Covid-19 has amplified mental health distress amongst the majority of healthcare professionals. Long hours, a heavy workload, fear of contacting the virus, stresses of work and study, balancing work and personal responsibilities, burnout, less contact with patients, social distancing and many more factors could be rated as areas that contribute to mental health issues among doctors during these uncertain times.
The general work experience for Australian doctors is stressful and demanding. In the National Mental Health Survey of Doctors and Medical Students, Doctors reported substantially higher rates of psychological distress and suicidal thoughts compared to both the Australian population and other Australian professionals. The research findings revealed that doctors have a greater degree of resilience to the negative impacts of poor mental health.
While the pandemic continues to spread across boundaries, it potentially increases the work demands of healthcare professionals and limits their time for relaxation and recovery. The International Labour Organisation found that the pandemic has resulted in up to 20 per cent of healthcare workers suffering from anxiety and depression.
Hence as a doctor its crucial to maintain your mental and emotional health. Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. If you are a doctor going seeking to improve your emotional wellbeing, here are 7 tips for building good mental health amidst Covid-19.
1. Take adequate breaks.
Spending time continuously occupied with work has clear negative consequences for performance and wellbeing. More than a century ago, Japanese student Tsuro Arai provided a firm evidence that (predictably) humans cannot maintain cognitive performance over 12 hours without a break. Instead, performance becomes slower and less accurate due to fatigue and stress. Today healthcare workers regularly work lengthy periods without a break, trying to deal with a pandemic that has been ongoing for over an year in an already over-stretched health service. Therefore, when you move on to the next phase of the pandemic it’s more important than ever to prioritise taking adequate breaks. It can potentially increase your performance, wellbeing, and safety.
2. Recognize the importance of your work
Remind yourself that despite the current challenges and frustrations, your contribution towards the recovery of people has been massive. You are taking care of those in need at a time of great uncertainty. Be sure to take a moment to recognize the efforts and sacrifices made by you and your colleagues.
3. Support Colleagues
Psychological First Aid (PFA) is an internationally recognised framework that you might find helpful in supporting your colleagues. It involves offering supportive and practical help to others through compassionate listening,
· Providing practical care and support where necessary
· Helping people address basic needs and concerns
· Helping people connect to information, services and social supports
· Comforting people and helping them to feel calm
· Reducing distress and fostering adaptive coping and
· Protecting people from further harm.
4. Get enough sleep, exercise and stay healthy
Sleep, rest and relaxation are essential to keep you working at your best. This is even more true, when faced with a challenge on the scale of the covid-19 pandemic. When you are under pressure, stress and woe, it can be more challenging to rest, relax, or sleep well. As an initiative you can:
- Keep a consistent routine for bedtime and, especially, wake time.
- Stick to regular exercise routines as much as you can; exercise can help with both your
physical and mental health, as well as your sleep.
- Eat regular, healthy meals, and stay hydrated, especially when at work
- Take small breaks in the daytime – if you are over-tired at bedtime, sleep could often be difficult.
5. Practice Meditation
Being involved in spiritual or religious practices can improve wellbeing, help in coping with stress and reduce symptoms of mental illness. This can include meditation, prayer, mindfulness or yoga. Meditation is one of the best ways to improve your mental and physical health. Of course, it takes time, patience and practice to meditate. But the benefits of it shouldn’t be underestimated. Meditation manage the symptoms of many health conditions, including anxiety, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and sleep problems.
· Make sure to access health support regularly, be it mental or physical check-ups.
· Reach out to your work colleagues, manager and other trusted persons for social support – they may be having similar experiences to you, especially during this time of uncertainty.
· Talk with family and friends whenever possible, this can help you relieve some of the stress accumulated by work and you might feel less isolated.
7. Seek help if you need it
While practising healthy lifestyle habits and avoiding the trap of maladaptive behaviours, make sure to seek professional help when its needed. There are many accessible mental health and psychosocial support services across Australia to seek advice on self-care strategies that can help reduce stress.
Here are a few self-care resources that might help:
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. The little book of wellbeing
Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Wellbeing and support for Physicians
World Health Organization. Coping with stress during the 2019-nCoV outbreak
You can also contact a support service such as:
- Beyond Blue: online and telephone support. Call 1300 22 4636
- eheadspace: online and telephone support and counselling to young people and their families and friends. Call 1800 650 890