, especially for healthcare professionals who work long hours at stressful jobs. Work conditions may leave healthcare professionals more prone to stress eating, for example, and lost sleep.
If, instead, those who work in the healthcare industry actively strive to prioritize the basic health measures for themselves, they will have more energy, vitality, and rest. This will also allow healthcare professionals to be more resilient to stress. The Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress even has a pamphlet on how to “fight COVID-19 with better sleep health” for doctors and nurses. Of course, having better sleep, diet, and exercise is easier said than done, but when healthcare professionals take the measures to prioritize the basics, they will be in a much better position to help others improve their health as well.
Better Care All-Around
More than ever before, this pandemic has helped us as a global community to realize how vital our healthcare professionals are to the wellbeing of society. And this means we need them as individuals to be cared for, both by themselves and by others. Whether you are a healthcare professional yourself or wanting to help them to be healthy, it’s essential we all work together to provide better care all around.
By acknowledging the risks and realities of their work and cultivating an atmosphere of physical and emotional safety, while prioritizing the basics, healthcare professionals can better care for themselves. And this level of care, in turn, will allow these hard-working healthcare professionals to then provide better care for others.