How to stay steady through the challenges of COVID 19. Includes resources for NHS staff and key workers

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As the Covid 19 impact continues into 2022, we find ourselves in a world that is increasingly unfamiliar and changing daily.

Key workers continue to work hard and NHS staff deliver expert care, working under immense and increasing pressures. An army of professionals and volunteers are working tirelessly to deliver the vaccine which is bringing hope for the future.

The rest of the country follows the constantly changing Government guidelines relating to different tiers and now a 3rd lockdown , in a combined effort to save lives

As well as a physical threat, many people are experiencing high levels of concern and anxiety about their own health and the health of family members as we deal with the uncertainty of this threat.

In the NHS many staff are again having to be redeployed, acquire new knowledge and learn new skills, making big changes in their working practices in order to care for patients and save lives.

All content in this article is relevant for NHS and key worker staff but some text which is italic is focused for them.

I worked for many years in the NHS, am proud to have trained and worked as a Nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and, after a clinical career in surgical nursing moved into Education, becoming a Senior Lecturer in Nursing and Psychology. In my coaching practice, I enjoy enabling people to boost their success and wellbeing in life. I have a special interest and expertise in mindfulness, NLP and wellbeing, and in helping people feel calm and confident in challenging times, hence this topic. Please follow me on Instagram for more daily tips and to stay connected. Let me know how you are doing.

Below  you will find 9 key tips  and useful links to help you be grounded and steady and to regain a sense of steadiness in moments where it may seem elusive.

Understanding that anxiety is a normal response to threat. A brief summary.

Firstly, it’s OK to feel what you feel. We can be accepting of challenging emotions without being overwhelmed by them. There are many tips below to help with this

Understanding anxiety and fear can be a powerful tool in managing and in grounding ourselves. When we human beings are faced with a threat, it is a natural and biological response for the brain to generate a “fight or flight” response so that we can be prepared to run or defend ourselves against danger. This can be lifesaving in some acute situations but with chronic levels of uncertainty and stress, as many are experiencing in the current global situation, the stress response, whilst logical, can be long lasting and thus unhelpful.

Feeling continuously anxious and frightened, undermines our health and wellbeing as well as our ability to function.  For those in the NHS , needing to focus or learn new skills,  and function at a high level, working through a busy shift is it essential for effectiveness and for wellbeing that you are equipped to take steps to care for yourselves and manage state.

Feeling steadier and more grounded.

So, what can we do to feel steadier over the days, weeks and months to come as Covid 19 continues to affect our lives, whether at work as a key worker or perhaps in isolation or with restrictions on everyday life?

Thankfully, as history has taught us, we human beings are quick to learn and adaptable. When equipped with the right mindset and strategies we can boost our ability to maintain our equilibrium and wellbeing, in even the most unusual and extreme situations.

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Habits to develop

Read through the habits below. Celebrate what you are already doing and see where you can boost your wellbeing.

Focus your efforts on the habits where there is most work to be done or those that you feel will be most useful for you to develop.

1. Be self-aware and in tune with how you are feeling.

Knowing how you are in any given moment means that you can be proactive in using strategies to manage your mood and stay in control.

  • Stop and check in with how you are feeling.
  • If you feel unwell physically, follow current Government guidelines re testing and protocol, inform your employer if working, and get help from medical professionals.

If you feel uncertain, wobbly, anxious or overwhelmed, recognise that, don’t fight it but rather act as a kindly observer to your mood, as best you can and set a clear intention for how you want to feel moving forward. e.g. calmer, more confident, more in control, steadier, more grounded.

2. Be selective and limit your exposure to the news and social media and anxious conversations.

  • Choose a reliable and trusted source and check in once or twice a day as constant scrolling through varied news stories can lead to preoccupation and increase anxiety.
  • Limit social media use to that which is uplifting and positive. If it’s not, stop scrolling.
  • Be proactive in choosing which conversations you engage in. Focus on the optimistic and positive and on all that is being done to successfully fight the virus

3. Maintain and enhance your connection with others whilst you are at work, working from home, social distancing or in self-isolation.

  • We are social beings and maintaining social contact can reduce feelings of isolation and anxiety. This also applies to peers,  patients and relatives, for those in NHS settings.
  • If an NHS or key worker at work and busy, take time to pause and take breaks when able. If in PPE and communication is challenging, use body language, e.g. a thumbs up sign or a smile to connect with and support peers and patients. Check in on colleagues in between shifts to stay connected.
  • Stay connected with  friends and family through the wonders of technology.

Whilst in lockdown and when working from home:

  • Have a daily team video meeting and use video link to talk to colleagues during the day rather than emailing or messaging.
  • Plan in video chats with friends and boost your sense of connection with those you love.
  • Talk to your manager or to colleagues if you need support.

