Caring for the carers

As we face an unprecedented change to our personal and professional lives due to the Covid-19 virus outbreak, it is vital to ensure that we have what we need to maintain our own wellbeing. Adjustments to ‘normal’ life are critical – this is now the ‘new normal’ and flexibility is required in order to cope. Those caring for others in a professional capacity – as psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists, clinicians, HR advisors, and many other critical roles – will particularly be trying to find a balance, so they can continue to play a vital role in the collective mental wellbeing of society.

Responding to a crisis such as this will look and feel different at different times, and with different people. We may coach patients and clients through their shock, denial, anger and sadness but not expect to feel it ourselves. We need to acknowledge the emotions and reactions we are having, recognise how they are making us feel, and learn to manage them and not let them overwhelm us.

The communal effort to deal with this crisis is more important than ever before – and the more resources we can pull together the better we will be able to cope. The group is more powerful than the individual; shared knowledge and shared intention will help us all.

Tips for maintaining wellbeing

1. Give yourself as much structure in your day as you can, simulating what you are able to from your previous routine, workday or activities. Providing continuity will help you to stay focused and be present – for yourself, your family and your clients and patients.

2. Stay connected and keep talking – as professionals who often take on the role of the ‘listener’, it may be particularly important to share experiences and feelings with others. Communication is key during times of isolation. Human beings are inherently social and so creating virtual social interaction is important.

3. Rest, sleep, diet, exercise – staying well, achieving a balance and having consistency in times of uncertainty is a must. Sticking to the same times for each of these every day and maintaining a balanced diet will keep energy levels high.

4. Use tools and resources to help you – there are plenty of these to access online. Make it part of your daily and weekly plan to do something relaxing, entertaining or supportive for you, your family or community. This might be taking part in live streamed yoga or exercise sessions, finding an old favourite movie or book to enjoy, creating a new game to play, or volunteering to help a neighbour.

In our always-on culture and work-focussed, busy lives with conflicting priorities, we might now have an opportunity to address the imbalance. There may be something which you have put off for a long time and this could now be the right moment to put ideas into action. It might be taking up a new hobby, giving some thought to your career, or reconnecting online with family members or friends with whom you have lost touch. The positive effect of these things on our wellbeing should not be underestimated. We may just find that out of adversity comes some unexpected changes to the way we live and enjoy our lives.

As clients and patients may be looking to you for guidance on how they should act, react, feel and behave, you will perhaps be the best model to them of what we can do for ourselves in this strange, unprecedented time. So, don’t forget to take care of yourself first.

Some important resources

Mental health and wellbeing:
Age UK: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/mind-body/
Affinity – health at work: http://www.affinityhealthatwork.co.uk/
CIPD (mental health at work factsheet): https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/mental-health-factsheet
Institute for Employment Studies (resources for wellbeing management at work): https://www.employment-studies.co.uk/publications
MIND: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/wellbeing/wellbeing/
Wellbeing Trust: https://wellbeingtrust.org/

General information:
Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland) https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-agency-northern-ireland
Public Health England: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-england
Public Health Wales: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/public-health-wales
Health Protection Scotland: https://www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/
Health and Safety Executive: https://www.hse.gov.uk/toolbox/workers/home.htm#