Being a healthcare provider in the age of COVID-19 can take your stress levels to new heights, but there are ways you can protect yourself. Healthcare workers are often encouraged to maintain a good self-care routine, and that has never been more important than now. You may be facing a level of work stress you’ve never experienced before, and the best way to counter that stress is by making time to calm your mind and strengthen your body during your down time. Getting plenty of sleep and exercise, as well as eating healthy, should be at the top of your self-care list, but a number of other activities, such as journaling, breathing exercises and meditation can be helpful, as well.
You Are What You Eat: Mind, Body and Spirit
Do you ever notice when you’re stressed out, you suddenly start craving foods like French fries, ice cream, chocolate and generally anything high in carbs and calories? A number of studies have shown that there’s a chemical explanation for this in the form of a short-term dopamine release that provides a burst of energy and happiness. Unfortunately, the downside is you may end up feeling even worse before that junk food is digested. Fun fact: did you know that doing even a small amount of exercise can release the same feel-good chemicals and produce the same effects? Try doing a hundred jumping jacks or take a 30-minute walk outside before you reach for a food choice you might regret. You may be surprised to find that you’re not even craving those fries or cookies anymore! COVID-19-based social distancing requirements can make finding healthy foods like fresh fruits and vegetables difficult at times, but just do the best you can.
Journaling: Writing Out Your Feelings Can Have Surprising Benefits
Sometimes when our lives get stressful, it can help to talk about it with a friend or loved one. Often, they can offer a new perspective, advice or ideas about how you can better cope with the situation. Healthcare workers dealing with COVID-19, however, may find it difficult to talk about what they may be experiencing, either because of social distancing, or because they just don’t want to upset friends or loved ones with what they share. In this case, journaling could prove to be extremely helpful. You don’t need a fancy, leather-bound book to start journaling. Just grab a notebook, or even some loose sheets of paper, and start writing about whatever is on your mind. You could write when you wake up in the morning, after your shift, or before you go to bed. Sometimes writing out your thoughts, feelings and emotions can have a cathartic effect similar to what you might experience if you were actually talking to someone else. If this style of journaling doesn’t appeal to you, there is another writing technique that you may find helpful. It involves starting – or ending -- each day by writing down a list of things for which you are grateful. Trying to make a list of five or ten things every day, and include things like people, places and activities that are meaningful to you. This can help you shift your focus onto those people, places and activities, which can be a great way to lower your anxiety.
Meditation: Train Your Mind to Focus on the Positive, Even During COVID-19
Another stress-relief method healthcare providers fighting COVID-19 might want to try is meditation. People are often intimidated by meditation, as though it’s something that only yoga masters and Zen Buddhists should attempt or can accomplish properly. Another way to look at it, however, is as a simple method to train your mind to shift its focus. There are numerous websites, books and online videos that can teach you about different meditation techniques, some of which can be quite intricate. One of the easiest methods is to simply find a comfortable spot, sit up straight, close your eyes and gently concentrate on letting go of any thoughts you may have until your mind is perfectly clear. Start by acknowledging each though individually, and then allow yourself to release it from your mind, watching it drift away from your head like a helium balloon. Repeat this with every thought that enters your mind, until your mind is clear and you feel completely still, for at least five to ten minutes, or longer if you are able. Don’t worry if you can’t clear your mind the first time, or even the first few times. Practicing your ability to reach that state is where the benefit truly lies.
Breathing Exercises to Help Healthcare Providers Fighting COVID-19 De-Stress
The phrase “take a deep breath” didn’t become a cliché by accident. The truth is, it’s a very powerful way to relieve stress when done mindfully. In fact, taking a deep breath, or if possible, a number of them, is one of the easiest way healthcare providers fighting COVID-19 can relax, whether it’s the middle of a shift or after work when you’re trying to sleep. If you Google breathing techniques that relieve stress, a number of options will show up in the results, including 4-7-8 breathing, alternate nostril breathing and abdominal breathing. All of these methods can help you calm your nerves and relax, and we encourage you look into each of them to see which works best for you. A simple stress-relieving exercise that can help in mere moments, however, is deep breathing. Sit comfortably with a straight back and breath in deeply through your nose. Then, exhale completely through your mouth, pushing out every bit of air that may be lingering in your chest and abdominal cavities. Whether you only have time for three deep breaths or can continue this activity for longer, you will find that a feeling of deep relaxation can be almost immediate.
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