I have a soft spot for those working in healthcare, especially nursing. I had a serious heart surgery as a child and I think back fondly on the many times that I was helped and cared for by kind nurses when I was younger, and in the years following.

My mom was a nurse, and later my two older sisters as well, so I grew up with a clear view of the challenges faced by nurses – from the demands of shift work to the stress of medical emergencies; and sometimes the even more stressful challenges associated with workplace politics and questionable management practice.

Increasing Demands on Healthcare Workers

When you add on the recent challenges associated with a prolonged pandemic, it’s no wonder many healthcare workers have questioned their place in it and have struggled with their wellness.

Although it’s clear that the worst of the pandemic is thankfully behind us, unfortunately the negative consequences of it continue to impact those who have often worked the hardest through it.

Increased workloads coupled with decreased staffing levels has compounded an already challenging workplace environment, and this continues to take a toll.

Lingering Tension and Disillusionment

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve heard about increased exposure to patients dying untimely deaths and the accompanying feelings of helplessness and frustration. I’ve also heard about a sense of deep sadness and disillusionment by the callous response of some community members and the recent phenomenon of healthcare workers being subjected to disdain and ridicule, all the while risking illness themselves tending to the wellbeing of others who are in dire need of care.

While some in the field have been able to return to a sense of normalcy and are doing relatively well, others are not. In many areas of healthcare there is a brewing sense of exhaustion, anxiety, disengagement, and burnout.

I saw this firsthand with my AHS colleagues over the past years, and in my private practice where I’ve helped support many individuals working in the field.

Self-Care for Healthcare Workers

As all busy and stressed-out parents will know, self care for the caregiver is important – the same applies to those who make a living in a healthcare setting – like nurses, doctors, and ambulance workers.

Self care for healthcare workers can take many different forms, such as:

  • Establishing healthy boundaries to protect your wellness – both at home and at work.
  • Open and constructive communication with your manager and colleagues.
  • Debriefing after critical incidents – utilizing the available supports when needed.
  • Taking moments to recharge during the workday – using scheduled breaks whenever possible.
  • Quiet time to decompress after work – transitioning home in a mindful way.
  • Nature therapy – spending more time in fresh air and sunlight.
  • Regular exercise – preferably rigorous enough to break a sweat, lasting 20 – 40 minutes.
  • Increased time with supportive family and friends.
  • Healthy boundaries with all substance use.
  • Ensuring adequate sleep and healthy eating.
  • Establishing a routine with planned “self care” activities.
  • Hobbies – having interests and activities outside of work.
  • Reflective time – for meditating, journaling, prayer, or practicing gratitude
  • Vacation – preferably lasting at least 7 days

All of these practices can help maintain a sense of balance and wellbeing, and they become especially important when a person is starting to feel overwhelmed.

Working with a Therapist

It can also help to work with someone trained to listen to your individual circumstances and help you adjust your approach.

Among other things, meeting with a therapist can help you:

  • Identify blind-spots or counter-productive patterns of thinking or behaving.
  • Identify and help you build on your individual strengths.
  • Support you to deal with self-limiting beliefs and anxiety.
  • Devise strategies to deal directly with your challenges at work and at home.
  • Help process stressful experiences that have happened.

Whether you are a healthcare worker, or a teacher, or a public service worker, or someone providing indirect care to those impacted by the stress caused by the pandemic, you too have likely faced an increasing level of stress over the past two years. Prioritizing your health and wellness is important for not only your career longevity, but also for your relationships and your physical and mental health.

Contact Pathway Psychology for a free 15-minute phone or video consultation to discuss setting up counselling with a Registered Psychologist, either in person, or now available to anyone living in Alberta through video sessions.

Or, feel free to give us a call at 1-780-655-3809.

Gerard MacLellan, BEd, MA, Registered Psychologist