April 2nd, 2020

Supporting Front line Health Workers in the Coronavirus crisis with Dr Sharon Lambert

Everyone who is working in the front line services will experience different types of stresses and demands on their time.Dr Sharon Lambert, Applied Psychologist

In these uncertain times, front line staff are bearing the full force of the current pandemic. Clinicians are highly resilient, they have to be. But the demands and stress of the Covid19 pandemic are proving to be challenging for our frontline staff. They are tasked with providing safe, high-quality care amidst an emergency without a timeline.

Firstly, if you are feeling stressed, that is an absolutely normal response to the situation.

Three phases of dealing with Stress in the body

  1. Alarm phase: sympathetic nervous system which is your fight or flight system is activated
  2. Resistance phase: The battle between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic nervous systems (rest & digest) during this time you may feel anxiety, low mood, general aches and pain and irritability.
  3. Exhaustion phase: The victory of the parasympathetic nervous system, more complex psychological symptoms indicative of burnout can emerge at this time.

It is important to note that the above process happens very quickly and resolves quickly in response to the stressful event.

In the current situation it is important to remember that the stress is likely to be over a prolonged period so having opportunities to negate the stress and find spaces that allow repair are extremely important. It is a marathon not a sprint.

Things to think about.. Your individual factors that may also be playing a role in managing stress right now:

  • Other demands on your time (what can you delegate? Have you clearly communicated what you need from others?)
  • Exposure to previous stress (what strategies from past experiences were helpful or unhelpful)
  • Having some control (there is so much about the current experience that is outside of our control but taking control of what you can is shown to mitigate the impact of stress)
  • Using social supports (identify people who make you feel good, limit exposure to those who don’t)

Unhelpful coping strategies:

  • Drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Eating

Pay attention to these habits and put in strategies that stop you going for the easier options, for example, rearrange the kitchen so that items that are better for you are more accessible than the items that are unhealthy)

Further isolation (it is really important to stay connected to people and to find someone who can name feelings with)

  • Not taking breaks from work and news, you need to sustain your energy and not rely on running on adrenaline, this will crash
  • Having a stigma about using mental health supports

Helpful coping strategies:

  • Exercise
  • Consider setting up Skype or zoom sessions with friends where you all follow the same online exercise class and schedule this into your calendar and motivate each other to stay involved and motivated
  • Healthy eating habits: plan meals and have some prepared
  • Good sleep hygiene: No screen time for about 30 minutes before bed, avoid the news before bedtime, try meditation or short mindfulness techniques.
  • Social contact: People may have reached out with offers of help, take up those offers, do a list of what you need to make your life easier, e.g. meals, laundry, shopping etc.
  • Seeking help when you need it: You may require informal support or you may need formal support. Access your EAP or other counselling services when you need, don’t leave it too long to reach out if you are overwhelmed and you feel your mental health is impacted.

Resources

Mental health & COVID - WHO

Short Mindfulness Practices

Simplifying Childhood May Protect Against Mental Health Issues

What others have said about mental health and COVID

Stay safe stay well.