Self-care for the Caregivers — Mental Health of Healthcare Workers during COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to heightened stress, anxiety and depression amongst the general public. A recent publication by the Academy of Medicine Singapore[1] highlights increased concern for Healthcare Workers who may become emotionally conflicted and traumatized as they attempt to balance between compassion, professionalism and fear in a highly demanding environment.

“Self-care is not a luxury but rather, a necessity, to allow Healthcare Workers to be productive and deliver quality care.”

In addition to burnout from the increased workload and stress during the crisis, Healthcare Workers also face compassion fatigue (Figley, 1995): emotional exhaustion and reduced compassion arising from caring for others, and vicarious trauma (Perlman & Saakvitne, 1995): mental distress resulting from empathy with traumatised patients. Over time, this could lead to reduced productivity and attrition of Healthcare Workers[2, 3] in already challenging times.

Although some healthcare organisations provide counselling programmes for their staff, there are no national guidelines on mental health support during a crisis like COVID-19. It is therefore crucial that Healthcare Workers practise self-care to avoid mental health problems. In a recent article published on Singhealth[4], Dr. Evelyn Boon, a psychologist at Singapore General Hospital, shares that self-care is not a luxury but rather, a necessity, to allow Healthcare Workers to be productive and deliver quality care.

In addition to observing good nutrition, exercise and sleep, here are 5 self-care techniques that can empower Healthcare Workers to fortify their mental resilience:

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Meditation and Breath Exercise

Meditation is not just something for monks and hippies. It’s a practice to help bring our focus to the present moment; taking a pause from the mental gymnastics that our mind constantly undergoes. Start with breathing exercises where you sit in a quiet place and focus on slowly inhaling and exhaling for 2 minutes; observe but do not judge how your mind wanders during this simple exercise. Practising this a few times a day would help reduce your stress and make you calmer.

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As Healthcare Workers caring for others, do not forget to also extend the same level of compassion and care to yourself. Be kind to yourself when you are suffering or feel inadequate; instead of self-judging or self-criticising, do not feel shy to give yourself a hug or a reassuring touch over your heart. Simply taking a step back and asking yourself at the end of every day, “How am I caring for myself today?” is already an act of self-compassion; follow that up by doing something nice for yourself like singing, listening to music, reading or playing games with your family.

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Journaling for Positivity

Positive journaling is an effective way to help us focus on the bright side as opposed to dwelling on negativity, which would unfortunately be more common in such times. Studies show that people who practise gratitude experience more optimism and happiness[5]. You can start positive journaling by spending just 5 minutes at the end of every day writing down 3 things that you are grateful for today, 3 wonderful things that happened today and conclude it with a positive affirmation for the day (e.g.: “I feel compassion for my patients and myself”).

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Social and Community Support

Our social circles provide important mental and emotional support and are essential during challenging times like this. If you have not connected with your parents and relatives for a while, take the chance to give them a call. You can also hop on a video conference with family and friends or host watch parties where you can watch movies together remotely. Check out 12 fun things you can play on Zoom (or other conference calls). You could also connect with fellow Healthcare Workers in a support community to learn about their challenges as well as talk about your own.

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Digital Detox

Constantly looking at our mobile phones or being on social media takes us away from being in the moment. It’s a healthy practice to consciously set aside specific times during the day where we consume social media to reduce distraction. Before bed, have an hour or two of Digital Detox where you give yourself more “me time”, practise some meditation or positive journaling and have a mindful reflection of the day before going to sleep.

Mindfulness teacher, Erin, shares how you can take some time to reset your mind

To get started on self-care, Healthcare Workers can click here for complimentary access to:

  1. MindFi (mobile app for mindfulness and meditation support),
  2. Mental Health webinars conducted by mindfulness professionals and
  3. Mental Health Telegram support community for Healthcare Workers.

[1] Mental Health Strategies to Combat the Psychological Impact of COVID-19 Beyond Paranoia and Panic:

[2] Nurse turnover: the mediating role of burnout:

[3] Experiences of nurse turnover:

[4] How to avoid burnout & care for our mental health:

[5] Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude:

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