Health professionals, more than other workers, are under significant physical and mental pressure. This trend has been growing in recent years, resulting in an increase in cases of burnout among health professionals. Due to covid19 over the last 12 months, this pressure has been even greater, mounting as the number of cases of patients infected with the coronavirus grows.
With the rise of critically-ill patients, healthcare professionals are subject to longer working hours, social isolation, witnessing other colleagues becoming ill or even seeing patients dying, which would affect anyone’s resilience and mental health.
In order to find extra time and energy to take care of their patients, sometimes healthcare professionals neglect to take care of themselves. This is ultimately a false economy, soon the tank runs dry. Self-care is the first step and is essential for good mental health, particularly in the stressful and uncertain times in which we live.
So, what exactly is health?
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” (World Health Organisation)
From this defination by the World Health Organization, we can see that health is more than physical well-being and encompasses other very important factors such as mental health and social well-being.
Why do people neglect mental health?
Mental health still carries a certain stigma, but the truth is that every year 1 in 5 people take a day off due to stress, but most feel unable to justify the absence due to stress.
Being stressed is not necessarily poor mental health, but it is when stress becomes too intense and or persistent that it can lead to more serious mental health problems such as anxiety or depression.
What do we do to maintain good mental health?
Taking the time to take care of our mental health is essential to keep us going. There are basic things that we can all do like getting enough sleep. We know that this can be a challenge, especially for shift workers, but trying to sleep at least 7 hours in a 24 hour period is an excellent start. Getting enough sleep is vital for the not just the physical repair of of our bodies but also the mental rejuvenation.
Another very important thing is to do some exercise. Even just a 30-minute walk a day is a step in the right direction. Exercise helps our body in many ways, including reducing stress.
We all know that a healthy diet is a key basis for a long and healthy life, so try to eat the best possible food you can and vary the food you eat. Take healthy snacks and homemade meals with you to work. If you prefer a take-away meal, try to pick the healthiest options. This will do a lot for your physical and mental well-being and give you the energy to face your day. The key to maintaining a health diet is planning ahead so you are not caught our and end up having to eat convenience food high in processed sugar.
A regular call or video call your friends and family in your spare time helps so you don't feel too overwhelmed and isolated. A good laugh with friends and family and sharing what worries you, will help you maintain good mental health. You are not alone. We are all in this together. This is especially important in the age of social media where one can easily assume that everyone around them is sailing through some sort of idyllic, perfect life when viewed through the algorithms that large corporations use to prey on our insecurities and human nature.
It’s not all bad news!
We are currently overloaded with coronavirus news, it is important that you moderate the consumption of this news. Keep up to date with the latest NHS and HSE guidance but there is no need to spend additional time saturating yourself with in depth analysis of infection rates and lockdown debates. Put time aside for your favourite TV show, even if it is the 26th time your watching the 36th episode of Friends!
Take a break to breathe and relax your mind. Meditation audios are excellent for this and will also help you stay more focused.
How to maintain good mental health at work?
Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”
The same is true of mental health at work, it is important that you are aware of your physical and mental state and simply take it one day at a time.
Knowing yourself and being able to stop before you reach your breaking is vital. Whatever happens, don't ignore the warning signs if you start to feel overwhelmed.
If you feel the need, talk to another health professional like a psychologist, who can help you better manage what is going on and find new coping strategies.
Maintaining good communication with your co-workers and an efficient work team are important factors that will facilitate everyone's workday and achieve better results for you, your team, and ultimately for your patients.
Invest the time and effort in maintaining and improving your mental health, the returns from these efforts will far outstrip allocating this time to other less important priorities in your day.