The COVID-19 pandemic has had major implications for everyone’s mental health, and clinicians are no exception. Dr Rachel Morris shares some tips from her wellbeing toolkit that all the practice can use
Over the last year, times have been crazy and we’ve been in situations that we’ve never experienced before. Frontline staff have been stretched in every direction and many are struggling to manage their own wellbeing and that of their teams. The good news is that just a few small changes can make a world of difference to how you and your team feel, how you work together and the stress that you may be experiencing. I’ve put together a toolkit which includes:
- The ABC of wellbeing at work
- The five-minute check-in for teams
- The six rules for coping with the COVID crisis and the new ways of working
- The departmental team-wellbeing checklist
The ABC of staying well at work through a crisis
If you can’t do anything else right now, just remember ABC.
Exercise is one of the most powerful factors to promote good mental health, alleviate anxiety and make you feel much better. Even if you can’t fit in a workout every day, just spending five minutes walking outside, doing some stretching, yoga or mindful movement will be helpful.
Take regular Breaks
In difficult times when we are responding to a crisis and perhaps on screens more than usual, the temptation is to work harder and longer. We may feel guilty for taking breaks and spend the time catching up on the news, on emails and the latest guidance.
But did you know that taking a five-minute break and doing something different with your brain will help it to switch from ‘focus' mode to ‘defuse’ mode? In defuse mode our brains use different neural pathways and start to connect bits of the brain we don’t use in ‘focus’ mode. This means we start to solve problems, use our imagination and become more creative. This will help us to work better and smarter.
So how can we do this if we have just a short amount of time?
Well, even five minutes doing something like colouring in, playing Tetris, going for a walk, breathing exercises or mindfulness meditations can help switch your brain into defuse mode and help you focus better when you get back to work. Make sure you plan these breaks, and what you’re going to do in them.
Connect regularly with others
Connection is the most powerful wellbeing protective factor. Even in self isolation and times of restrictions, it’s important that we practise spatial distancing, NOT social distancing.
When we are all focused on doing our jobs and delivering the highest possible care, it is easy to forget about caring for each other. We may be having regular updates and project co-ordination meetings, but these often focus on tasks rather than people.
The five-minute check-in chat for teams
How about starting a five-minute check-in chat with your team at the beginning of every shift, at the beginning of every team meeting or in a coffee break? This will focus on the team rather than the process and will make sure that everyone is heard, noticed and cared for.
Here are four quick questions you can ask:
- How are you? Really?
- What are you worried or fearful about?
- What’s going well?
- What do you need?
And don’t forget connecting with family, friends and other colleagues virtually at other times. A virtual coffee break is almost as good as the real thing!
A wellbeing plan for your department
And if you want to make some changes to your workplace to look after your staff working on the frontline, here’s a wellbeing checklist to help you care for those you work with:
✔ Create a dedicated space for breaks
✔ Equip the space with places to sit, if possible comfy chairs or bean bags
✔ Provide plenty of tea, coffee and water
✔ Provide snacks, including plenty of fresh fruit
✔ If staff are working round the clock, provide healthy meals
✔ Provide some ‘switch off activities’
✔ Consider dedicated outdoor space to exercise
✔ Source a table tennis table, table football or darts board to encourage activity
✔ Appoint an internal ‘wellbeing champion’ – perhaps one of the admin staff to regularly check what people need to make it happen
✔ Create a dedicated department WhatsApp group for wellbeing
✔ Ask staff to get themselves into teams of four to provide peer support through a smaller WhatsApp group – if staff can’t find anyone, the wellbeing champion can allocate groups
✔ Run five-minute check-in chats at each meeting, or run dedicated five-minute check-ins at the beginning and end of each shift
✔ Create a virtual coffee break at the same time each day for other staff to dial into
✔ Encourage staff to limit social media and news
✔ Regularly remind staff of your Employee Assistance Programme if you have one
✔ Consider putting in extra psychological support sessions, coaching sessions for leaders or peer group coaching support for teams
✔ Put up or designate a wellbeing whiteboard; on it, make space for:
• Joke of the day
• Star of the day
• What’s going well
• Wellbeing updates