Managing stress in a pandemic


Pharmacists are dealing with a unique situation in the COVID-19 pandemic. Kay Dunkley from the Pharmacists’ Support Service describes some ways you can lessen the resultant stress, plus what you can do if in self-isolation or quarantine

Protecting your mental health will keep you functioning at your peak. Humans are hardwired to be afraid of the unknown and of anything that appears random and uncontrollable. The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event for us all. Despite education and knowledge, pharmacists are just as likely to be feeling anxious as everyone else.

For pharmacists knowledge of the risk of infection and the possible outcome can actually exacerbate fear. Particularly as you read about the increased death rates in health professionals in China and Italy. This is a normal response in these circumstances and such feelings are not a sign of weakness and it is important to acknowledge how you are feeling.

In addition, there is a huge amount of information about the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere we turn. Pharmacy publications, social media, pharmacy organisations, workplaces and the news are all focusing on the topic with little respite. Your usual methods of diversion and relaxation may have become less available as social isolation is put into place to reduce the spread of infection.

Be self-aware and recognise those things that may be causing you stress and your own warning signs of stress. Be aware of your own critical eye and have some self-compassion, don’t be so hard on yourself when things do not go according to plan. Be kind to yourself and to others.

Practical ways to manage your mental health during this time, include:

  • get enough rest by taking breaks during work hours and when at home
  • prioritise sleep and have a regular sleep routine
  • pace yourself, this is likely to be a marathon
  • speak up if your workload is not manageable
  • eat healthy foods and engage in physical activity
  • keep in contact with colleagues, family and friends by phone or online
  • don’t use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions
  • be aware of where you can access mental health support
  • if you’re a manager, try to create mentally healthy work rosters and workloads, encourage teamwork and support anyone who may be struggling.

To relax outside work, try to do something totally unrelated to work every day which distracts you and makes you smile, even for a short period of time. Intentionally take some time out to disconnect from the news, social media, politicians, constant case updates and other sources of information about COVID-19.

Engage in your hobbies and interests and if you can’t undertake your usual activities try something new which you can do at home; for example cooking new recipes, learning a language or doing an online course.

If you sense your anxiety is getting a bit out of hand reach out for help to debrief. Access your support network; these could be friends, family and work colleagues, as well as professional supports such as your GP or psychologist and let them know how you are feeling. PSS is available to debrief every day of the year between 8am and 11pm AEST on 1300244910.

Draw on skills you have used in the past to help manage previous life adversities. Think about what has helped before and how you can apply these strategies now. This could be as simple as breathing techniques to slow your heart rate and stop you becoming over-whelmed. Other stress reducing activities may be regular walks in nature or some physical exercise.

Speak to a psychologist or counsellor if your usual methods of managing stress are not working; they can help you develop other strategies to manage stress. Be extra nice to your colleagues and patients. Try to practise kindness and compassion in all aspects of your life.

Managing your mental health while in self-isolation or quarantine

There are a number of ways to support your mental health during periods of self-isolation or quarantine.

  • Remind yourself that this is a temporary period of isolation to protect others in the community avoid contracting the virus.
  • Stay connected with friends, family and colleagues via email, social media, video conferencing or telephone.
  • Engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
  • Keep regular sleep routines and eat healthy foods.
  • Try to maintain physical activity.
  • Establish routines as best possible and try to view this period as a new experience that can bring health benefits.
  • For those working from home, try to maintain a healthy balance by allocating specific work hours, taking regular breaks and, if possible, establishing a dedicated work space.
  • Avoid reading too much information and media reports about COVID-19 if you find it distressing.

The Pharmacists’ Support Service is available to support all Australian pharmacists, interns and pharmacy students. In addition during the COVID-19 pandemic PSS will accept calls for support from pharmacy assistants and pharmacy technicians.

The service is available every day of the year from 8am to 11pm AEST on 1300 244 910. Support is provided by trained volunteers who are all pharmacists or retired pharmacists.

 

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