The Covid pandemic has had a huge effect on physical and mental wellbeing for doctors and medical students. RMBF volunteer Shailaja Joshi kindly shares her tips on how to mitigate this impact, and allow yourself to heal.
As a retired psychiatrist, during the pandemic I have felt the need to offer whatever support I can to the current cohort of doctors and healthcare workers. They have kept us safe in the most challenging time, often at the expense of their own physical and mental wellbeing.
Most have never had to deal with such extreme circumstances, and many have developed serious issues like burnout, vicarious trauma, PTSD, and moral injury. These are the kind of things more often associated with the battlefield.
I am a fan of Professor Neil Greenberg’s work in this area: his webinars for the BMA, and his ongoing work with his company March on Stress. It has inspired a project I offered to my local Trust, called “the Garden of Healing”, which aims to combat the impact of Covid and help people recover.
As part of the project, I have developed six “Cs” for wellbeing in this challenging pandemic era.
Cognition: looking inwards and reflecting on our mood, thoughts, and feelings. Evaluating negative thoughts, and trying to reframe them into more positive thoughts. Developing an understanding of our emotions, and how they impact our mood. Journaling can be a way to help us track and understand these things, as does speaking with others, in a group or privately.
Compassion: as healthcare workers, we give so much compassion to our patients, every hour of the day. We tend to forget about ourselves, and we have a reputation for not giving ourselves enough self-compassion; this can lead to burnout, fatigue, and exhaustion. Self-nurture and self-care can help us to improve our negative thoughts and allow our conditions to heal.
Connection: social relationships are important for protecting our mental wellbeing. Keeping connected can help us feel supported, valued and understood. Connections with others can also give us a sense of belonging. Working on our cognition and compassion can also be easier in a group setting with similar-minded colleagues.
Creativity: being creative can be a great tool for improving our wellbeing. Creative activities may also help explore the difficult feelings and experiences we encounter in our careers as doctors. There are many things you could try: music, sewing, writing, or gardening to name just a few.
Control: in life we will encounter things we can’t control, like the pandemic. It often helps to instead focus on the things we can control. We might take control of our physical health, by regularly exercising; our nutrition, by fuelling our body and mind with healthy food; or our stress levels, by remembering to take breaks for a cuppa to recharge.
Coping strategies: we are all different, and some of the techniques above might suit you more than others. Finding the right thing for you is key. Pausing and reflecting every day to recharge our batteries before a shift, or practicing mindfulness or guided meditation, may give you some clarity and control over your emotions. Connecting with nature might positively impact your mood. I find light meditation and yoga works very well for me. It is important to reflect on what works best for you, so you can develop your own personal strategies to cope.