Taking care of your wellbeing as a healthcare professional
Five ways to support your mental health and wellbeing as a healthcare worker
Talking about mental health is never easy, especially if you are experiencing a change in your mental health at the moment.
According to a study by Queen Mary University, 58% of healthcare workers reported struggling with their mental health in 2021, an 8% increase from the previous year.
The increased workloads, high-pressure situations, and harsh reality of a global pandemic, which resulted in forced isolation and worry for many, have all had a huge impact on the wellbeing of healthcare workers across the board. As health professionals who care for others, the wellbeing of clinicians, nurses, surgeons, and medical staff is paramount, yet often it is put to one side when workload and other duties demand more attention.
If you are feeling burnt out, stressed, depressed, or anxious, know that you are not alone. Alongside seeking support from a mental health charity or organisation, there are certain habits and practices you could try as a first point of call to help ease stress and take care of your mind.
1. Set boundaries
Finding a balance between work responsibilities and downtime is essential, although often hard to achieve. Nowadays, and especially with increased technology, we can feel like we need to be available 24 hours a day, constantly checking work emails and notifications.
In reality, this is not the case for most of us. While some things are undoubtedly more urgent than others, setting boundaries around work will give you time to switch off from the stresses of work and recharge your batteries at the end of each day.
Some simple ways to set boundaries could include:
- Turning off work-related notifications, such as emails, at a certain time each day.
- Creating a ‘work’ space separate from your ‘relax’ spaces if you are currently working remotely from home.
- Implement a strict ‘no work’ time - for example, after 6 pm you can’t talk about work.
- Clearing your work space at the end of each day - a tidy space equals a tidy mind, so clearing your desk of paperwork, post-it notes, and the likes, can help you switch out of work mode.
2. Get enough sleep
Sleep is perhaps the biggest contributor to our overall health and wellness. Without sufficient sleep, we struggle to concentrate, our mood drops, and it is harder to make good decisions. Other healthy habits, such as exercise and nutrition, may also slip due to increased fatigue and low energy. Making sure you get enough sleep is a very easy way to automatically improve your mood and ability to cope with life’s stresses.
Be strict with your sleep schedule. Research suggests that our bodies benefit from a regular sleep schedule in line with the natural circadian rhythm of daylight hours. It has also been shown that the body undergoes its most restorative sleep between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am, so going to bed earlier is more favourable. This is especially true if you have young children who wake early or are an early shift worker.
If you struggle to sleep there are also various practices you can implement to help calm your mind and ensure a better night. These include avoiding screens for up to two hours before bedtime because artificial light can inhibit the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. You could also try a ‘mind dump’ or journaling exercise prior to bed if you find your mind is racing during the night and keeping you awake.
3. Take time out to practice mindfulness or meditation
Similar to journaling, practicing mindfulness or meditation daily can help to ease anxiety and boost your mood. The concept of meditation is to focus the mind, training you to have a greater awareness of your thoughts and feelings, and thus helping to maintain a mentally clear and emotionally stable state.
Meditation often involves focusing on a particular object, mantra, or sensation, such as sound or feeling. Through these techniques we can learn more about ourselves and start to detach our emotions from our minds, ultimately giving us more control over how we react to certain situations or stresses.
4. Eat well, move more
Paying attention to nutrition and exercise habits can make a huge difference to how you feel in the day-to-day. Eating a well-balanced diet with slow-releasing energy sources helps to sustain energy levels throughout the day and avoid the blood sugar spikes and crashes that could further aggravate mood swings. Healthy eating also greatly improves sleep for the same reason.
Making sure to exercise in some form each day, whether that be simply getting outside for a walk, or going to a gym class or sports activity, also contributes to improved mood, better stress management, improved sleep quality, and an all-round healthier mind and body.
5. Talk to someone
It is all too easy to bottle up our emotions and keep all our worries to ourselves. Perhaps you don’t wish to burden others with your own problems, but talking about what’s on your mind can help to put everything into perspective. You may be surprised to realise that many people are dealing with the same worries as yourself.
If you don’t feel like you have someone close to talk to, then there are also many services and helplines available for support.
Some more helpful resources
Below are some resources that offer helplines, mindfulness practices, and articles around mental health:
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