Stress is a common and understandable feeling that healthcare workers experience on the job. Caring for patients is a big responsibility, bound to make health professionals feel pressure. This year, health care workers have been given the heavy task of dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though some areas in the world are experiencing lower rates of new cases, other healthcare systems are dealing with large spikes of infected patients.
If you are a healthcare worker whose community has been significantly affected by the virus, it’s completely natural to have feelings of anxiety. You may have dedicated your life to helping others, but you can’t do the best job possible without caring for yourself first! Both at work and at home, you must ensure that you have the tools necessary for coping with the stress responses your body and mind are experiencing.
Mindfulness is the key to resetting your mental and emotional mindset, especially in instances that are highly stressful. You can practice mindfulness in a number of ways that you can implement throughout your workday. Try these quick and easy mindfulness exercises and spacing them throughout your workday.
Take A Moment at Your Desk
At the beginning of your day, sit down at your desk and take a moment to yourself. Don’t log into your computer just yet. Practice two minutes of mindfulness. Feel the weight of your body as you sit relaxed in your chair. Pay attention to your feet as they touch the floor. Take a few deep breaths — inhale for three seconds, and then exhale for three seconds. Of course, you should feel free to adjust the timing of your breathing so it feels as calming as possible. If need be, arrive a few minutes early to give yourself time to do this short exercise.
Center Yourself Before You See a Patient
As you walk down the hall to see your patient in their room, bring your attention back to your own body. Move your attention down to your feet as you walk. Listen for each time your foot comes into contact with the floor. Slow your pace, and sync your breath with your movement. This is an effective way to clear your mind — especially if you’re delivering serious news.
Washing Your Hands
Pause for a moment while you wash your hands. Keep your body still and pay attention to each movement you make. Watch intently as you pump soap into your hands and spread it around. Watch the motions you're making. In your head, describe the feeling of the lather. What is the temperature? The texture? Focus on this experience and not on what you are going to do after you leave the sink. When you’re finished, take one last clearing breath. Allow this exercise to remind you to be more present throughout your day.
As you walk over to a patient or coworker, don’t think about how your interaction with them will turn out. Don’t worry about preparing the right words — focus on them. Try to notice a few details about them. What is their hair color? The color of their eyes? How are they standing? What is the expression on their face? We often try to avoid being so astute in our observations of each other, but focusing on the people in front of us can allow us to be more attentive and better connected when we interact.
Refocus Your Attention
When speaking with others, bring your full attention to the conversation. It’s not uncommon for people’s minds to wander in conversation, especially if you have a busy day ahead of you. If you begin to lose focus of what the other person is saying, simply note your distraction and bring your attention back to the person you are with.
Listen to Your Environment
Periodically throughout your workday, take a second to pause and close your eyes. Listen attentively to the sounds in the distance while blocking out the ones that appear closer to you. This exercise is similar to expanding your peripheral vision. As you listen, allow these distant sounds to pass by without stopping to ponder their context. Strange though it may seem, this exercise can help you feel more at peace, especially if you work at a crowded or cramped workspace.
While at home, take note of all the signs your body gives you when you feel tense or stressed. When you notice any of these feelings at work, remove yourself from your stressor for a minute or two, if possible. Bathrooms work well if you don’t have a private room or office to go through. Don’t be hard on yourself for feeling stressed. Treat yourself with compassion. Tell yourself, aloud if you need to; “it’s understandable to feel this way.” place your hand on your heart, breathe slowly, and repeat this phrase until you feel better.
Appreciate Your Day
At the end of your day, take the time to think of something that you appreciated or found beautiful. It can be as big as a positive conversation with a patient, or as small as a flower you saw on the way into work. This won’t always make a bad day good, but you’ll at least be able to savor a few bright passing moments — trust us, a little can go a long way.
Stress is part of the job, but it doesn’t have to affect your overall wellbeing. Remember these small exercises in mindfulness and try them out whenever you’re working, or when you need a break while working on your ProMed certifications. In time, you’ll see that even the most stressful days can be manageable.
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