4. Be present and manage your thought patterns.

  • Our thoughts and the stories that we tell ourselves have a huge impact on how we feel and levels of anxiety tend to rise when we focus on possible difficulties or problems in the future.
  • Practice being an observer of your thoughts rather than getting caught up and carried away with them.
  • Notice your internal dialogue and be aware if you are using scary language, catastrophising or being overly negative in your thought patterns.
  • The more we creatively develop “what if stories” about problems that may arise, the more anxious we tend to become.
  • Remind yourself that these are stories and that more positive scenarios are possible.
  • Stay in the here and now as best you can and ground yourself in the present moment ( see below for a technique to help you to do this.
  • Be kind to yourself and talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend who needed reassurance and to feel calmer and more confident.
  • We can use mindful techniques to bring ourselves firmly back to the present moment e.g. feeling our feet on the solid floor or feeling the sensations of the breath, root us back in the here and now and help us to feel grounded.

5. Take a mindful breathing space when you need one and even if you don’t!

The Breathing Space is a key part of all mindfulness training. It is a very short (can be for 30 seconds or several minutes depending on time available) and helps to regain composure and a feeling of being centred and grounded.

For an audio recording of the breathing space from Oxford Mindfulness centre access

To create your own breathing space, follow these steps

Recognise that you need a breathing space

Step away from what you are doing if able or stand still with feet firmly planted on the ground.

Set an intention to be fully present 

Adjust and straighten your posture and notice sensations of connection to the floor or the chair supporting you. 

Do a quick sweep of what’s going on the inside, thoughts, feelings and body sensations e.g. tension or discomfort. As best you can be an observer of these rather than getting caught up in them. Have a gentle approach rather than judging… allow things to be as they are, kindly. 

Take 3 – 5 deep breaths in and out, or even just one if you are short of time.

Notice and track the sensations of the breath as it enters and leaves your body.

If the mind wanders (it probably will!) simply notice where it has gone and gently guide it back to the breath.

Expand your awareness to pay attention to the sensations of the body and boost a sense of grounding as you notice sensations of connection to the floor or the chair supporting you.

Notice the degree of calm and ease

Go back to what you need to do next, taking this feeling with you.

Another very quick way to gain composure and feel steadier is to set an intention and then focus all attention into the feet. The feet don’t join in story telling or experience anxiety, sadness, frustration or fear. Placing attention into the feet, noticing connection with ground is settling and steadying.

6. Be proactive, look after yourself and plan things that will lift your mood.

  • Be proactive in asking for practical or emotional support and help when you need it. This is a sign of strength and will give others permission to do the same.
  • Take charge of your internal chemistry. Boost feelgood hormones in the brain and body by doing things that make you smile: –
    • Get fresh air, take a walk in the fresh air or sit with a window open if unable to go out.
    • Eat a healthy diet
    • Stay hydrated both on and off shift if you are working.
    • Get enough rest. have downtime. rekindle or start hobbies. Use relaxation apps to help switch off.
    • If in isolation, start a project, read a book you’ve not had time to pick up.
    • Schedule calls with friends and family members who will help to boost good feelings.
    • Listen to music that lifts or calms you.

7. Tap into the many free resources available to help calm and manage your state.

There are so many. a few are listed below.

8. Practice gratitude.

There is growing evidence that gratitude aids wellbeing and happiness.

  • Keep a gratitude journal and write down at least one entry every day. Jotting this down before you go to sleep points the brain in a good direction for rest.
  • Stop for a moment and notice all the things that you appreciate that are still the same, unaffected by Covid19.

The dawn chorus and birdsong… Nature, budding trees and emerging blossom…. friendship, colleagues, laughter, the love of those close to us and our love for them. Kindness , I’m so grateful for this … there are so many examples of this at the moment, music, great films and box sets.

9. If working from home, establish a routine.

This, it would seem, will be, for many, and for now,  the new normal.

Take control. Get dressed for work. Set up a workstation. Organise the family if more workspaces are needed. Take breaks. Plan in social contact. Have a defined beginning and end to the working day. Be kind and tolerant of others also working from home, you may have to share space. Check out additional tips here.

In conclusion

I hope that this blog  is useful in helping you find ways to feel more grounded and steadier as the coronavirus experience unfolds. Remember this is just for now and will pass. Whether you are at home, providing a vital service through your job or through a volunteer role my hope is that there will be something of help to you. Please share.

The people of this country are grateful for all of the dedicated work that key workers are doing in the NHS, in education, and in other areas of society. We also want you to take care of yourselves as well as caring for us all. Continue reading “How to stay steady through the challenges of COVID 19. Includes resources for NHS staff and key workers”