It is amazing to work in a job which has the potential for healing, but in our zeal to help we sometimes lose track of what it may be costing us, emotionally and energetically.
Putting your own oxygen mask on before trying to help anyone else with theirs is a professional necessity – we are no use to clients and patients who rely on us if we aren’t sufficiently well looked-after ourselves.
This year, more than any other in my professional career, I have heard how hard colleagues across all the helping professions have found things. We’ve seen in the media how intense the demands are on hospital colleagues, and we’ve felt the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns in our own practice.
The effect of Covid19 on your own job will depend on where you work, your professional role and the type of problems you help people with. And whether you’re part of a team or working on your own.
Why has our work been harder during the pandemic?
Talking with fellow professionals over the last year it seems that a perfect storm of increased demands and reduced resources is leaving us feeling more stressed than usual.
- The demands on you have increased if –
- The numbers of patients or clients seeking help has gone up
- Colleagues being ill themselves or self-isolating may mean your workplace is under-staffed and your workload has increased
- Those seeking help may be more symptomatic or distressed than usual
- People who had been discharged are returning for more help and you squeeze in extra appointments.
- The conditions you’re working in have changed –
- If you’re face-to-face with patients you may be working in masks or full PPE
- If you’re working remotely, lengthy periods on zoom may have become your new normal
- Your access to support from colleagues may not be what it was if –
- Clinical colleagues aren’t as available as usual to provide supervision or consultation
- Support staff may be working very differently – the receptionists who have to manage infection control measures in addition to their usual roles, and your contact with them now happens through two masks and a Perspex screen
- Informal chats and small-talk with fellow workers may be a distant memory
- You may have fewer ways to de-stress outside work than usual –
- Lockdowns have prevented mixing as we did before and your favourite activities or hobbies may be harder to do, or out of bounds altogether.
The pandemic isn’t over so we’re in for a long-haul
You will have developed ways of dealing with work demands pre-pandemic, and if they still work that’s great. If they don’t, this may be a good time to adjust.
One part of dealing with stress is how you digest or release it once you’re already feeling it. Here are a few things that help me that I’d like to share in case you can use them too.
At the end of each day
Babette Rothschild’s tips in “Help for the Helper” have given me a useful structure and routine to manage the emotional impact of working in mental health.
Rothschild emphasises the value of creating an end-of-day routine to help transition from work to home. If your commute home is now a short walk from study to kitchen, this will be as important as ever.
- Pre-pandemic, your journey to and from work may, without you even realising it, have been a time for your mind to gear up and wind down. If you’re working from home, this valuable time may have vanished. Creating a new wind-down routine at the end of the day might begin with a ritual clearing of your desk, putting the things of the working day away. Perhaps walk round the block as a new commute home while you clear your mind.
- If you still drive to and from work, singing loudly can be a great way to release stress. Not so much if you’re on public transport or on foot!
- For several years now, Dr Mark Grant’s Anxiety Release app has been part of my end-of-day routine, particularly for days when I’ve had particularly challenging sessions. Buying this app is the best three quid I have spent in my whole career. I put my headphones on, listen to track 1 and as Mark Grant says, I let my brain do the rest. It’s called Anxiety Release, but it works well for my end-of-day work stress. Then I get on with my evening.
At the end of the year
Looking back on 2021 may help you see what went well and what wasn’t so good. If you’re able to get a quiet half-hour to yourself you may find it illuminating to digest your working year using pen and paper…
- Reflect on the successes or uplifting moments from 2021
- Which areas of work do these fall into?
- These may be the things to do more of in 2022 where you can.
- Which people do the positives relate to? Are there particular colleagues who you want to spend more time collaborating with in 2022?
- Notice what the challenges you’ve faced this year have been
- Which areas of work do these fall into?
- What does the way you dealt with them tell you about yourself?
- The negatives may be things to aim to do less of or manage how you do them in 2022.
- Looking at both positives and negatives may help you think about what training or support to seek out for the year ahead. Peer supervision is a way of creating free, mutual support with a colleague.
Some actions you can take for yourself
- Take that half hour to reflect on your year
- Plan a new end of day wind-down routine that you can start using in the New Year
- Sign up for my newsletter if you’d like my blogs to come straight to your inbox as they are written
Rothschild, B. (2006) Help for the helper: The psychophysiology of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma. W W Norton publishing.
photo by Tim Goedhart for Unsplash